“I wish you were a better singer because you are an awesome Worship Leader!”
Someone actually shared this thought with me after the third time I guest-led worship at their very large church. You may think that I should have felt somehow slighted by this statement, but I actually appreciated it. Truth is, I share this story every opportunity I get because of how well it reflects my thoughts on Worship Leading.
Basically they said that I was a good Worship Leader in spite of… not because of…my talents. I can certainly live with that. In fact I actually sing pretty well…but a lot of people in my church are better singers. Should someone be the Worship Leader because they are the best singer in their church? Not necessarily. That would be like finding the person with the best speaking skills and making them the Pastor. The obvious goal would be a gifted worship leader possessing great performance skills, but the two do not always go hand in hand.
The concepts of skill set and performance ability are sometimes too highly valued when it comes to evaluating candidates for our praise teams. Certainly these things should be weighed and considered, but do we do so at the risk of overlooking much more important considerations like calling and anointing? We see examples all the time of people who are great performers, but less than inspiring Worship Leaders. This can happen when a church places more value on a person’s ability as an artist or performer than their giftings as a Worship Leader.
On the other hand, I have been swept into worship under a leader who is perhaps not as gifted a performer, but worships with the reckless abandon of David dancing before his people. It may sound like I am implying that you can lead worship and possess absolutely no musical skills and that couldn’t be further from the truth. If there is a consistent thread in the Tools or Toys columns it’s whether or not something supports or detracts from worship. If you are a dreadful musician or singer, you will be a distracting Worship Leader. My simple understanding of the role of the Worship Leader is of someone seeking their own transparency while guiding others into the presence of God by going first. Drawing attention to ourselves with our talent… or lack of it…sort of defeats that purpose.
Performance is an interesting concept to try to balance in the context of a Sunday worship service. As musicians and artists, I think we have a natural sense for performance. Personally, I love to be entertained and I love great performances. I actively seek opportunity to do both whenever and wherever I can. But is it our primary goal on Sunday morning to be entertaining or present a great performance? Certainly not. Worship Leaders often pray the simple prayer “less of me and more of You Lord,” seeking the transparency that we spoke of previously. One of the dangers of great performance is that it can draw attention to itself. I have seen worship leaders perform so well that I am distracted from the worship and begin to focus on what the artist is doing. I have performed so well during worship, that I have actually distracted myself! Then there are the times I distract myself and those around me with not so great performances, but that’s another issue.
My ideal picture of leading worship would be that of the lead worshiper with his or her back to their people – leading by going first. Not cheerleading and not necessarily concerned with what those behind them are doing. Completely focused on God and nothing else. A visible and unifying example of authentic worship in that place at that time. Their music is not worship, but rather a result of worship and they respond in real time to what the Spirit is doing in that place. If they sing they sing. If they solo they solo. If they stand in heavy silence, they stand. This is what will draw others into worship. If we are focused on God and His Holy Spirit and an amazing performance bursts forth, I believe this is a natural result of worship and glorifying to God. We are in trouble when we seek those amazing performances for their own sake.
In closing, I leave you with a simple thought a Pastor friend shared with me years ago. Be content…never satisfied. You were created to worship God. Be content in that calling and move in it with conviction, but never be satisfied with where you are. David wrote that we should play with excellence and that comes from honing our skills and abilities and we should constantly seek ways to expand our gifts. Practice, lessons, seminars, on-line training…whatever it takes. Some of our most beloved and best known worship artists have achieved wide spread effectiveness because they are great worship leaders AND accomplished performers. But they are worship leaders first and they strike a skillful harmony between the two.