6 Things Your Worship Leader Wants You to Know
(But will probably never tell you)
It’s no secret that I work as a worship leader. It’s a job I’ve held down for about 5 years now. It is an honor and a joy. It is hard, and not for the faint of heart. And…..I love it. I know that God has gifted me, and I love my calling and my job. Serving in this capacity is something that continues to shape me as a musician and as a follower of Jesus. It has also opened my eyes to some of the perceptions of music in the church, and the ways in which we perceive and understand worship.
I wanted to address a few pet peeves bluntly and truthfully, but I didn’t want to sound like I was complaining or condemning, so what I did was this – I made a list of things, and provided both a rant AND an encouragement for each one. This way, you get to know how I really feel, as well as some tips and thoughts on how to approach each one. I talked to some of my worship leader colleagues in other churches, even asking for proofreading to check my tone and content. I tell you all this so that you know I’m coming from a place of love and authenticity…..of problem solving and, most importantly, from a place that seeks to honor God, rather than just complaining and ranting!
So…..here we go:
1. We’re not DJs on the request line – You don’t have to like every song in the service – we don’t!
That song request you slipped me after church? It’s the fifth one I’ve gotten this week. While I appreciate your input, I do hope you realize that worship is not about you and the songs you like. If you’re coming to worship to sing your favorite songs, you’re coming for the wrong reason. Sorry, not sorry. The songs chosen for worship are chosen with a lot of thought and prayer with the intent of facilitating a meaningful and cohesive worship experience…….for everyone……they’re not chosen because you like them. If I had a dollar for every song I’ve led that I didn’t like…..I’d have quite a stash – but that’s ok, because it’s not about me and what I like, and guess what…..it’s not about you or what you like either. The sooner we as the body of Christ can come to this realization, the sooner God will smile on us for putting HIM above ourselves.
Maybe you love hymns and can’t stand another chorus of anything written by Chris Tomlin or Hillsong, or, maybe you love contemporary Christian music and can’t bear the thought of another one of Fanny J’s greatest hits. Either way, the next time you find yourself wishing to see one or the other in the worship set, and you find yourself reaching for a pen and a slip of paper to write down your song request, try this: Don’t sing the song you don’t like – just listen to it. Try to figure out what it is about that song that others enjoy. Is it the text? The music itself? The story behind the song? Maybe go so far as to talk with someone whose preference differs from yours about what they like and why, and see if you can find some common ground – not so that you both end up liking the same things, but so you can understand and appreciate what encourages and uplifts your brother or sister in Christ, and what brings them to a place of worship – there’s your common ground!
2. Worship doesn’t just happen – we put a lot of work into it
Although you may have had a frantic morning getting to church on Sunday, I can assure you that the worship experience you find yourself participating in came about a lot less haphazardly! There is a whole team of people who work very hard to put that together. They’ve been working on it for weeks….maybe even months.They are people, just like you. People with families. People with responsibilities. Many of them are people with other jobs outside of church. Many of them are volunteers. We welcome your feedback, but before you rush up to us to tell us what you didn’t like about the service, or point out the glitch in the sound system (c’mon, do you really think we don’t already know about it?), please remember that what you’ve just experienced took the collective effort of many people who are only seeking to use their talents and abilities in the best way possible to bring honor to the same God that you know and love.
We all want to give our best to God. We all want to do what we do with excellence. On the flip side, we are all human. We all make mistakes. We have good days and bad days. We have personal problems that sometimes distract us. We operate systems that sometimes malfunction. Things happen, and that’s ok. You may never have thought of this, but a church is one of the most stressful work environments there is. Last year, in a very brief article, CNN listed Music Ministry Director as the #5 most stressful job that pays poorly. The point is, if something goes wrong, chances are….we know about it, and we’re working on it. So, when the microphone screeches, or the video won’t play…..when your hearing assist pack shorts out – use these things as an opportunity to show grace. Recognize that there is a huge orchestration of the efforts of many, human people who have worked hard and are currently working hard to create an experience of worship for you. Grace over annoyance. Grace over frustration. Just….grace.
3. We need time to worship too – outside of church
As I said earlier, it takes a lot of work to make sure thing happen the way they’re supposed to on Sunday morning. That means, while you’re praying, the worship team is moving into position for the next song, or while you’re singing, the sound and audio techs are fixing a technical problem. You are probably unaware of all the fires that are being put out while you are busy worshipping. But this also means that the people dealing with all those issues need time away to worship. It’s not uncommon for me to leave church after leading worship, and go straight to another church where I am just another person in the crowd, worshipping. I don’t have to be in charge of anything, I don’t have to make sure the slides on the screen are matching what the pastor is saying, I don’t have to lead anything……all I’m there to do….is worship…..free of responsibility.
Recognize that those whose work involves planning and facilitating worship for you and others are making a sacrifice. They are giving of themselves. They are serving. They experience the church in a unique way. As not only a church member, but a staff member, they know things you don’t know. They see things you don’t see. They are dealing with circumstances to which you are not privy. They balance a lot…budgets, scheduling volunteers, rehearsals, meetings, etc….. all the while working to serve a large number of people and not totally pleasing any of them because that is impossible. But the work they do, they do for the glory of God. And cultivating their own relationship with him is something that takes a certain amount of distance from the “work.”
4. Worship is more than just the songs we sing in church
Music is a huge part of worship, but it’s not the only part. If you don’t care for the song choices on any given Sunday, that’s ok. You can still worship! Know why? Because worship isn’t (at least it shouldn’t be) something that happens exclusively in a church building on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights. If you want to know how I really feel about this – check out this post. The bottom line is, if you come to church with a spirit of worship, not looking to be entertained….not looking to see what it is you can get out of the service, but rather seeking to bring a sacrifice of praise before the Lord…..looking to see what you can give, then you can worship anywhere, doing any number of things. Even if you have to mentally remove yourself during the songs you don’t like so that you can focus elsewhere and worship in another way……it can be done.
Worship is a beautiful thing. The ways in which we worship are shaped by many things…..traditions, preferences, understandings. Worship comes in many forms. Some forms are more familiar than others….more comfortable than others. But….what if we are missing out by not exploring other ways to worship? What if we opened ourselves up to things that result in us responding in worship? Think about that…… What if we thought of worship, not as something that we do in the church building on Sunday mornings, but as a response that we have….anytime….frequently, even? Challenge yourself to not limit your praise! Could not the truth of God’s power, majesty, and love move you to worship? Could not the silent prayer and reflection on God’s goodness and faithfulness move you to break forth in praise? Music is important…..but it isn’t the be all end all. Don’t miss out on all the ways in which you can experience God and respond to him just because they may be new or unfamiliar or initially unrecognizable as “worship.”
5. We like to know that you appreciate what we do
I don’t want to sound like I’m fishing for compliments here but the fact of the matter is……being a worship leader is a hard job. We do this job, knowing that we can’t possibly please everyone…..knowing that we will be criticized by someone for one thing or another from time to time. We put a lot of time and effort into what we do, and sometimes a simple “thank you” or “I appreciate what you’re doing” is all we need to hear to balance out the burn out, the missed family time……and those blasted song requests! It’s also not a bad idea to say thank you to your sound techs, audio visual team, custodian, etc… Seriously – try it. Say thank you….and mean it.
Just say thank you. It really is that simple! Let your church staff know that what they do matters, and that you’re grateful. Not sure what it is that they do? Ask them! Better yet, offer to help if you want a clearer picture of their responsibilities – there’s always something to be done, especially in smaller churches. You’d be surprised how much making a few copies, answering a few phone calls, folding bulletins, or filing a few papers is appreciated!
6. Even if you can’t sing…..we want you to sing!
This is a hard one for me…..I mean……have you SEEN how many verses there are about singing to the Lord?! I can’t tell you how much of a let down it can be to be up in front of the congregation during a song, and to look out and see people just standing there like they’re in line at the bank. How is this even a thing? Sometimes, I feel like saying…..”Bueller? Bueller?” Seriously….can you at least pretend to be remotely thankful for the fact that Jesus saved you from sin and death? I’m just sayin’…… If you get more excited about your favorite football team scoring a touchdown than you do about Jesus redeeming you – something is really, really wrong. One of my favorite things to meditate on in the area of worship is what we learn about the beings in heaven in the book of Revelation where it says, “Day and night, they never stop saying ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.” They never stop……heaven is filled with praise! Better get started now, people, or you’re gonna be really disappointed when you get to heaven!
I’ve read several articles written on this phenomenon of non-singing churches. Many of the authors say that church has become more of a spectator activity than a participatory one. It has – but it shouldn’t. They blame this on things like worship leaders being too rehearsed – like a concert or performance meant to be watched, the music being too loud, and the songs being difficult, unfamiliar, and unsingable. Well let me tell you, I’ve been in churches where this is the case, no question. I have seen it time and time again……but I’ve also been in churches where this wasn’t the case……and it doesn’t have to be. It is truly a growing problem….mega churches with choreographed lights, fog machines, worship leaders’ faces plastered on the projection screens……I get it….but not all churches and worship leaders are like this, and frankly, I find it a bit of a cop out to say “That person sings better than I do, and they have a microphone, and they’re standing in front of everybody, so….. I’ll just let them do it while I watch,” when what you’re really saying is “I’m insecure about my own singing, so instead of participating, I’m going to just stand here and listen.” C’mon…..don’t put your own insecurities on someone else.
Let me let you in on a little secret about how I approach my role as a worship leader: God gifted me to do something, and I’m doing it. He’s gifted you to do something too, and hopefully, you are. In the eyes of God, I am no more or less loved or important to his kingdom work than you are. This worship leading thing…..it’s a ministry. It’s not about me. What I do, I do for God’s glory, not my own, not the pastor’s, not the worship team’s, not the church’s – God’s. Period. Do we rehearse as a worship team? Absolutely. Know why? Because we want to start and end our songs at the same time, sing them at the same tempo and in the same key, and know the melody. We don’t try to sound like a track on a CD or the radio. We strive for an authentic, organic sound of genuine praise. You may be surprised to know that I do not audition members of my worship team. If someone feels called to this ministry and has a heart for worship, who am I to turn them away and say they aren’t good enough? I have said this many times, and I will say it again: I would rather have a group of untrained, amateur singers who love the Lord and are worshipping with their whole heart up there on that podium with me than a whole choir of professional, stellar singers who couldn’t care less about God and are up there to showcase their talents. Does this mean we don’t strive for excellence? No, it doesn’t……it simply means our priorities are in order. It means that while quality and excellence are important, they don’t trump passion and authenticity. We’re talking about the creator of the universe here, people…….if our hearts are not sincere…..he knows! On my team, we do not perform. We worship! When we’re up there we WANT you to sing with us! We WANT you to participate. We are NOT up there performing songs for you to listen to, we are LEADING worship for you to participate in.
That being said, I do realize that for some people, singing out loud in public is very uncomfortable….let me address that…. My theory on this, is that when people feel uncomfortable singing in public, it’s because, when it comes right down to it, they’re afraid someone will hear them and make a judgment about them and their singing. I see this as putting our own sense of comfort, and, dare I say it, pride, ahead of the purpose for which we were created. God doesn’t want perfect pitch and flawless delivery, he wants a joyful noise…..a genuine, true outpouring of our hearts unto him. To stifle our praise just because we don’t want to be heard by someone around us or because we’re afraid we may not sound as good as our neighbor, is to withhold from God the very thing he desires most of us. “Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord” is……pretty self -explanatory. I’ve seen people with no voice worship with more passion than those that do – read about that here.
I am certain that God doesn’t care if you sound like Mariah Carey or The Sweedish Chef when you sing…..what he cares about, is your heart, and your willingness to worship him with full abandon of your fears and inhibitions.
I get that maybe you’re not the best singer. I get that maybe it freaks you out that someone might hear your horrible singing. But know this: you’re only there, singing, worshipping one being……and it isn’t the person next to you that you’re afraid will hear you. I think of it this way….if I’m putting my fear of someone hearing me ahead of my desire to worship God….that’s idolatry. In that moment, something (my pride) is more important to me than my worship. It’s stopping my worship. I get it. It’s part of our culture to let those who are good at something be the ones to do it. It’s part of our human nature to not want to do something we do poorly in full view of others……but resist the urge to fall into that trap! When you come to worship, come to worship! There may be many bodies in the room, but your worship is between you and God. Period. His is the only critique you need to worry about. And…..if you’ve never seen a voiceless person worship in song….try it sometime….I promise you, it will change you!
So, there you have it – my list of peeves, my rants, and my encouragements. As with everything I write, I hope these words are received with the spirit of love in which they were written. Like many posts I write, I could spend days revising and rewording things trying not to offend people or trying not to sound uncaring or trying to better explain what it is I mean to say……but at a certain point…..you just have to hit that publish button and put it out there.
* When there is a song in the worship service that you don’t like, there’s another of your brothers or sisters in Christ who does. Worship anyway.
* Hug a church staff member.
* Say thank you (to the secretary and custodian especially, because they are the two most critical pieces in any institution!)
* Be genuine in your worship.
* Worship everywhere……don’t let your pride hinder your praise!
* Your worship leader has a hard job…….and they love it.