Marks of a Healthy Worship Leader
Our local church is in search of people to join the worship team.
Here’s a couple of good articles although not the last word on it but some good things to read and think about.
I believe in my heart of hearts that the worship pastor of a team does not have to be the most talented, the most eloquent, the most gifted writer—although to be skillful at your craft is a must. But this role is truly all about care.
The worship pastor must care that people have an understanding of why we worship and not just how we worship; the worship pastor must carry the heart of the church and its leadership tenderly with great respect and unyielding support. The worship pastor must love the team and their families more for who they are and their journey in Christ than for what they do for the church.
Yes, the worship pastor is a shepherd first, musician second—a true worshiper, one who leads with skill, wisdom and godly devotion.
I have written my Top Ten teaching thoughts for worship pastors to share with their teams—to give you some absolutes to pass on to those entrusted to your care.
1. The Worship of God Is Holy.
God is not common; hence worship is not a gig, not a right to prove our abilities, not an opportunity to sing our favorite songs. We worship because he is a holy God, and we the created—made for his pleasure—worship and serve the Creator because he alone is worthy.
2. Regarding Excellence
We bring our finest, because we care that our sacrifice is truthful and brought with integrity of heart. The first fight in the Bible was about a worship offering (Gen 4), and to this day, people bicker and disagree about what is genuine worship. No matter how we present our worship, only God knows the true intent of our pursuit of him. And it is in the authentic pursuit of him that we find excellence in worship.
3. Authentic Lives of Worship
We train in so many things consistently, but nothing can replace each individual’s commitment to an authentic life as a worshiper. So that when your inner life is revealed, what is seen and what is unseen by humans is one and the same.
Bill Hybels wrote a great book called Who You Are When No One’s looking. Work at making sure that you are one person: the person we publicly know, and the person God privately knows.
4. Serve the Lord With Gladness (Ps 100).
Gladness is not just an emotion; gladness is a byproduct of joy, which is substance, a fruit of the spirit. You can literally live on it. Joy puts others at rest.
“He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart” (Eccl 5:20).
5. Worship Is Not Just a Lifestyle.
Worship is our life’s response to the grandeur and magnificence of our God. Worship as a lifestyle sounds like we would treat the Cross of Christ casually. But our ability to enter his courts and live in his presence actually cost God his all—for us. Never treat his worship as a lifestyle option.
6. Build a Culture That Embraces the New
We see that the Levites were trained and skilled in making music before the Lord (1 Chr 25:7). Never compare or be skillful for the sake of it, yet always encourage people to be developing their gifts, to try new things, new ideas. Be vigilant to train and grow and strive for freshness in all that you have been given, for the glory of his name. As the Scripture says:
- Sing new songs (Isa 42:10).
- You will be called by a new name (Isa 62:2).
- I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them (Ezek 11:19).
New songs, new day, new start, new hope, new mercy, new possibilities, new ideas, new ways, new people, God says “new heaven and a new earth,” “new covenant,” “new self,” “new heart,” “new command,” “new creation” … new, new, new!
7. God’s Presence Is Great Power.
Our role is to declare and announce that God is here. If we just play and lead to please the ears of man and satisfy our own desires to play/sing, and march into services without a holy awareness of his presence and magnificence, then we rob people of their spiritual inheritance. Lead people to the courts of our God. Always respect and give time to acknowledge the Holy Spirit’s presence and leading.
8. We enter “his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise” (Ps 100:4).
This sequence is God’s idea, not just the delight of all sanguines worldwide. Be confident to lead people in the high praise of our God. Announce that our God reigns.
9. Speak a Kingdom Culture.
If your team knows how to play music but the culture is one of negativity, defeat, resistance, offence, pride, lack of self-esteem, jealousy, even of unbelief, then your team will never grow together into a culture that is based on kingdom principles. Kingdom music is crafted in the heart of a human being who gets a glimpse—a taste—or hears the sound of the kingdom of God.
10. People of Prayer
It is a very presumptuous person who thinks you can live an effective Christian life without prayer. Prayer is our lifeline; prayer is our first language; prayer is our direct access. This is made clear in the Psalms—a magnificent book of prayers that teaches us so much about our language before our God. Enter with thanksgiving, bring him everything, love him, adore him, ask of him; this is the language of prayer. As you develop your life of prayer, you are developing your life of faith—and your life of worship.
OK lovely ones, I could pour out my heart on this topic for days, but that’s it for now. Never forget the honor it is to worship our King,
NINE MARKS OF A HEALTHY WORSHIP LEADER
These nine things are must-haves for anyone leading a congregation in song week after week. Far from exhaustive, they are a set of traits, postures, and characteristics I believe are informed by Scripture and ought to transcend culture and denomination.
1. Worship leaders should meet the biblical qualifications of an elder with a heart for, and good understanding and maturity of God’s word.
This is important. Even if he won’t be called an elder, the congregation will likely treat him like one. And it’s important to remember the qualifications for an elder/pastor/shepherd include being “apt to teach.” This is what worship leaders do, and their aptness to teach (or lack thereof) is evident every week in the songs they select and the way they facilitate the congregation’s worship.
I need to add a caveat here. A friend of mine helpfully pushed back on this point and offered a helpful distinction: “A person who is simply leading musically needs to have the biblical qualifications of a deacon/deaconess. A person who is leading that portion of the service which includes songs, prayers, and readings needs to have the qualifications of an elder.” I agree, under the assumption this second scenario naturally propels the “song leader” or what have you into a more pastoral function.
2. The worship leader should be musically capable.
This is obvious, I know. Perhaps a more specific and helpful exhortation would be that he should select songs within his skill set. You really love that new riff on that old hymn? Yeah, me too, but it’s hard to sing along when I can’t decipher the words or melody as easily as I can the oh-boy-gotta-catch-up look in the drummer’s and rhythm guitarist’s eyes.
Also, it’s unwise to let this qualification steer the ship; in fact, it should be subservient to almost everything else. A godly and mediocre musician will serve our churches far better in the long run than a sublime talent who reads his chord charts more than his Bible.
3. Your worship leader should be invisible (almost).
A guest leaving the Sunday gathering should be more struck by the corporate witness of the congregation praising God in song than by the ability or presence of one man. “Whoa, those people love to sing about Jesus!” is always better than “Man, that guy is great!”
4. Your worship leader should be committed to gospel-anchored liturgy.
I’m using “liturgy” in a general sense, as in the “flow” of the gathering, not a rote, recited form of standing and sitting and singing that must be repeated weekly. Every church gathering follows some kind of liturgy; the question is whether it reflects the character of the God and the content of the gospel or just the “whatever strikes us” approach.
Anchoring liturgy in the gospel may mean scripted transitions between songs that help to move the congregation through the service. Scripture readings, prayers, testimonies of God’s grace tethered to the theme of the passage about to be preached—all of these till the hearts and minds of those present. Prayerful, thoughtful preparation beforehand cultivates an appropriately intentional culture in a church. Don’t assume the Holy Spirit only works “in the moment.”
5. Your worship leader should work in close tandem with the preacher.
The worship leader doesn’t make decisions on an island. Every song should be in service of the preached Word. This reminds the church of an important truth: the preacher is a worship leader, too. One worships God no less through hearing a sermon than through signing a song.
This isn’t to say the themes of the sermon and the songs must be identical in a narrow sense. But if, say, your pastor is preaching on the resurrection, sing songs which unpack the meaning of that event as opposed to songs that refer to God’s goodness in his general interactions with his people. The latter is a more-than-worthy topic, of course, but the resurrection is a specific event that reveals specific things about God and us. This kind of cooperation between song and sermon provides an opportunity to praise God specifically and uniquely in response to his revelation.
6. Your worship leader should be committed to the expression of a vast range of emotions.
Every Sunday gathering should have moments of adoration, thanksgiving, confession, celebration, and the like. God gave us emotions and the church should be a safe space where a range of emotions are acceptable: guilt, shame, sadness, joy, thankfulness, and so on. When we only sing upbeat songs about how happy we are to be in the house of the Lord, or how we’re going to serve our guts out this next week because Jesus is awesome, we tacitly teach people that feeling sad or guilty or downtrodden is somehow sub-Christian, a posture unfit for praising God. We do sing scriptural songs that identify all emotions and life but that also make us be thankful for even small blessings that we have and lift one up to Christ’s great accomplishment for us.
7. Your worship leader should be committed to the explicit worship of Jesus.
This is less about the tone and more about the words of certain songs. The vast majority of a church’s music must be distinctly Christian—exalting not only the characteristics of God but the truths of the gospel. We should sing few songs an unconverted Jew could happily sing—that is, we should sing about Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. Words like “sin” and “gospel” and “cross” should come up frequently and perhaps even be explained for those in attendance who, frankly, don’t know the difference between a Baptist church and a Jewish synagogue. Assuming all present are Christians and know what words mean is a recipe for confusion.
8. Your worship leader should encourage and enlist congregational participation.
In addition to encouraging loud congregational singing, the worship leader could also ask various church members to pray during the service. This provides opportunities for visibility and participation for many, not just the few with musical talent.
9. Your worship leader should be chiefly concerned with honoring God and upholding Jesus and the gospel, more than just reaching the next generation or any other pre-determined demographic.
Every church needs to be culturally informed and sensitive to all age groups (this is why you likely avoid African tribal songs), but no church should be only culturally driven. If conversations about only fruitfulness begin displacing those about faithfulness, then the first step has been taken toward a mindset of man-centered worship that will need updating in a few short years.
Apart from Christ, every generation from the root of Adam is dead in their sins, in desperate need of the enlivening words of Christ. Because of this, after leaving your church on Sunday, no one needs to think to themselves, “Man, that music was great!” More than anything, they need to have heard the gospel clearly and explicitly; they need to be have been made aware of their dire situation apart from Christ and—even more—his held-out hand as their all-sufficient and ever-gracious Savior.
 The parlance for this kind of job is amorphous: music minister, pastor of music, pastor of music and arts, director of contemporary arena jamz and the occasional traditional dirge, defense against the dark arts teacher, etc. I’m only using “worship leader” since it seems to me a catch-all.