The Worship Leader as Musician

In my most recent series of posts, I’ve sought to explain why worship leaders should function in the local church as shepherd-musicians. In my last post, I tried to explain what it practically looks like for a worship leader to function as a shepherd in the local church. In this post, I aim to describe what it looks like for a worship leader to function as a musician. It’s incredibly important that we have worship leaders who function as both!*

The Worship Leader as Musician

A few things that worship leaders should seek to do as musicians:

  • A worship leader should understand that their primary identity is not as a musician.

Every worship leader is tempted to make music a primary means of their value and worth. It’s often the most tangible, visible thing a worship leader does on a consistent basis. In other words, it’s when most people in the church congregation actually see a worship leader doing ministry. Therefore people typically praise (or admonish) a worship leader based on how they’ve seen them perform musically during corporate worship. The slippery temptation, then, is for a worship leader to place their heart’s desire on good musicianship for the sake of receiving praise from others! It’s a constant battle for worship leaders to remember that the point of producing excellent music in corporate worship is for praise, adoration, and glory to be given to Jesus Christ alone. They must remind themselves that whether they eat, or drink, or whatever they do, they are to do it all for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31), and that all their abilities as a musician are ultimately given to them by God (James 1:17).

The primary identity of a worship leader is as a child of God who has been loved, sought out, and purchased by Jesus. Because they are united to Jesus, His perfect record in life has made them completely righteous, acceptable, and well liked by God (2 Cor. 5:21). His death has spared them from the wrath of God (Rom. 5:9). His resurrection gives them the sure promise that one day they will literally rise from the dead to spend eternity with God (Rom. 6:5). Because this is true, a worship leader is able to put music (and therefore their role as a musician) in its proper place – as a beautiful means by which we praise, glorify, and enjoy our Savior and King.

  • A worship leader should realize that excellent musicianship isn’t about perfection, but rather stewardship.

Worship leaders have to be committed to producing excellent music. Psalm 33 says that we are to play our music skillfully to the LORD. In other words, God cares about the music we’re making to Him. It should be done skillfully, in a manner worthy of His glory! Worship leaders must themselves practice, plan, and oversee their bands accordingly. God is worthy of the very best that we have to offer in every area of our lives – including the music we make in corporate worship.

But the point of our skill in musicianship isn’t perfection.

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace (1 Peter 4:10 ESV)

In 1 Peter 4, we’re commanded to steward the gifts God has given us by using them to serve others. In other words, we are to look at our lives holistically and use our spiritual gifts faithfully, maximizing our ability to use them so that the Church can flourish and thrive. This command certainly goes beyond our spiritual gifts – we are to apply this principle to our God-given talents as well! The musical skill and ability of a worship leader must be stewarded. In other words, we must refine and develop our musical talents and abilities for the sake of God’s glory! The thrust of excellent musicianship in the church is service-oriented and outward-focused. It points away from the glory of the musician toward God for the good of others.

  • A worship leader should know how to set their band up for success. 

A worship leader should know how to adequately prepare their band to succeed in leading worship. Direction will need to be given to the members of the band. How should they instrumentally transition between songs? What should the sequencing of the songs look like, and what should the band be looking to do dynamically throughout each song? Is it apparent during practice that someone needs to change one of their parts, or are any of the instrumentalists clashing or just playing poorly at any point during a song? Ultimately, a worship leader needs to be able to ensure that the music being made is conducive to God’s people authentically worshiping and enjoying Him through song.

Further, a worship leader should have at least a basic understanding of music theory. Music theory becomes the most effective means by which a worship leader communicates with other members of the band. Imagine trying to oversee and teach a crew of people how to operate an aircraft using only the vocabulary of a three year old – it’s unnecessarily difficult to explain simple tasks, and after a certain point it’s impossible to describe anything in detail. Similarly, music theory is the language of musicians. For the sake of efficiency and excellence, a worship leader must know how to speak the language of music theory, and must be able to teach some of those basics to the other members of the band.

Why does it matter?

As worship leaders we must steward our talents, abilities, and knowledge as musicians for God’s glory, in service to the Church, that His people may enjoy Him forever.  After all, it’s our job as worship leaders to produce an environment that invites people into undistracting, authentic worship of Jesus. Not for the sake of professionalism or for the sake of a good performance. Not even for the sake of increased attendance at our churches, but rather for the sake of everyone in the congregation truly worshiping Jesus with all their heart, soul, and mind.

*I wrote a post on why I believe worship leaders are called to be shepherd-musicians here

In my next post, I aim to describe how the local church can help worship leaders to flourish as shepherd-musicians.