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How to Choose Your Worship Leader
This is the first part of a new series to help equip church planters and worship leaders to lead well in their churches. Most worship leaders face similar challenges, and many of the most common topics will be addressed here.
Most church planters talk about their worship leader the way an apologetic dad talks about an uncoordinated child at a soccer game.
“Heʼs got potential.”
“Sheʼs a hard worker.”
“If we could get some better players around him, heʼd really shine.”
Church planters know well that you have to make the best of your situation and use what you have. Too often this translates into a worship leader getting thrown on stage that either learned 5 chords in his dorm room last semester, or couldnʼt explain the gospel if a $10,000 gift card to "Guitar Center" was on the line. Every worship leader starts somewhere, but what is an acceptable starting point? How do you choose between those who are godly and those who are gifted?
A Repentant and Humble Heart is Not Optional
The scriptures repeatedly address the heart in the context of worship. Worship is a heart issue. Look for leaders and volunteers that love Jesus more than their act of service. Do you sense an adoration of Christ in their life? Are they quick to confess? Are they teachable? What makes their heart beat faster; musical excellence or gospel transformation in peopleʼs lives?
Itʼs a mistake to assume that because the teaching pastor carries the primary responsibility of doctrine and vision, that the worship leader can be any guy in a plaid shirt who can nail the latest worship anthem. Would you want the congregation to follow their example off-stage?
Challenge your worship leader in character issues, and name pride when you see it, in a loving but truthful way. While you arenʼt looking for a perfect track record, you do want to see a pattern of repentance.
Skillful Leading is Also Important to God
Despite its popularity, the idea that skill doesnʼt matter to God is simply not biblical. God raises up godly and skilled artisans to serve in their craft. This doesnʼt mean your worship leader needs to have his own record on iTunes, but it does mean that “sloppiness drains the vertical dimension out of gathered worship” (Calvin). Skill does not make our sacrifice more acceptable to God, but it does help us serve our purpose as worship leaders more effectively.
Be Wary of Those Who are More Eager to Lead Than Serve
Most church plants will have a few eager folks that want leadership roles out of the gates. A good worship leader will invite the elders or pastors in their church to confirm their calling. If someone approaches you and says: “God told me I am supposed to lead worship here,” you should be very cautious. It is the exception to the rule that a person making that sort of uninvited claim turns out to be a solid leader.
As a Lead Pastor/Church Planter, it is Ultimately Your Responsibility to Select, Coach, and Ensure the Development of Your Worship Leader
You may not do all of the actual discipleship or training work yourself, but donʼt delegate your involvement in the process. If you think youʼre too busy, consider the following: if your average church-goers attend a 90 minute service, three times a month, they will give you 54 hours of their attention annually. Depending on liturgy, your worship leader will get roughly 18-27 of those hours. Your worship leader sounds like a wise place to invest your time, doesnʼt it?
Give your worship leader specific feedback that is truthful but also gracious, and explain why their leadership development will help the mission. Not saying what everyone is thinking on a Sunday morning about your worship leader is not loving towards your leader or the flock.
While he knows very little about music, the most important coach I have had in my development is my lead pastor Harvey Turner. He has constantly challenged the “why” behind worship ministry decisions and invested in me personally in our 10 years of working together. Worship leaders need this kind of care and shepherding.
Look for leaders and volunteers that love Jesus more than their act of service.
Whatever your audition process looks like, make it robust enough to assess an applicantʼs understanding of the gospel, spiritual maturity, and level of skill. Donʼt buy the lie that placing an unqualified leader on stage is better than going without corporate worship in song for a season. If you feel unqualified to make a holistic evaluation, reach out to a worship pastor you trust to help.
Maybe your worship leader needs theological training. Maybe she needs voice lessons. Maybe both. No matter the size of your church, letʼs not propagate a double-standard where other leaders are tested for character and competency, but worship leaders arenʼt. It will take effort and time but you can have both. Isnʼt the Savior worth it?
Here is a brief downloadable PDF of some questions to ask in the audition process of a worship leader or volunteer. Itʼs not fool-proof, but simply a tool to identify both red flags that may come back to bite you later, and strengths that will serve you well down the road. As always, pray for wisdom and discernment when appointing leaders, and let them be tested.
Father, guide us by your Spirit in raising up worship leaders that adore your Son and desire to serve and equip the saints you entrust to us...leaders that love you more than their gifting, more than emotional highs, and more than perfect productions. Strengthen the unity between lead/teaching pastors and worship leaders. Protect our flocks from wolves, and help us to discern between those that need coaching and those that need to be pulled out of leadership. Grow us in our love for your people as shepherds. Shape our gatherings to bring you glory.