written by Becky Ykema / posted at www.sundaymag.tv
Oh, to have a magic teakettle! When you rub the side of it, instantly your dream worship leader appears – ready to serve at your church. Oh, to make ourselves into the dream worship leader that churches are looking for!
If you could define what makes a dream worship leader, what would they be like?
In a perfect world, my answer is, “A dream worship leader has all the good and Godly characteristics possible. They never sin. They never mess up. They are all good things to everyone.”
But the more I think about it, this is laughable. Why?
We can’t be everything to everyone because God has uniquely formed each of us with different personalities, gifts, likes, and dislikes. We live in a broken world. The only perfect person was Jesus. But, I believe there are some core characteristics that make fantastic worship leaders. Worship leaders are, at their core, artists and shepherds that participate in pastoring their communities and help them engage with God.
The more we know about ourselves and the way we’ve been formed by God, the more we know of God’s character – His love, promises, and faithfulness. A self-aware worship leader is one who knows their strengths and weaknesses. They can sense when they are, for instance, becoming frustrated in a meeting. Then they can choose to take a deep breath and address the matter in a mature and responsible way. I like the way John Ortberg says it in his book, The Me I Want to Be, “You are able to disclose your own thoughts and feelings in a way that invites openness in others.”
A self-aware worship leader can tell during a worship service when the story they may be sharing is more for them than for the congregation. They can take a step back and assess whether or not their actions or words are helpful or hurtful. A self-aware worship leader leans on the strengths of others in areas they are weak. They walk with a confidence that is not prideful, but grounded in their identity as a Christ follower.
No matter what size congregation we lead, our place in ministry tends to be in front of people. With eyes on us, we become well known to our communities. We may receive compliments about our work. “That song was so great! You are such a great singer. You have mad skills on the electric. Have you auditioned for (Insert Latest Singing TV Show)?” And while compliments are so well meant, if we aren’t careful, they can come to mean more to us than they should. This has happened to me more than once. I would feel cocky about a worship set I put together and how incredibly moving it was. And man, people were singing out. Then CRASH! I trip and fall. Yup. Hello, Proverbs 16:18 TNIV: “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”
Please hear me though, humility does not mean we should be self-deprecating, beating ourselves up, or speaking sheepishly and mumbling into the microphone. You are in this position for a reason and with the position comes authority. But, it’s wise to do a pride check from time to time and ask God how we’re doing.
Sense of Humor
Have you ever put your guitar capo on the wrong fret and started in on a song – leaving your band to scramble and panic? I have. The first time this happened to me was years back at the end of receiving communion. My head and heart were wrapped up in the spirit of worship. I started the last song and my inner dialogue went something like this: “…uh… this key is definitely too high. Something is terribly wrong…Becky, what did you do? Just keep going. Just ignore it. The band will figure it out.” The band did eventually figure it out, but I will never forget the number of eye-rolls and shaking heads from my band mates for the next five minutes. Thank goodness they had a great sense of humor.
Now, what should I have done? Maybe I did the right thing. But I was also too afraid to make a fool of myself in front of 300 people. Along with self-awareness is having a sense of humor. Being able to make a joke and not take yourself so seriously is a really important skill. If we can keep our “cool” in its rightful place, we are free to own up to our mistakes in the moment – maybe have a real human moment with the congregation, laugh, and move on. We needn’t be so serious.
A flexible worship leader is an incredible teammate. Your pastor might finish their message on Friday and ask you to rework your set list for Sunday. Or, you might be in the midst of a four-hour band practice – trying to make this new song work, and it’s just not happening. There may be an unexpected passing of a congregant and you’re asked with a day’s notice to learn songs A, B, and C to play at a memorial service. Whatever the case may be, there are plenty of opportunities to be flexible in ministry. And how do we become flexible? We must constantly stretch ourselves. Take the opportunities that come your way and use them to stretch yourself, to learn, to grow, to submit, and sometimes to make tough decisions. If you let yourself learn from it, no case of stretching will be done in vain.
To me, a dream worship leader is a learner. They are reading, seeking new information, journaling, making discoveries, and having conversations with wise people. A worship leader wants to know about worship in other cultures. They build relationships with people of other ethnicities, denominational and cultural backgrounds, and other religions. They seek to learn from the other. They have read through the Bible and are in constant pursuit of knowing more about God.
“Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:25 TNIV)
I believe strongly in the importance of the gift of discernment for worship leaders. This gift plays a part in every aspect of life. It may pop up during a creative meeting where you think, “Okay, this is really fun, but where is Jesus in this?” Discernment will certainly show itself as you’re leading worship. You may be in the middle of a set where your band and vocalists are leading a really joyful song, but there is a feeling of somberness in the room. Part of a worship leader’s role is to be aware of the tone in a room, sense God’s movement, and act out of our obedience to what God might be doing in people’s hearts. A discerning worship leader has a few options of songs and directions to take the music in case they are moved to shift their direction. This has only happened to me a handful of times and I have adjusted my spiritual reflections and use of space and song accordingly.
And of course a dream worship leader, as with all true believers, should authentically embody the fruits of the Spirit found in Galatians 5:23,24: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Pastors, worship leaders, and artists, what characteristics do you think a dream worship leader should have? What would you add?