I use “worship leader” in the vernacular sense of the guy who leads the music. Of course, musical worship is only a smidgen of the worship that happens on Sunday. It’s one candle in the worship array of preaching, fellowship, serving, giving, and parking far away so that the elderly can park closer.
But when people talk about liking/hating “the worship” they generally mean “the band.” One congregant who should avoid this is the worship leader.
Here are four guidelines for the leader of a worship band...
1. You are not a rock star
Like a ball-boy at Wimbledon, the task of the worship leader in church is to get out the way. He is there to lift our attention to God. He cannot do this effectively if he is deliberately showing off his dextrous command of his instrument. Worship leaders need to be humble. They should dress modestly. Sometimes musos have a particular look they are going for in their midweek paid gig; that’s fine. But when they ascend the platform at church their personal brand is expendable. When a drummer complains about being caged in perspex you know he’s more interested in showcasing himself than the Lord. When the bass player requests a solo stint you may have sniffed out another prima donna in cognito. The pastor needs to take primary responsibility for the musical worship. If the band leader demands creative freedom, balks at stylistic input from the elders, or becomes impatient with the limits put on his song selection, then he is not the man for the job.
He needs to take his cue from Ethan the Ezrahite (see Psalm 89), not the pop band Better than Ezra.
2. Content is king
The leader needs to understand that the content of the songs is the primary concern. Solid doctrine should be the hallmark of every lyric. He may even need to alter the original lyrics (gasp!) to align them with the church’s beliefs.
We’ve altered words before at our church. The sentimental, “He thought of me above all,” became the marginally more astute, “He showed His love above all.” When selecting songs and hymns for the church service the priority of one’s personal preference needs to shuffle off stage and slink into the back pew. If the gray-hairs in your congregation enjoy “Mighty Fortress” and the elders agree that it is edifying to accommodate them, then play it. If the musos don’t like it…so what? This isn’t their garage band, this is the service of God and His people.
3. Less is more
The music is there to support the lyric. Worship fundi, Stuart Townend, at a music workshop seminar in Johannesburg reminded worship leaders that there are times to skip over the question:”How should I play to make this better?” and ask rather: “Should I play at all right now?” He meant there are moments when it may be best to mute the instruments and allow the congregation’s voices fill the air.
It serves as a good reminder that frills, whistles, and bells can be distracting if they trip up the congregation. Case in point: when a lead guitarist is performing a gratuitous solo lead break think of what the rest of us are doing. We’re standing there watching him. I guess we could be using that time to admire the glory of God in His creature’s ability to jam. But in reality most of us are just waiting for our turn to praise God.
The band members are not performing, they are worshipping. God must remain their central focus. He is why they come early to rehearse and stay late to disassemble the drum kit. He is the reason they practice mastering their instrument on their own during the week. Sunday is their offering to the Lord. They need to take a page out the Little Drummer Boy’s songsheet and play their best for Him (pa-rumpa-pum-pum).
This mindset also helps the band to develop necessary thick skin when people complain to them.
In this iPodian era we have become accustomed to getting all the music we prefer on demand and at the volume we like. We can skip songs and change CD’s mid performance. Naturally the preference for style of musical worship has developed into quite a sticky wicket in churches.
Some would prefer more bass and less reverb, others wish the drummer would take a break from banging the kit for a stanza or two, or perhaps even take a six month sabbatical. Some like volume pumped up loud, others want to hear the voices of those around them (or at the very least their own voices!) The plethora of preferences clamoring for attention can be paralyzing for the worship leader. But when one remembers Who the audience really is it takes off the pressure to cater to congregational preferences.
Do you have any wisdom to share about how to do musical worship?