When I first started as a worship leader, I had no clue what it meant to actually be a leader.
“Leader” makes up half of our title, but I discovered I wasn’t the only one who struggled to figure out how to lead well. Worship leaders have a lot of musical talent and can put on a great sounding service, but very few worship leaders know how to lead. The sad reality is that they burn a lot of relationships along the way.
Over the years I realized that it’s more than just picking songs. It’s about leading people. To do that, we need to develop a skillset so we can be effective leaders and pastors.
I sat down with my friend Brian Wahl–the founder of a great Youtube Channel called Worship Tutorials–to just unpack five different ways we can up our game when it comes to being better leaders as worship leaders.
“Your most important job as a worship leader is not to sing a song or lead a song. Your most important job is to build teams.
At the end of the day, if you can play guitar and sing or play piano or whatever, you can lead worship, and it's just you up there, but it's going to be way better if you develop a team of volunteers. If you raise up volunteers and other leaders with you, it's going to make what you do so much better and it's going to make it a lot more fun to do ministry.”
I agree with what Brian said, it’s so important to develop relationships beyond just finding a guitar player, or a bass player, a drummer or they do production. You have to see them as beyond just the fact that they can do something for your church or your ministry. If you see them as people who can support each other and grow into greater roles themselves, then you can avoid common pitfalls of ministry like burnout.
Master your songs and be prepared
The next most important thing that Brian talked about was to know master your songs so well that you don’t need a music stand. It’s a really simple thing, but Brian points out that it has a huge impact:
“It has to do with the level of preparation that you have coming in because if you haven’t prepared, you're missing this whole other level of what's going on that you should be paying attention to.
You need to be paying attention to the room so that you can know what God is doing and how you can lead people to experience that. If all we're doing is thinking about what's the next chord or I can't remember the next line of the song, then we're missing out on so much as worship leaders.”
The point he’s making is that knowing all the songs is the baseline. It’s only once you have those down that you can actually start paying attention to other, more important aspects of worship.
Have a good relationship with your pastor
Here’s a scenario:
A pastor of an older congregation wants to reach young people by making the church’s worship more modern.
They hire a young worship leader who’s good at the technical stuff, but has very little experience actually leading.
So now the church has a worship leader who’s been asked to change the culture and things start to get tense between them and the other leadership in the church. That creates a rift between the Senior Pastor and the Worship Pastor.
Brian points out that’s a really bad place to be in. “You’re in ministry together. You’re going to war together against the enemy.”
Our job as worship leaders is to be a unified team with the leadership.
Think of Moses and Aaron. In Exodus, when Moses got tired, he needed Aaron to hold his arms up. The illustration is that your senior pastor is Abraham and he's been fighting that battle for a long time and he's tired. He needs someone to help hold his arms up.
There’s room for healthy debate but ultimately, our job is to be Aaron and support the decisions of our Senior Pastor. If we can’t come together in unity then we’ll lose against the enemy.
Find a mentor and be a mentor
Having the right relationships are so key in leadership, and Brian pointed out two of the most important ones:
“I think we should always be in two kinds of relationships. One where somebody is mentoring us and another where we're mentoring somebody else.
You want to help someone who’s not as experienced as you. And you want to learn from someone who’s more experienced than you. It gives you a good balance of learning and teaching.
It's amazing the progress I made as a leader from when I started seven years ag0.“
Having these two relationships will increase your growth exponentially because they’ll encourage you and help you refine your skills.
Pro tip: People tend to think that these relationships just happen and work out, but they don’t. Reach out to the people you want to mentor/be mentored by, make the ask and see what they say.
Don’t burn out your volunteers
Here’s another scenario:
You have the same person playing drums every week for a year and they decide they need a break.
They approach you and say, “I’m done.”
And then they won’t volunteer again.
The reason why they quit is they’re burned out because they played way too often. Rehearsals, call times and playing times can amount to 8-10 hours which is almost a part-time job. For a person with a full-time job, kids and other commitments, volunteering in worship every week is impossible.
The solution is to simply not schedule people as often. Brian only schedules his volunteers twice a month unless they request to be put on more often.
To protect your volunteer’s time, you just need to make sure you have a clear onboarding process and set of expectations for volunteers so they know how much they’re committing to.
Ultimately, your most important job as a worship leader is to remember that you’re leading people.
It can be so easy to view your drummer as just a drummer who fills a need every other Sunday instead of Rick who has a family and needs to be supported. Meeting those needs, empathizing with them and finding ways to grow your team members is what separates good leaders from bad ones.
Another thing I’ve learned is that to be a leader who pours into others means you have to be fulfilled and sustained by community–you can’t give what you aren’t receiving.
If you’re looking for a community to invest in you, check out Worship Leader School to personally connect with me, my team of coaches and other worship leaders who can give you the insight, support and techniques you need in order to grow yourself and your ministry.