*Recently I've received alot of questions from new or younger worship leaders asking for advice on leading their congregation in worship. I was humbled that they'd asked me but ashamed that I didn't really have any good solid answers off the top of my head. So I decided to sit down and write out what are currently my top 10 most valuable and practical lessons I've learned as worship leader.
1. Passion can't be taught; It is learned.
I didn't figure this one out until I began raising up worship leaders. I have girls who have amazing voices and no emotion. Nada. Yet I also teach girls with intermediate voices and amazing passion. Wanna know the common denominator between the passion girls? Life. Life experiences that drove them to a place where they were broken before God. That's it. And that brokenness is either the preliminary to or aftermath of spending quality time at the feet of the Lord. Studying the Bible, knowing God through it and prayer, and applying it. So if you feel as though your passion is lacking, be patient ;) Or look over your life and see where God has brought you from and how He has shaped and fashioned your life. Where were you 5 years ago?
2. Break the Glass: Interact with your congregation.
There is nothing more discouraging than executing a worship service and it ending up feeling like a rock concert. On both sides: congregation and worship leader. For the congregation, there is some weird automatic pedestal that goes up when people step foot on a stage. I don't know why, or where it started but it is just a sad sorry fact because in reality, we are not worthy of a pedestal. Worship leaders, worship teams, and pastors are real live people with the same issues and struggles as the congregation. We are made from the same fiber. We are no better than anyone else. So there has to be some sort of glass shattering, pedestal colliding action that creates a legitimate community worship experience. I'll give you a hint: authenticity.
3. Play with a Click Track: The whole band.
There is something to be said for quality music in worship. There is not enough time or space to debate this here, but you can see some good discussion on Vicky Beeching's blog. However, I am on the side of "quality is always good but never required". If you have the ability to raise or place into action, quality musicians, do it. If you just don't have those resources yet, obviously you can still have a very well executed worship time. The Holy Spirit does not work under the conditions of quality music ;) But playing with a click track definitely glues a band together; professional and mediocre. I practice with it on my own time so that I can come as prepared as possible to our service rehearsals.
4. It's ok to do some old school tunes.
Hymns are some of the most powerful songs of worship ever written. Let me repeat. Hymns are some of the most powerful songs of worship ever written. I absolutely love them. Usually teams don't play them because they fear bringing their church back into the old school world of music, but there are plenty of newer versions with the post-mod melodies and arrangements. This isn't a requirement thing, it a preference. But for me its so easy to get caught up in the new of worship that we forget how powerful the things of old are. They minister to people in absurd ways and sometimes the newer generations don't even know the song is 100 years old! My favorites right now are Come Thou Fount, It is Well, and Amazing Grace.
5. Don't assume anything.
When teaching or talking through a song with your congregation, the worst thing you could do is assume that everyone there knows what you are doing, singing, or talking about. Alot of churches have revolving doors with unbelievers just feeling things out. The worst thing that could happen is that they walk into a church and leave feeling like they were in a foreign country. We have a tendency to speak "Christian-ese" and not even realize that the average person has absolutely no idea what the holy spirit or sovereign or fellowship is [thanks brian and daniel]. Now some of you have the words "dumb down" flashing through your heads right now. Let me clarify that that is not what I'm saying in the slightest. I'm saying lets be real. Teach your congregation. This should also be done in collaboration with your pastor. You are a team.
6. Make eye contact with the people you are leading.
They want to know you see them. I understand being wrapped up in the spirit and closing your eyes when leading. I do it too. But I try to make sure that I connect with the people I am leading. I want them to know I like them :) And I like hearing them. I even choose a couple chairs in rehearsal and pray for the people who will be sitting in those specific chairs. Then during the service I make eye contact and smile at them. It may be all made up in my head, but I feel like it communicates something.
7. Plan everything.
From the songs to the speaking to the verses to your prayers. Not because all those things have to be executed exactly as planned, but because planning gives more leeway for organized spontaneity. I have a hard time when I have to say a prayer or a short share time between songs and the only content I have is a topic sentence or key scripture. So lately, at the request of my pastor, I've been scripting my speaking and even my prayer, not so that I can read it, but because it forces me to think through everything and try out words and concepts behind the scenes instead of in front of 1200 people. Planning for such a fluid thing, like a worship service, sometimes seem oxymoronic. But it works.
8. Video record yourself and watch it.
Oh snap. This is one of the hardest but best things I've learned to do in worship leading. In every performance actually. It's awkward and weird to see all the quirky things I do when singing. I make some crazy funny faces. But it makes me more aware of my stage presence: Am I distracting? Do I look fake? Do I look stiff? Etc, etc, etc. It is also good to hear yourself: Am I on key? Do I ad lib too much? Is there too much blank space between songs? Etc, etc, etc.
9. Be apart of the team.
Being a team player is crucial to my productivity as a worship leader. I learned this lesson by watching other people. I saw how non-team players became almost like a big elephant in the room that no one wanted to address and most avoided. I also saw my tendencies towards that kind of leadership and vowed that I would keep myself in check by surrounding myself with people who could frankly speak into my life. Teams accomplish more than one person. It's a fact. The lack of a teamwork is guaranteed prescription a for burnout.
10. Don't take things too seriously, it's not about you anyways.
As a creative type, I am married to my art. I am self-conscience of my music, guitar playing, singing and writing because it is apart of me. It's not just an occupation or a hobby. So when ideas get shut down, I use to [and sometimes still do] get totally offended because I couldn't separate me from the work. But over the years, God's patience has slowly convicted me and I now take everything with a grain of salt. Let the little things be little things because worship leading [through song] isn't about us anyways right? It is about how we can be serve God through leading His people in musical worship. The important thing is that that translates to the congregation.
I hope these are somewhat helpful and insightful.