The 5 Levels of Worship Leading

My number one leadership book recommendation is The Five Levels of Leadership by John Maxwell. Reading this book has given me the clearest paradigm for understanding what it means to grow as a leader in whatever context or role I find myself. The book is straightforward. Maxwell explains there are five levels of leadership.

  1. Position
  2. Permission
  3. Production
  4. People Development
  5. Leader Development

Leadership growth happens when you advance from level one up to level five. You cannot skip a level, and you must maintain prior levels as you grow. It did not take long reading this book for me to discover how this applies to my role as a worship leader. Maxwell defines leadership as influence. I agree with this definition. As worship leaders, we are trying to influence our volunteers to be committed and the church body as a whole to know and love God more. But how does this influence happen? As I unpack the five levels of leadership, I think you’ll discover where you are at as a leader and how you can grow in influence in your worship ministry.

Level 1 - Position

Maybe you’re a volunteer and your lead pastor saw potential in you, or you were hired as a full-time worship leader. Either way, you began your journey by being granted a position. This level of leadership has the least influence. It is merely having the title, “worship leader.” Do not expect people to follow you just because you were granted a position. Sure, your band members may show up to rehearsal and maybe put in a little practice time at home, but do not expect them to be committed or exceed your expectations. A lot of worship leaders complain their band just does not care or they are not reliable. Guess whose fault that is. Yours. It’s probably because you are stuck at level one leadership. Influencing others takes a lot of work and requires stepping up to the next levels of leadership.

Level 2 - Permission

To reach the next level of leadership, you must develop relationships with your worship band so that they give you permission to lead them. Developing relationships is absolutely critical for influence. The old sayings are true. “People go along with leaders they get along with.” Or “People don’t care how much you know till they know how much you care.” As a worship leader, I have always struggled with this area of leadership. I poured all of my time and energy into the excellence of music and production, but I failed to connect with my worship team and congregation. You can attain this level of worship leading by making time in your calendar to meet with your band and members of your church. Set a goal is to meet with one or two people a week. Ask them a lot of questions about their story, their family, and their passions. Ask how you can pray for them. Host a band hangout at your house so they can meet your family. You do not need to be their best friend. They just need to know you. I think you’ll be amazed at how much more committed they will become. They will even buy into your crazy ideas. Invest the time to earn their permission as a leader and your influence will increase.

Level 3 - Production

The next level of leadership is production. This is not “production” in the sense of audio and visual elements in worship. This production refers to your competency and ability to get work done. In the church world, a lot of leaders become complacent and remain on level two. It makes sense because the permission level seems the most “pastoral” and a lot of churches believe it is okay to have less than stellar production in ministry. There are also ministry leaders like me who want to skip permission and work on production. Both staying on level two and skipping level two are wrong. If you want to grow your ministry and grow your church, you need to continually grow in your skills and be a productive leader. For worship leaders, that means becoming a better musician, theologian, and growing in one's understanding of how to use technology in worship. Take music lessons, read books, and attend conferences. Advancing one’s education and skill set has never been easier thanks to the internet. It also means being disciplined and working hard. Avoid being a last minute planner. Your band and your congregation will want to follow you more as you contribute to the advancement of the church’s mission.

Level 4 - People Development

Once you have established meaningful relationships and the discipline to be a productive leader, the next level is people development. At this level, people will follow you because of what you do for them. If you remain on level three, it will not be long until your team stagnates. Your ability to be productive can only go so far in advancing your ministry. That’s why it is necessary to begin developing other team members into worship leaders. This will set you apart from 99% of worship leaders. Advancing to this level is tough. It’s hard enough to ascend to the third level of leadership yourself, let alone influence others to do the same. Good leaders are not afraid to work themselves out of a job. If your church has a healthy leadership culture, this will be encouraged. Replacing yourself will give you the opportunity to lead larger and work on bigger projects you would not have time for if you were the sole worship leader.

Level 5 - Leader Development

The pinnacle of leadership is developing others to level four leadership. In other words, you develop leaders who develop leaders. Very few make it to this level of leadership. While I have never seen this in a worship ministry, here’s what I would envision for a level five worship leader. This person would mentor and develop a team of worship leaders who are developing other worship leaders. They would be behind the scenes and rarely would they be on the platform on a Sunday morning. It does not sound glamorous, but this type of leadership is how you leave a legacy because now your influence impacts exponentially more people. Realistically, I only see this happening at large and growing mega-churches who have the resources for growing and developing a large staff. There are possibly some other avenues through which this level of leadership can be exercised, but they would be rare.

Leading and influencing others is tough no matter how you slice it. If you have not read it yet, I highly encourage you to pick up a copy of The Five Levels of Leadership by John Maxwell. As you can see from this brief overview, it is highly applicable to any leadership context, especially worship leading.