Worship leaders come in every variety. There are skinny-jean überhipsters, tattoo-covered grungers, suit-and-tie hand-wavers, and stool-seated guitar strummers. Perhaps all of these different people have one thing in common: They desire to be better worship leaders.
The question is, “how?”
Where did “worship leaders” come from?
Skip to the end if you want the straight-up answer on how to get better. But keep reading if you want some valuable background info.
Way back in the beginning — the real beginning — worship was there. Before there were people “the morning stars sang together” to worship God’s power in creation (Job 38:2). Later on, God appointed worship leaders as an important part of religious order (1 Chronicles 15:16). Throughout the Old Testament, we read about people worshipping. Sometimes it involved singing and dancing (Exodus 15:20), but sometimes it was just watching (Exodus 33:10). And sometimes, they did it wrong (Leviticus 10:1-3).
The New Testament has instructions for worship, too. It started with a little child and a group of magi (Matthew 2:2). Jesus dispelled ancient worship rivalries with a simple declaration of the right way to worship (John 4:24). Later on, church leaders gave instructions regarding worship (Ephesians 5:19). Worship continued throughout church history. Early worship wars included the controversy over hand clapping and instruments, as early as 388! Even singing in harmony was banned hundreds of years later (1325). Martin Luther, with characteristic bellicosity, prompted more worship wars when he declared that “the devil had no right to all the good tunes.” If Rolling Stones were around back then, he might have imitated a few chord progressions…on his lute.
The 18th century Great Awakening rolled in on the strains of powerful music by the likes of Watts and Wesley. William Booth busted out the drum set in 1863, as the Salvation Army performed open-air concerts in metro London. When the 20th dawned, mass evangelism sparked off new forms of music and a new breed of worship leader — those who taught new songs and invigorated huge crowds with singing so hearty that it gave even the most skeptical visitors the goosebumps. As the rock movement swelled in the 60s, Christian musicians with the musical proclivities of Luther began adopting the popular style with gusto.
When history comes to a close, we read of billions of angels worshipping with song (Revelation 5:13). “Worthy are you!” is the anthem, the new song, of the endless host (Revelation 5:9, 12). And for all eternity, we will still worship — an endless holy ecstasy of delight and praise in the worship the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Here we stand — millennia removed from Asaph and his tabernacle choir — and the worship leader is as integral a part of Christian worship as it was in the Old Testament tradition.
Let’s talk about the name “worship leader.”
Before launching into a discussion of improving one’s worship leading, let’s talk about that touchy title — “worship leader.” What does it mean? Where did it come from?
Some object to the term “worship leader,” for obvious reasons. Does “worship” include only singing? Why isn’t the preacher — the one who leads people to worship by proclaiming the majesty of God from his word — called the “worship leader?” Why is it that “worship leaders” are expected to play the guitar?
These, and many other queries and quibbles, stem from legitimate concerns. However indignant one may be at the term “worship leader,” we must admit that we’ve piled on a whole lot of cultural baggage into our Christianity as a whole, the position of “worship leader” included. Admittedly, the term has its shortcomings. But that’s what we call it, at least for now anyway.
Whatever you call it, it’s really important.
Term concerns aside, we all agree on this. The worship leader (or whatever he or she is called), has an important function. The worship leader plays a role in the corporate worship of God. The worship leader does more than strum a Gibson, sing into a mic, and announce the next song.
The worship leader worships.
Worship is perhaps the most important human activity in the universe. That’s not an overstatement. Worship is a way of connecting with God. To worship is to engage in a timeless act of absolute adoration to the One and Only, Almighty, Creator, God. We humble ourselves before his infinite power and incomprehensible holiness.
That’s what a worship leader does.
What is the only way to be a better worship leader?
Now that we’ve had a bird’s eye view of the history of the worship leader and little bit of understanding of the term itself, let’s circle back to our original question. How do you become a better worship leader? There are a variety of answers that we could give to this question.
- Go to one of the Bible colleges that are now offering degrees in “worship leading.”
- Learn to play the guitar better.
- Have a better singing voice.
- Learn to pray eloquently and say more awesome things between songs.
- Be a better leader in order to more capably lead the people and the worship team.
- Learn to write better songs that the people will love sing.
- Maybe get a Dove Award.
All of these are fine things to do. By all means, pray and aspire to have better talent, training, leadership skills, and composition ability.
But there’s something far more fundamental and meaningful.
To be a better worship leader, you must be a better worshipper.
The worship leader is fundamentally a worshipper. Sweet riffs and a smooth voice don’t make the worship leader. Becoming a better worship leader is something that happens in the heart.
That’s the bottom line. Become a better worshipper. Be a better watcher of God. Be a better student of His Word. Humble yourself. Admit your brokenness. Acknowledge your depravity. Accept Jesus’ flawless righteousness. Adore God with your entire being.
As you step onto the stage, or pick up the cordless, don’t divorce the act of “worship” from that of “leading” or “ministering in music.” They are one and the same. Life is worship. As Jeremy Camp said, “You lead worship by worshipping.”
To worship leaders, and everyone else who worships, let us be better worshippers. This isn’t something we can bootstrap on our own. In refreshing irony, we can only worship God better by humbly asking him to help us do so. Because He is God and deserves and desires worship, he will grant your request.