A new year brings new opportunities! But, what about those things best left behind? What if the New Year requires clearing off the table a bit to give room for the new? Worship Leaders and their teams engage in a very important task each weekend. It would then be, at best, unwise to forget to evaluate problematic trends and, at worst, negligent. Yes, adopt the new in the coming year 2017 as you hold on to the best of practices. But, do this with wisdom. A mistake I know I have made is to try to improve without thinking about what is actually in the way. Often leadership is best defined as removing barriers rather than making something happen.

10 Things Worship Leaders MUST Leave Behind in 2017!

What are some of these potential barriers we need leave back in 2017? We all have them, and it is timely to begin refocusing our ministry leadership. To help my fellow worship leaders repeal and replace the worst offenders, I have made an end of the year list of ten items we should leave behind after the New Year. I hope this will spur many to have conversations that are helpful to the heart and mission of ministering in musical worship.

Plan music around tools rather than for your people.

Is your rig or your list of loops determining your setlist more than the needs of your people? Is what is most “efficient” perhaps a selfish and lazy choice?

Worship leaders, including myself, have all done this at some point I think. We have a perfect loop already uploaded on our planning tool. Or, that new pedal would sound so good on a particular song. Tools, when they drive us rather than serve us, can harm our leadership. At any level, this is an issue. Do we let our building define our theology? I hope not. But, sometimes what we have in front of us as far as tools become the filter for our choices rather than the people we serve or the mission we are called to.

People must always come before tools! Even putting your tools in a close second to the people is a huge improvement. So, make a note on that guitar tone from that new pedal and see how to work it in. But, first, listen to the need of your people–including the worship team you lead. This is not the same as pleasing people, perhaps. It means if they can sing better in a key that is not as fun to play in, then you prefer the congregation.

Today’s world includes some amazing tools. Use all of them as much as you can to accomplish your mission as a worship leader. However, they are only tools. An email to schedule a player is one thing. Have you sent a simple thank you this week to a worship team member, as well? Have you been patient in using that new pedal? Will that loop fit the season of the year appropriately? Serve people, not tools.

Living in a musical rut in personal skill can be hazardous to both your employment and your church.

What new or old things have you listened to or learned recently? Should you need to take further music lessons or training?

Where you are at this moment might be working well for you as a worship leader. But, times change. Music styles are even more fickle than the people who listen and appreciate them. And, if you are a worship leader, part of your role is to be a musical leader. If you improve as a musician, it is likely that you will improve as a musical director as well. Honing skill and your ear will keep you fresh.

For instance, if you only play “G” shapes and capo everything from there on your acoustic guitar and plan on doing that for the foreseeable future, don’t plan on working too long. How about learning “D” shapes the first quarter of 2017? You can open up a whole world and double your options. When is the last time you took a voice lesson? If you lead singing and your focus is only on your instrument, you are missing a huge component to your leadership. We accompany a congregation to sing, not to listen to guitar solos or piano flourishes.

A musical rut will mean in time that your church and team will move beyond you. If you are a leader, this is a hazard that you must avoid! What once was “new” might not be in as little as three years. Or, as your church hopefully grows in numbers, the needs from your leadership will increase as well. With all the new people, are you equipping yourself to lead for the long haul or just getting by?

Shape your worship ministry to be your dream church.

Do you have that last big worship conference or concert in your head when leading more than the faces of the people in your own church?

I don’t want to put this all on the worship leader as the pastors I know have been partners in this as well. You attend a conference, and everyone is singing, and the lights and sound are perfect. You feel refreshed and inspired. But, a dangerous question to ask is this: “Why can’t my home church be like this?” All sense of logic suspends in that one question.

With some critical thinking, we wake up, hopefully. A conference of worship leaders or church leaders is not the same as people coming off the street. You paid for that conference and had an expectation as a result. The average person in your church is not there expecting to be moved by your incredible lighting and sound and presentation. They are likely on average older than you and the attendees of that conference.

Your vision for what a dream congregation might be must include the realities of your locality. If you are a couple of hundred people, then you have to forget the sound of worship of 1,000 worship leaders singing in a large room with a professional band sounding off. This coming year deserves you envisioning God working in the real place you live!

We often are a worship leader tribe with our language and culture.

What others are doing in worship leadership is good to know, but are you aware of the world outside of the one where pedalboards are not Instagrammed?

All of us in the creative side of things feel left out of society to some degree, so when we find each other, it is often life-giving. If you live in a world where no one gets you, the desire to be known and understood is unfulfilled most days. Your world over time might be insulated with relationships with other worship leaders, musicians, and creatives. We all need a tribe.

This human need is real and should be addressed. But, we must also see our primary tribe as the part of the spiritual community we serve each week. Enjoy the connection to your people, but don’t let yourself hide there. Be sharpened by amazing folks who are not at all like you!

This openness might save your soul, too! Have coffee with your tech team, not just the band. Share things on social media about your life that help you connect to normal humans. We all need a tribe. We should forgo the secret handshake and be open to letting into our tree house more outliers. After all, if we want to help people who are misunderstood, doesn’t it make sense to expand our understanding of others?

Cynicism about what a worship leader does is strong with this one.

Do you still believe in the mystery of the power of God’s presence in preaching, music, communion, fellowship and all that happens when we gather?

You have been a worship leader just long enough to see all the ugliness that humanity mixes in with ministry in the local church. Whether you are a realist or not, the pain of seeing that people disappoint you, leaders fail, and churches make bad choices hits you hard. It is bound to happen. In fact, the longer you are in ministry leadership with real people, the more negative results you will see–even in yourself.

Cynicism is a bad choice and something we should surely leave behind. If we lose our basic beliefs and love for our worship ministry, we are not helping anyone. That toxicity will come out, and the foul smell will infect the way we lead. It may seem fine when we are on the platform. But, I doubt that you or I can keep that up for long.

Often, the best way to deal with this is to focus our thoughts on the basics. The needle needs to move in the direction of looking for the positive in the midst of the bad. We have to learn to see realities around us while taking the high road. This is the struggle of leadership, by the way. Being a leader means you still lead for the best even when things don’t seem to be ideal. Be a leader or a cynic. That is the choice for 2017.

My church’s history and traditions are simply “history.”

Do you know the stories of God’s work in your local church before you got there and are you aware of the deep issues that you inherited?

No matter how new a church is, there is history. There is a history of the movement and people who funded and started the church. There are bound to be stories of how the church you are at right now came to be. Every church has challenges, too. Sometimes a season of conflict or downturn ends up in the narrative about your church.

There is also the connection to the denominational story as well as inherited traditions. In our “post-denominational” America, these records matter even more. This is so because we choose to mask over the distinctiveness of our movement at times in the aim of being more inclusive. Most churches–whether denominational or not–have in their membership people from various denominational church backgrounds.

One very practical consideration is the unique history of your local church. If music has been a conflict issue with several other leaders in the past, then it may be likely to be so with you in the present. If your church has been plateaued for a while, that means there are things under the surface bigger than you. You can’t then be held solely responsible for its growth!  Learn the history of both your church and the Church!

I am entitled to honor as your worship leader.

Are you aware that most musicians who work in the “real” world of music wrap their own cables, learn all the song lyrics, and fund their own endeavors?

Houses of worship will likely have better sound equipment than a secular venue of similar size. Your non-church musicians have it worse off, for the most part. When they play out, they have to make cramped stages, broken mixing channels, and poor venues work for them. Could most worship leaders make it in the music business outside of church? I am not sure many could.

We are spoiled. We have digital mixers, others to wrap the cables for us, and don’t have to memorize our words. Those confidence monitors meant to help our volunteers keep on track are leaned on by the worship leader who should know the songs better than anyone else. Some worship leaders don’t have to worry about even rehearsing their band. (I must say that there are many churches who struggle to have gear that even works, so forgive me if that is your story! This is for the rest of us.)

For those of us who are full-time employees of a church in worship, we have a unique opportunity to serve our teams. Sometimes helping wrap a cable can be a more pastoral act than hanging out over gourmet coffee. Serving our team means we lead them. Leading them means we invest in them. All musicians, even those in your band, need patrons at some point. We can be a patron and champion, or spoiled. Leave the entitlement card back in 2017.

No, I don’t ever overthink my role as a worship leader–said no worship leader, ever.

Some pastors view worship leaders as “more important” than even the teacher of the Word. Others may say you are simply the pitch pipe that helps people start the corporate prayer. You are expected to be both a rockstar in bringing people in and yet a monk who is above everyone spiritually in some way.

In my experience, there seems to be two poles to being a modern worship leader. On the one hand, there are simple tasks that require rare skills to accomplish. Leading people in music is work. And, to lead well includes not only some talent but accomplishment. There is a theological aspect where we as worship leaders must partner with our pastor. What happens off the platform is all sorts of details and actual thinking. This is how any leadership role works. There is a strategy, history, and goals to accomplish. Music is a large part of this, of course. But, so is the heaviness of being an example and directing a ministry that involves people who serve other people. We are a team leader, spiritual leader, musical leader, and more!

The other pole is the connection in front of the congregation. Our visibility as worship leaders may cause people to see us as something pretty special. In our culture of fame, this can be problematic for all involved. All of the work we do behind the scenes must work in public worship. When our pastors or leaders value our popularity too much, a toxic wash potentially infects our ministry. Our role is to bring in the numbers or stay popular to remain employed.

So, I confess there is indeed a lot to think about. Overthinking our role then is completely understandable. But, there is a better way. We have to remain sane. Pleasing people will not help us in the long run. So, leave that behind. Keep to the task and trust that the results will reflect that. In other words, what you do behind the scenes to build people, understand your pastor’s theology, pray for your church, and lead your team will sow good seeds. What you sow is what you reap. That simplicity can save 2017 from the quagmire of keeping up with shifting expectations.

Mining for worship music from the same place.

If you only find your worship songs from one place or two, you are cheating yourself and congregation.

One thing that is almost alarming is how every church in the US seems to do not only the same songs, but the same sound. This country with millions of Christians seems to have a very narrow modern worship music industry. You don’t have to be stuck with that. You may have to dig a bit, but to find jewels requires mining.

This is not a diss of the modern worship industry as much as it is a call to expand our vision as worship leaders to listen to more than the same stuff everyone else listens to. It is also not a plug to do originals more often–even though a church that writes her own songs is enriched by them. The idea here is to listen.

It may mean taking a popular song and making it sound more like the musicians you have, than the CD musicians. It may mean looking at past set lists for older songs that are actually better than the new ones being sold to us. Another place to look is at other local worship leaders who write and have successfully done a song in their church. Our church is most likely more diverse than our worship industry addresses. Our ear should be nearly as diverse as our people, I think.

Songs are not all created equal!

Do the songs you do line up with your church’s theology? If not, they may not be helping anyone. Are the songs too difficult to sing? What is popular and available is not always what is right for your church.

Just because a song is readily sent to your inbox with all the resources to execute does not mean it fits your church! It also does not prove its worth as a good song. Do you have criteria for choosing music? What is most important in a song for your church?

I say we can leave behind bad songs in 2017. Simple criteria might include a pitch range for the song, how singable it is rhythmically, and of course the content of the lyrics. What does the song do to help your church people pray together? If you sing a theology that is not supported by your pastor, that might also be something to check off on the list.

We all want to stay current, but what is next is not necessarily what the kids are doing today. One of the most important things we do as worship leaders is the prayerful and thoughtful selection of songs for our congregation. If we don’t have a plan or system to keep us honest about what matters most, we are most likely choosing bad songs.

In conclusion, this coming year is an opportunity to remove the barriers and make way for the new. As you delve into your own list, we hope this list helps you have some energetic conversations internally, as well as with your team and leaders. We would love to hear back from you about any feedback about this list, as well as some items you think we should have put on this list.

About The Author

Rich Kirkpatrick

Rich is a writer, blogger, speaker, musician, father and husband to his best friend. You can check out his latest book, The Six Hats of the Worship Leader, on his website, RKblog.com

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