What should a worship leader work on?

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I’ve been asked a few times lately about what a new(ish) worship leader should work on – as in, what are the essentials? It didn’t take too long to come up with a short list. As with anything, there’s more one could say on any part of this post. But as I reflected back on almost twenty years of leading music in church, I really did think quickly of a few things that have proved pretty essential. All of this is also in hindsight, and all are things I continue to work hard to improve. So from one imperfect church musician to another…

  1. Listen widely. You won’t bring every style of music into church. But listening widely keeps you sane for one thing, as you listen to more music for enjoyment and not just to stuff for church. I’ve found that listening widely as a music appreciator keeps me from getting sick of any one song. But maybe you don’t burn out on music like I do at times. Listening widely also broadens the framework within which you can work musically. You might not bring a full orchestra into church too often, but listening to a ton of classical will help you hear things about music you wouldn’t otherwise hear, and will broaden the kinds of ideas you might have the tools to try in your arrangements. It will also help you skillfully talk music with musicians, and extend your musicianship into greater realms of discipleship, with music as a common interest between friends.
  2. Practice your instrument for the congregation. Make sure you improve in ways that make you effective at LEADING. It’s not crucial to learn every guitar lead part, but it’s important that you play skillfully and correctly all the way through every song (as much as you can help it). I made myself a goal in the early years, by God’s grace, that I was going to play every song correctly (no wrong chords), and that I was going to be spot-on with my timing. I still make plenty of flubs, BUT pushing toward those goals have proved super helpful. If your timing can be like a metronome, it helps everyone, AND makes you super effective when you have to lead solo. Good rhythm puts a congregation at ease with whatever you’re asking them to sing with you.
  3. Sing on-pitch. This sound obvious…but we all know what it feels like to think your voice is not so bad, and then to hear a recording of yourself that shatters that opinion. I’ve found listening to yourself often is actually very helpful, and beneficial in-that it does force you to be uncomfortable. That’s a good uncomfortable, that can really refine you. We’re our own worst critics naturally, so lean into that and listen to your own singing. A couple of us at church here have started recording ourselves singing in the car, to any song, totally acapella; then we listen back to that recording  and pick out where we sang flat, etc. Then we do it again, and again, until we improve that part. Sounds goofy, but it works. And you already sing in the car as it is…
  4. Deepen your theology. You might think this point should’ve been first. I agree that it actually should be, but I wanted to get the practical stuff outta the way. Before and after all of the above, you have to read and study your Bible. Read theology, both specifically about worship and general theology. Strengthen your grasp of the Gospel. Learn to see the whole council of God and the story in Scripture more clearly. All of this will be the roots of the tree that is your worship leading, and any other visible ministry you get to do. Make time to be with Jesus, and don’t settle for any cursory understanding of God’s Word. Love God, and then let that love overflow to the people you lead.

I hope that’s helpful. Anything else I’ve missed?? I’m writing this on a Friday – I hope Sunday is shaping up well for all of you, and that you have a sweet time in gathered worship with your churches.

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