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.
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.