How Do You Choose An Effective Worship Leader?


By: Jean Coleman

An effective worship leader often makes the difference between the good church and a great church, just another song service or an uplifting worship experience. Yet there is little taught about this high calling-the ministry of leading worship.

Often the song leader is selected with little thought and even less prayer. “How about Tom? He has a pretty good voice.” And Tom is almost casually entrusted with the awesome responsibility of leading the congregation into the presence of Almighty God.

Churches are full of mediocre song leaders when what God seeks is people He has gifted to lead others into worship. It is a definite calling-an anointing from God.

Most of us have a preconceived idea of what a worship leader should be. I always pictured a strapping young man with a booming voice in the role. That would have been my selection if I were God. I would have never chosen a middle-aged woman for the task. But His ways are not our ways, and so He chose me-a most unlikely candidate in the natural. However, God does not look at the outward appearance, but rather on the heart. Above all He is seeking worshippers, and so must we. Unless your worship leader is one who knows what it means to worship in spirit and in truth, he will never be able to bring others into true worship.

Is He a Worshipper?

Your worship leader must be a spiritual person who loves the Lord with all his heart, mind, soul and strength. He does not have to be a great singer, a professional musician or a trained soloist. The big question is: is he a worshipper? The Lord is seeking one who will stand before the congregation with his eyes upon Jesus and direct their gaze toward the King of kings.

Is your worship leader a true worshipper? Do not settle for less.

Can He Lead?

Another question is: can he lead? The worship leader must be a leader. The one who is placed before the people of God to lead in worship must not be a novice. He must be a mature Christian whose lifestyle reflects Christ. The fruit of the Spirit must be evident. There must be no sin in his life, for sin separates from God. How can he hope to lead others into the throne room when guilt prevents his own entrance?

Your worship leader should be selected only after seeking guidance from God in prayer. You should require the same qualifications for your worship leader that you would for an elder or deacon. It is a high calling in the kingdom of God. When the worship leader steps to the microphone, the pastor delegates to him the responsibility of the entire service. He sets the tone and directs the flow of the service. Often he will be the one who determines how long to wait upon prophecy, tongues and other gift ministries. How dare we hand the service over to Tom just because he has a good voice. God forbid!

Is He Rooted?

The worship leader needs to be mature not only in his walk with the Lord, but also in his relationship with your church. Too often someone with a good voice begins to attend services and three months later he is on the platform leading worship, although he is not yet truly moving in the spirit of your church.

Each church has its own personality. No two are the same, nor should they be the same. God made churches with individual personalities just as He did people-each one distinct.

Someone who comes to you from another church has to have time to settle in and put down roots. We are always in such a hurry. We don’t allow people time to get rooted. We just take them and plop them down in the flower bed of our particular church, and then say, “Quick, bloom!” When someone is transplanted, it takes time for him to get his roots down and become a viable part of your body. You need to allow that person time to grow in your church, and then you can be sure his ministry will flow there.

Is He Musical?

While you are not looking for a singer or a performer, rather for a mature worshipper, there are basic musical requirements he must meet. Your worship leader must sing on key and have both a strong voice and sense of rhythm. He must enunciate clearly so the words of the song can be easily understood and followed.

As a leader he must be disciplined as he ministers, recognizing that the entire congregation is following his lead. He cannot stray from the melody into fancy frills or harmony, because people will try to follow his lead.

I think a worship leader needs to be a kind of spiritual cheerleader. It is his responsibility to get the people excited about the great things the Lord is doing. The last thing you want is a dull person before your congregation. That is death. Your worship leader must be alive, vibrant in the Spirit, fervent for the Lord. Excitement is contagious. It is communicable. And that’s what you want! You want your congregation to catch a vision of the presence of the Lord. You want their eyes opened so they recognize Jesus in their midst. And when they see Him, they will worship and adore with every fiber of their being.

Some might tell you it is unspiritual to prepare in advance the songs that will be sung during Sunday morning worship. They are wrong. The worship leader needs to pray and seek God in advance for direction on how He wants to move by His Spirit. His list of songs can always be put aside if the Lord decides to move in a different way, but it is wrong to tempt God by inadequate preparation.

Is He Considerate?

In most cases the worship leader does not minister alone. Others are also involved in the worship experience: the pianist, the orchestra and even the one who handles the overhead or slide projector. A little preparation can cover a multitude of problems that could interfere with the free flow of worship, such as long pauses until the correct slide is located, searching for the correct key or the proper chords, or a song with which the pianist is not familiar. The worship leader has the responsibility to orchestrate the flow of worship.

I turn my attention to Sunday morning worship early in the week, quieting my spirit and visualizing myself entering into His courts with praise, and ultimately into the holy of holies in worship. I listen within to hear the songs the Spirit puts upon my heart. When I have heard from God, I give the list of songs and choruses to our minister of music who makes up a folder of the selected music for each member of the orchestra. The slides are put in order. New songs and choruses are rehearsed in advance. We want to present our very best to the Lord. We desire to play skillfully and do all things well so that our sacrifice of praise will be without blemish.

The pianist is the worship leader’ s best friend. They must move in complete unity, in one spirit. The pianist must learn to sense the direction the leader is moving and submit to it. The pianist must allow the worship leader to set the tempo of the music, slowing down and speeding up as the leader directs, constantly discerning the flow of the Spirit.

A glance in his direction or a barely perceptible nod of my head is enough to signal our pianist that I am moving on to the next song. A slight turning of my finger says, “Let’s sing it again.” My hand at my side with palm turned down tells him we’re going to stop singing and wait upon the Lord. The orchestra is also finely tuned to my direction so that everyone can worship together in the beauty of holiness. It takes cooperation and real unity of spirit, but it’s worth the effort.

We are an “alto church” because I sing alto. It’s important that the leader sing in keys in which he is comfortable. There’s nothing more distracting than a worship leader straining for the high notes. The church will adjust to the leader’s range-high or low. Don’t let it become a stumbling block.

Is He Talkative?

The transition from praise to worship is very important. Sometimes a simple prayer or a few words of acknowledgment of God’s greatness will carry you over the threshold as praises turn to worship and holy hands are lifted to God.

But be sure it is only a simple prayer or a few words. More than that is too much. A worship leader must beware of much speaking.

Song leaders are not called to be preachers, yet many try to usurp that role. They like to give a little sermon between each song, often destroying the atmosphere of worship that has been established. Even a few words spoken in the flesh can hinder the flow of worship. I’ve seen whole congregations yanked down from the heavenly by inept worship leaders.

Beware of a performer spirit in your worship leader. Many people desire to be a worship leader because they like to be in the spotlight-in the public eye. You want the people to be attracted to Jesus, not to your worship leader. When worship is at its best, the congregation sees no man save Jesus only. The worship leader must decrease so that He can increase.

Is He Stuck?

Many people resist new songs. They like the familiar, the song they can slip into like a favorite pair of slippers. Yet the church of God is moving, and we must keep our congregations moving too. They need to sing to the Lord a new song.

A visiting evangelist once told me he could judge the state of a church by its music. If he found the congregation still singing the same choruses they sang the year before, he knew there was something wrong. A lack of fresh new music is a sign of stagnation within a church.

It is the worship leader’s responsibility to bring in new music. He should play tapes and listen to Christian radio to stay abreast of the songs of Zion. We began to pray for new music, and God answered by giving us original songs. When God was ministering to our church on change, He gave us the song, “Change me, Lord, into the image of Your Son.” Ask the Lord for new songs and He will supply your need.

The worship leader should not attempt to introduce more than one new song at a service. If he tries to give the people too many new choruses at once, none of them will be retained.

New songs should be avoided in the midst of high praise or worship. It is better to set apart a special time to teach a new song so that worship will not be interrupted. When the congregation has entered into worship, the leader must allow them to stay in the presence of the Lord.

When we introduce a new song, we sing it several meetings the first week. We sing it at the mid-week meeting and at all the Bible studies. We have the orchestra play it before the Sunday service begins so that it can work its way into the people’s hearts. We try to sing new songs regularly for at least a month. Every week opportunity is given to sing it somewhere. And at the end of that time, everyone is singing it everywhere. It has become a comfortable “old favorite” to the church. It’s healthy to sing new songs.

Is He Poised?

Worship leaders are human, and there will be mistakes. There have been times I have completely missed the key or started one song only to find that my pianist was playing another. Occasionally, a wrong slide or transparency is shown. It is important to learn to laugh when things like this happen. If embarrassment is not shown, the flock will stay relaxed. However, if anger or irritation is allowed to take over, tension will spread over the entire congregation. The leader needs to have poise, self-control and the ability to rejoice in all circumstances even the awkward ones.

A good music ministry will attract good musicians. Be sure that all the ones you involve are spiritual men and women. It is not enough that they be skilled musicians-they must also be able to move in the Spirit. If you lack musicians, pray them in. God delights to give you the desire of your heart.

Be realistic in your expectation of praise and worship in your church. Don’t expect more of your people than they are able to give. There are different levels of maturity in praise and worship, the same as in other areas of spiritual growth. Give them a mature worship leader who can lead them into mature worship.

My prayer is: “Lord, save us from song leaders. Raise up true worshippers in every congregation who are called, chosen 2nd anointed to bring Your people into Your presence that they might worship You in spirit and in truth. Amen.”

(The above material was adapted from Ministries Magazine.)

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