Lead People – 10 Year Series

Over the next couple of months, I am planning to do a blog series that expands on a blog post I wrote entitled “10 Lessons From 10 Years of Worship Leading.” Here’s the first of ten, if God allows (and if my Enneagram 7-ADHD-self doesn’t get bored or distracted and move on to something else).

If I could travel back in time, I would tell the 21-year-old me to get a haircut and some different glasses. I would also say this, “Don’t just focus on leading song, lead people.”

1. Lead people. 

There is a night and day difference between just leading songs and leading people.

I can remember the early days of my worship leadership. I spent hours learning songs, memorizing arrangements, developing and adapting chord charts, and recording sub-par YouTube videos in the guest bedroom of my house. I longed to be excellent and not come across as lazy in my preparation. I was focused. I was diligent. I was…obsessed. I praise God for those early years as I grew exponentially in skill, talent, and vocal control.  Sometimes I’ll go back to an old recording and be amazed at the growth God has brought about. There is much to be said about the importance of developing familiarity and tone with an instrument or your voice, but my approach was lop-sided. You see, I focused a lot of time on song leading, but little time on thinking of how I could leverage every element of the worship service to shepherd the people of God.

When I was 21 years old, leading worship for a new church plant of about 30 people, I was given the title “pastor.” I wouldn’t have been able to articulate this then, but I can tell you that I viewed myself as a worship leader who just so happened to be a pastor rather than a pastor who just so happened to lead worship. More than my young age or lack of experience, it had to do with what I valued.

Peter reminds those of us who have the pastoral responsibility as worship leaders to “Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly” (1 Peter 5:2).

For me as a volunteer and then bi-vocational worship pastor during those early years, I can tell you that I wasn’t in it “for the money.” I thought I was above this exhortation Peter gives as I wasn’t leading for “shameful gain.” The truth is, I was in it for the shameful gain of man’s approval. I was addicted to people telling me how talented I was. I loved getting to be in front of others and for all my hard work of preparation to be seen. I know that I loved Jesus in those early years but I was immature. I was more interested in leading songs than leading people. Sadly, I still am sometimes. Praise God for the grace to repent from simply leading songs to leading (shepherding, serving, and loving) people time and time again. You and I can rest in the approval of Christ and lead people to experience the greatness of God through Christ by the power of the Spirit. Worship leaders, let’s not just lead songs, let’s lead people.

Diagnostic Questions:

Are you spending the bulk of your time prepping your instrument and voice? 

Do you take time to prepare Scriptures and words that you might exhort and encourage God’s people with? 

Do you think about how your songs fit together to lead people in celebrating the gospel or do you just think about flow/feel of songs moving from one key to the next? 

These are just a few questions to ask yourself as you seek to not just lead songs but people.

10 lessons from 10 years of worship leading

As I prepare to wrap up my 10th year in worship ministry, I’ve decided to share 10 different lessons that I have learned.  There have probably been a thousand, but I don’t know anyone besides my mom who would read that. Maybe you are an aspiring worship leader, or you have been in the midst of worship ministry for quite some time.  Whatever the case, I hope this can be a grace to you.

1. Lead people. —Anyone with talent (or in some cases, just a little confidence) can lead a song.  Lead people. Lead them to worship through grief and sorrow, through joy and victory, through the mundane and the apathetic seasons of life.  You get to point people to encounter the greatness of God through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Lead people.

2. Share the platform. —The church needs to see that there are many singers, but One Savior, a plurality of leaders, but only One Lord.  Sharing the platform can start by giving away a song, a Scripture reading, or a whole service. God calls you to equip the saints for the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:11).  Share the platform.

3. Substance over style. —When the church gathers, they don’t need you to wow them with your abilities, they need to be wowed by the gospel.  Lead your team and your people to see that Jesus is better than their preferences.  

4. Two words: humble confidence. —Quit trying to sell yourself to people and start pointing people to Jesus. Humility, as C.S. Lewis observed, is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less.  In God’s kingdom, we don’t walk with swagger or a limp. Christ is all, and in all (Colossians 3:11). So give up on yourself, place your confidence in Christ and run headlong into the calling set before you.

5. You are a theologian. —Tony Merida said that our songs are portable theology.  The songs you lead are shaping the way people think about God and who He is.  The lyrics you choose to place in the mouths of God’s people will impact all of their lives.  “Show me a church’s songs and I’ll show you their theology.” – Gordon Fee

6. You are a child of God. —Before God calls you to ministry, he calls you to intimacy.  Do you want to give the church your best? Before standing up before the congregation to lift your voice, sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to his voice.  

7. Sometimes less is more. —I’m all for turning up the sound, pulling out all the stops, and worshipping the Lord with many sounds and instruments. However, sometimes we need to dial it back and remind ourselves and those we are leading that the Scriptures are sufficient to guide our worship.  If you feel like the church can’t worship God without a full-band, you are deceived.

8. You aren’t entitled to your platform. —The only thing you are entitled to is hell.  The only thing that qualifies you for salvation is your sinful need.  Everything you receive in this life is grace. So the next time you step onto your un-earned platform to lead 10 people or 1,000 people in Scripture and song, remember that you are just one beggar telling other beggars where to find bread. 

9. Stand amazed. —When Jesus sent out his disciples in Luke 10, they came back utterly blown away by what God was using them to do.  Jesus told them, “Do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20).  The source of our amazement is not in what God can accomplish through our gifts and leadership but in what Christ has already accomplished for us through His life, death and resurrection.

10. You’re not the worship leader. —Jesus is the true and better worship leader.  Only he can give people access to God. He lives to make intercession for sinners.  He alone is our great High Priest. By his blood, He leads His people into the presence of God.  Jesus is the Chief Worship Leader.

So there you go, 10 different lessons from 10 years of worship leadership.  I know there’s more. I would love to hear what you would add to this list in the comments below.