1. In your prayer time, ask God what He wants to say during the worship.
When choosing songs, resist the temptation to select songs just based on their sound — whether they’re energetic or mellow. Instead, ask God to give you a vision for what He wants to do in the worship service. Write it down and prepare for it just as seriously as you would if you were preaching the sermon. Lead every worship service as if it’s the greatest opportunity of your life!
Similar to preaching or teaching a message, there’s so much more to leading worship than just standing on the platform leading the congregation and a team of musicians. One thing I continually remind myself of as a worship leader is that I’m first singing to Jesus Christ, not to people. So as I prepare and practice, I do that “behind-the-scenes” part of it unto the Lord as well (see Colossians 3:23).
2. Use the Scriptures during worship.
The Bible is the foundation of our faith and should therefore not be neglected during worship. One great way to use the Scripture is at the beginning of the praise and worship segment to bring a word of encouragement to people. In doing this, you’re directing people’s attention to God and His Word. Their minds may be burdened and full of anxiety and care, but as they begin to look at Jesus, their focus is changed, and it’s easier to lead them into the presence of God in worship.
You can use the Bible to amplify the point or message of the song. Reading from God’s Word brings unity to the worship portion of the service. Even if people don’t know the particular song you’re singing, they can always relate to and connect with the Word of God.
3. Lead the people in worship.
When people come to church, they have a lot of things on their minds: paying bills, obtaining their basic needs, mending relationships, etc. For many, worshiping God is the furthest thing from their mind. The job of a worship leader is to exhort and encourage people to turn their attention toward God where it needs to be — to bring honor to Him to whom honor is due and to prepare the way for Him to move in and on the behalf of people as He desires.
It’s okay to give direct, simple suggestions, such as, “Let’s raise our hands,” or, “Let’s close our eyes and concentrate on Christ and His cross,” or, “Let’s sing in other tongues.” No matter how great the worship is, people will not always do all of these things automatically. They need to be led.
4. Choose songs that are easy to sing.
Loud music, guitar riffs, and creative arrangements can be great, but if the music is too loud or there’s been too much arrangement that you can no longer focus on the words, the song becomes distracting. You simply can’t lead people into the presence of God if they can’t sing the songs. Therefore, the melody should be easy to sing — easy enough for everyone to participate in, not just those with an ear for music.
Even secular songs that hit the top of the charts are usually those that have an easy melody and are easy to sing. One simple rule is that if it takes the worship team an entire week to learn the words and music to a new song, the people in the congregation probably won’t pick it up in three to five minutes! Simply put, praise and worship should be sweet and simple. In this sense, “less is more.” And think about it: Songs with few words that are easy to sing can live for generations. So having easy melodies with as few words as possible should be what we strive for as we choose and write our worship music.
One ingredient found in songs that are easy to sing is a key that’s appropriate for a majority of the congregation — not too high or too low. As a worship leader, I don’t choose the key for myself — instead, I choose it for the people I’ll be ministering to and leading into worship and also for the back-vocals section of the band or choir.
A worship leader obviously must possess vocal talent, yet as he or she leads worship, it’s not about impressing the congregation with that talent. In fact, if the worship leader is the only person who can sing the songs at the right tempo and key, what was intended as a ministry to lead others into God’s presence becomes nothing more than a concert!
5. Honor the Holy Spirit and the pastor.
The worship leader has a lot on his plate. He must follow what God wants to do, honor the leadership of the pastor, and lead the musicians as well as the congregation in worship. There have been times when I’ve concentrated so completely on God that I actually missed out fulfilling all of my responsibilities as a leader. I’m a creative person, so sometimes I’m in the clouds! I lead worship in the youth services in our church as well as in one of the adult services in which my dad ministers. Once, I was leading worship for my dad, and I had my eyes closed — just worshipping God — while Dad waited about ten minutes for me to “wake up” so he could take the pulpit and preach!
As I said in Part One [LINK]of this article, a worship leader must have a well-developed personal life of worship. However, when he’s leading worship, he must constantly be aware of what’s happening around him. That means he should never close his eyes for long periods of time in public worship. It’s possible to get so caught up in worshiping God that you become unaware of your surroundings and miss your cues from the pastor and others who are involved in the service.
When my dad had to wait on me for such a long time before he could take the pulpit, it wasn’t that my heart wasn’t right. I was sincerely worshiping God, but I wasn’t thinking about the worship I had been called on to lead. I was in my own world, so to speak, until Dad finally walked over, put his arms around me and whispered, “I’ve been waiting about ten minutes. Are you going to let me preach today?” I knew I had made a mistake, but being the wonderful father he is, Dad smoothed it all out by thanking me for leading worship and for my heart of worship before God.
I have a great father, who taught me how to honor the Holy Spirit as well as the pastor. The Bible teaches that we are to honor those who are in authority over us (see Hebrews 13:17). So if Dad — or any pastor I’m leading worship for — tells me not to sing a specific song, I won’t sing it, even if I like the song and want to sing it. I choose to submit to the authority given to the man or woman of God in charge of the service.
Unfortunately, churches often split because the pastor and the worship leader see things so differently. For example, a worship leader might think a particular song is anointed, but the pastor doesn’t like the song. Maybe the song is too hard to sing or it doesn’t follow the direction for the service — or for the church — that the pastor desires. Yes, the song may be anointed, but if the worship leader goes against the wishes of the pastor and sings it anyway, it will no longer be anointed because it is sung in an act of rebellion.
One of the issues that all musicians must deal with is pride. Satan, a God-gifted musician himself, was kicked out of Heaven because he thought he could be greater than God. The root of sin is pride. And the attitude that says, I know better than you is rebellion. The Bible is crystal clear when it comes to this subject. We are to humble ourselves before God, and in due to time, He will lift us up (see James 4:10). If we stick with the way God has set up the principle of submission and authority, we will always end up on the top. We must honor God, and we must honor our pastor and the authority figures in our lives. This kind of attitude positions us for favor and promotion. As we humble ourselves under God — and under the authority figures in our lives — He will lift us up.
6. Don’t allow obstacles to remain.
There are many obstacles that can hinder our progress, but the biggest one we must deal with is sin.
Sin is a blockade Satan uses to try to get you off-track and keep you from reaching your God-given destiny. As a worship leader, if you’re practicing wrongdoing, your praise and worship will not be as anointed as it should be, you will not be able to hear God’s voice clearly, and you simply won’t be able to lead others in worship in the best way possible.
Sin can bring feelings of condemnation and can prevent you from experiencing the love God has for you. Don’t allow the enemy to condemn you! Receive correction from the Holy Spirit, have a penitent heart, and push forward. Guard your heart (Proverbs 4:23). Give it completely to Jesus. Read your Bible, pray continually, and make God your top priority — you will never go wrong if you do these things! God will protect you and guide you through every obstacle and difficulty, including the temptation to sin or the guilt and condemnation that comes from sin.
7. Don’t stop developing.
Practice makes perfect. As praise-and-worship leaders, we must thoroughly know every song we’re going to sing in a service. We must know the order of each service and even practice leading at home. Also, we must continually develop ourselves vocally and musically.
I encourage music leaders to always continue learning. The moment we think we know it all is the moment someone else will pass us by and walk through the door of opportunity that we were waiting for. Because we refused or simply failed to grow, someone else took that position (see 1 Corinthians 10:12).
No one is irreplaceable. It doesn’t matter how good we think we are at something, if our hearts are wrong and we’re not willing to develop our gifts and callings, God can find someone else to take our place.
I encourage you to continually develop yourself as a worship leader by reading books and studying other types of materials about worship and leadership. Attend as many conferences as you can. If you’re not already proficient at playing a musical instrument, consider learning to play one so that you’re not entirely dependent on other musicians.
Also, stay in the Word of God and maintain your personal passion for God. Remember, if you invest in your gift, it will grow, and God will able to use you and promote you to experience all He has called you to do.
8. Don’t shun advice or criticism from your team.
Team-building is extremely important in praise and worship. As leaders, we need to value the opinion of every person on the team. Members of the worship team need to know that their opinion means something to the leader. The Bible says that where there are many advisors, victory is sure (see Proverbs 11:14).
I challenge leaders to view every team member as an advisor in some way. Everyone can contribute something. Big decisions are still up to the leader, but a little extra advice never hurts. A leader who makes every decision on his own, never asking for a second opinion, is a weak leader.
By asking the team’s opinion in a matter, you build trust and devotion among your team. You can also see who has potential to lead when you’re away or when God moves you to another position.
A majority vote never rules: In the end, God will hold the leader, not the whole team, responsible for a job well done or poorly done. It’s a great privilege to be a leader, but there are also many responsibilities, and a leader needs a team to help him faithfully carry out those responsibilities. So how a leader fulfills his leadership role is important — but equally important is how well that leader builds and utilizes the team that surrounds him.
9. Don’t forget the ministry of the Holy Spirit in praise and worship.
God has assigned you as a worship leader to be His instrument to bring Heaven’s music to the people and to bring the people before His presence in worship. And in that role, it’s important to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit so that He can flow freely during praise and worship.
In fact, the gifts of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:7-11) should be able to freely operate during praise and worship as God sees fit. People should get saved, healed, delivered from addictions and oppression, strengthened, and encouraged in their faith. I encourage you to pray for these gifts to operate as you lead worship.
God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34), and since God’s glory can fall during the teaching and preaching of His Word, that same glory can fall — and God can saturate the people with His presence — as you exalt and proclaim His Word during worship. So pray and seek to be yielded as an instrument to usher in His presence in your worship. God’s glory can and will be manifested if we keep our hearts pure and our spiritual ears open to hear what He wants to do in every service.
This is true in the present as it was in the Old Testament. When Solomon dedicated the temple, as the musicians played, the glory of God filled the temple (2 Chronicles 5:13,14). The worship was so strong when the temple was dedicated that the priests (in our day, we might say pastors and elders) fell down under God’s power. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever (seeHebrews 13:8). What He did then, under the Old Covenant, He can do today in your church as well as in your life, your family, your city or community, and even in a nation.
This is the message we must all get hold of as worship leaders: If we depend solely on our music, it won’t be enough. If we’re looking to the music, we’ll barely go “ankle deep” in our worship of God and our experiencing His glory. But if we’ll look to God, we’ll go in over our heads! (See Ezekiel 47:3-5.) Our very lives are dependent on the Lord, and enough of Him is never enough! We were created to fellowship with Him, and one of the ways we do that is through our worship. Our assignment as worship leaders is to assist others in this experience and to fulfill that assignment and calling with excellence.