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’vesniffed 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.
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.