April 4, 2012

You are not a Rock Star, and other nuggets for worship leaders

by Clint Archer

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 arrayed alongside the worship of preaching, fellowship, serving, giving, and parking far away so that the elderly can park closer.

But when people talk about liking “the worship” they generally mean “the band.” One congregant who should avoid this is the worship leader. Here are four tips for the leader of a worship band...

1. You are not a rock star. 

The task of the worship leader is to get out the way of worship, and to lift our attention to God. He cannot do this if he is showing off his ability to do a lead break. Worship leaders need to be humble. They should dress modestly. Sometimes musos have a particular look they are going for in their midweek gig. 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’ve 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, bulks 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 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 need to change the lyrics slightly to mold it to the church’s beliefs; and that’s ok.

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 service, personal preference is a luxury. If the gray hairs like “Mighty Fortress” then play it occasionally. If the muso don’t like it…so what? This isn’t his 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 ask, not “How should I play to make this better?” But rather, “Should I play at all right now?” He meant there are moments when it’s 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, think of what the rest of us are occupied with. 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.


4. Worship!

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 why they practice 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 have thick skin when people complain.

In this iPodian era when we get all the music we like on demand, and at the volume we prefer, style of worship becomes a sticky wicket in churches.

Some would enjoy more bass, others wish the drummer would take a long-leave sabbatical. Some like it loud, others want to hear their own voices. It can be paralyzing for the leader. But when remembers Who his audience really is, it takes off the pressure to please man.

Clint Archer

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Clint has been the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church since 2005. He lives in Durban, South Africa with his wife and four kids.
  • Heather

    Thanks for the article, funny, I was just thinking of this lately. I went to a live play recently and was amazed at how powerful the orchestra is, and yet they are down under the stage and hidden, to give center stage to the stars, so all can see and adore them. It made me wonder if they have it down better than the church does? Not to be critical, but think about it…it kinda makes sense. Even though there is a crazy amount of talent in an orchestra, their duty is to be unseen so the stars can be magnified and glorified, right? Well….who is our “star”? He is the head of His body and a glorious High Priest! Why not have the band go offstage and unseen in order to give center stage to the Lord Jesus Christ, so He can be seen, adored, magnified and glorified!? Granted, it would be hard I’m sure for the band, but would it be worth it for Him and His body? (Clint, I’m not criticizing you or your church, just throwing out some general thoughts I’ve had on worship bands. Thanks for bringing this to the light!)

    Walk by faith, not by sight. Easier said than done, at least for me.

    • Shirley Mork

      Beautiful analogy, Heather. To God be the Glory; not the band..

  • Larry

    “Worship leader” conferences are as plentiful as pastor conferences today. Yes, music should be excellent, but there is a fine line (Maybe not?) between ministry of music and “Jamming for Jesus” (Ugghhh) on Sunday. Many churches have adopted the methodology of “church musicians for hire,” and what becomes problematic is, these “cats” are infantile in their walk with Christ and the church becomes the “proving ground” or the replacement for their inability to secure “gigs” in the “world.” Many are ear/nose pierced, skinny jeans wearing, tatooed, long haired, mohawked, spaced out, quasi-believers, showing up on Sundays for a paycheck, without a clue concerning the Levitical mantle they are to wear, (Putting on Christ takes care of that). While some are in pursuit of the holiness of God with authenticity, while at the same time having great skill.

    Worship evolves out of a right thinking pattern relative to the truth of God. The more truth of God you pursue and embrace the more fervent the worship. True worship is dependent upon how you think about the truth of God. Clint, yes. you have to “cry loud and spare not” relative to this post. Music in our churches ought to spur us on to loving and adoring Christ for his awesomeness, rather than seeing “Justin Bieber’ or “Ozzy Osbourne” on “stage.”

    • MikeWorrell

      “Many are ear/nose pierced, skinny jeans wearing, tatooed, long haired, mohawked…”

      This is not a problem if “[they] are in pursuit of the holiness of God with authenticity” is true.

  • Just be careful with the changing lyrics thing – chances are it’s illegal. We used to do it occasionally, and I understand the reason, but even apart from the copyright legalities, I thought about whether I would like someone to change lyrics in a song I’d written – what if a group changed something so it became unorthodox in something I’ve written? I tend to think that if a lyric is unsingable, we simply should do a different song.

  • Paul Stewart

    Thanks Clint you’re always expanding my culture and vocabulary – I will now be using the British word “muso” a lot more. As a musician/producer I greatly appreciate this article.

    There is just one thing missing from the statement, “Some like it loud, others want to hear their own voices.” I believe you can have it both ways, but you don’t want “loud” music you want a “full” sound. This has everything to do with your sound man (he is not just there to power up the sound board – there is so much more to it than that). Often the musicians get blamed for his incompetence. He is the one who will irritate the congregation by mixing the guitar too loud our not having the vocals loud enough. He has to explore options for better dynamics with the drummer and also make sure the monitor levels are mixed well so that the musicians don’t keep saying, “turn me up I can’t hear myself” – when that happens the congregation may hear more of the stage sound than of the house; which causes havoc with intelligibility.

    The worship leader/minister of music would serve the congregation well to spend as much time developing the sound man as they do with the musicians. The sound guys need to be discipled in their humility and trained in their skill, so subscribe them to live sound or mix magazine, get them to a guitar center pro audio training, or higher a local professional to do a weekend training seminar, and get them a budget so that they can buy the right equipment.

    Do you hear what I hear,

  • It’s why I love attending my band-less church now, where the songs are sung by the congregation, not some guy with a chin beard and a guitar.

  • Steve

    Great article, Clint! As someone who’s had the privilege for leading music for Jr Highers for the last two years, I sincerely appreciate your points… particularly about content being king. I have been encouraged that even in a southern-California youth group setting, students can and will still engage in corporate worship even if we’re singing hymns that are over 200 years old. To see them respond to the scripturally-based lyrics has been one of the chief blessings of being a music leader. Again, thanks for your article.

  • Rick

    Interesting post. Several years ago my daughter and I went to a concert by Point of Grace. We had a great time and it was really great concert. As I thought about the concert afterwards I started to be troubled. The group sang, people sang along. There was a brief (15m) sermon. A special video presentation was made and a request for giving to a specific cause. Prayers were offered and thanks given. The more I thought the more it seemed like the concert and our worship services were very similar. In fact the case could be made that the only major difference was the price of admission. Is our worship a concert? Is the concert a worship service? Is there a difference? The more I think about this the more I think something must be wrong.

  • Justin Johnson

    Thanks for your post Clint. While the musical style present in churches around the world is not generally universal, the heart and focus of the worshiper is universal.

    While I agree the worship style, form and content should be under the umbrella of the elder’s authority, excellent worship requires a team effort between worship leaders and the elders of churches. Elder’s generally aren’t musically inclined and every bit as subject to stylistic preference tendencies as the congregation and worship leaders. A ministry-minded, Christ-centered approach is required of both worship leaders and elders to effectively lead congregations in God honoring worship.

    I second what Paul Stewart said about a sound man, a good sound man is nearly as key to a worshipful experience as excellence of musicianship.

  • Darbyhughesmusic

    Right on! Appreciate the thoughts, especially “your personal brand is expendable.” Great insight.

  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    Father with 2 children (1 elementary, 1 pre-school). I confess that we are occasionally late for worship services. If I miss the music worship time and get there in time for the sermon/message, I’m happy. My wife gets upset because we don’t get to listen/sing all the songs.

    Now granted, there are times when the music worship time is subjectively better than the pastor’s sermon. But sometimes I get the feeling that there are a significant number of people who’d rather sing worship songs than listen to a sermon.

    Maybe I’m wrong….

    • I read a tweet the other day which said something like: the singing isn’t to get us in the right mood to listen to the sermon, the sermon is to get us in the right mood to worship.

      Of course, preaching & listening to the word is worship too..

  • steve millikan

    RE: Content is King. The lyric matters most, but the music matters a lot as well. A great melody (for that lyric) exponentially increases it’s power.

  • steve millikan

    RE: Content is King. The lyric matters most, but the music matters a lot as well. A great melody (for that lyric) exponentially increases it’s power.

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  • David

    Pastors I know, deacons I know. What is a “worship leader?” Where are the qualifications in Scripture?

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