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Developing Worship Leaders

I often get asked to offer guidance or unpack how to lead worship. Like, what is the secret sauce? We all feel it or experience it one way or another. For some, what might be for some a transformative, deeply moving experience can be perceived and experienced by another as an overly emotional time that really didn't do anything.

For others what might be experienced as a deeply rich, lyrical and musical journey into the heart of God can be for others lacking heart, connection and the "spirit".

Why are we so divided in our experience? Is it as simple as Head vs Heart. Emotional vs Logical. Is it merely a case of all of our preferences and personalities and basic like/dislike of different genres of music guiding our experience or is there a more distinct target we are aiming at. Could it be something more mysterious we should set our face towards that would see everyone in the room engage in Worship and Praise of a God who loves us and desires relationship?

Entire churches are built off a certain sound. People gravitate and move across oceans because of this. We are all looking and searching for our tribe, to belong in a space where our gifts are activated and our hearts are known.

I've largely stayed away from writing on this subject for the same reason I remain silent on many things. Because, I'm not so sure I have a clear answer or method that would actually help. I've come to realize it is about context. So in the context of my current community here goes...

I lead a diverse team made up of individuals who have many different styles and opinions on what is important in a worship context. And we all lead and at times it feels crazy. And in many ways in all of our diversity we are all right, whatever that means. This can make for at times an environment where there is so much diversity in talent, skill, styles etc that has caused concern. But there is a beauty to this. If we are able to strive for Continuity amongst Diversity, If we make effort to stay unified while pushing the limits of what makes up a vibrant, transformative worship experience, then we just may have a hope. We're learning the hard way through conflict and unclear expectations.

Volunteer leaders who give their time and heart to learn songs, prayerfully come up with sets, all on top of busy and full lives.

So, in all of this I'm going to take you into my process, take you into some of the motivations and agenda's I know I have when I'm asked to lead worship over the years. I'm a work in progress, working out my salvation with fear and trembling. This is not a fancy teaching but rather principles and ideas that have occurred to me over the years. I'm quite certain other worship leader's have done a better and clearer job of boiling down some of this, but everything I've read or seen doesn't really speak into my context, the context of developing worship leader's in an environment of incredible diversity and complexity of the Bay Area.

1. Flexibility.
In an age of click tracks, slick and creative production, people quite comfortable and expectant to be entertained, as worship leaders and church leaders we need to make effort to keep things flexible. No, this is not laziness. This is a willingness to be messy and remain in the moment. I do like and implement click tracks and the like, anything that makes us excellent is Godly. Set yourselves up though to create room and space in times of worship. Don't rush through it. Training our teams and congregations to waste time with Jesus. I'm not necessarily advocating for going longer than allocated, although sometimes this is possible. I'm talking about letting the Holy Spirit disrupt our programming and plans to lead us into transformative and well led moments.

Over the years, this word flexibility has built in an unhurried approach to life which has helped me in moments of chaos and change. Outside of the worship experience, I've learned to roll with the punches and lead through it. Nothing is more valuable than experience. If I wasn't given opportunity and lateral space and permission to try, fail I would never have grown. The key is though we all need a growth mindset, whether we are 55 and been leading for 30 years or whether we are 14, green, talented. There is no room for rigid precociousness in worship leadership but there is room for anyone with a willing and soft heart.

Give the youngsters and leader's in your midst...

2. Experience.
Open conversations within your team that you value their experience but very soon they may not have the edge that they had when they were younger. Bleed into your teams youth, combine them with more experience and empower them all to have a voice.

There is pain associated with giving other's leadership as your reputation will be directly tied to their success and failure. This is such a gift though. Work with others. Tell them the truth. Help them grow. Hold them to a higher standard. It's hard to improve when you don't have opportunity.

3. Perspective.
If people in your community are consistently experiencing frustration with your times of worship. Find the culprit. Be brutal. Is it ill-fitting, un-imaginative or poor song selection, sub-standard musical skill or poor vocals. Is it a lack of sensitive and connected leadership? Discern (you may need help with this) whether your vision is solid and the pain is collateral with a season of change or could it be your leadership has too many blind spots? I make it a practice to have a few people read back to me their diagnosis of my leadership. Sometimes its all good. Sometimes its hard to hear. On all occasions it helps guide me along with His voice to stay on track and make sure we are prophetically and sensitively leading, challenging and comforting our community.

4. New Songs vs Old Songs.
I tend towards a freshness in my worship sets, it is hard to say a right or wrong way. I would feel the pulse of people in your community and see how you are doing with it. There are positives for including favorites, familiars and fresh songs and throwbacks. Make sure you love the songs and can lead them with passion and heart. I've found it is more about timing and how new songs are presented. I've been guilty of rushing in a new song because I think it would really fit with a sermon and when I get to introducing it, it doesn't catch on. I've maybe not spent enough time really learning or understanding the song or maybe the team just doesn't get into it and I leave the set wishing I waited. The opposite can be true as well. I have a sense and desire to do a new song but then I decide to play it safe and do all familiar songs but the set misses an edge and I leave wishing I'd included that dynamic new song. This happens so often that I've learnt to spend time sitting before the Lord, playing the set through and having an honest conversation. I've even been as detailed as changing the set from service to service. Thats ok, as long as its communicated and clear with the band, the tech . team etc.

5. Lead with.
Don't get stuck in a rut. Pick songs with another leader, team up and work with each other's strengths and cover each other's weaknesses. Some people strongly connect, some pay attention to lyrical depth, some lead with sensitivity, some have killer vocals, use all gifts and empower. Make sure everyone is onboard for the best experience keeping in mind horizontal and vertical integrity.

6. Horizontal and Vertical Integrity. 
Many names for this. I'm passionate about both. Praising God for who He is, what He can do, helping people put into words their love, devotion and gratefulness for His Character and His works, recognizing that there is an I, ME, US, YOU, HIM, THEY and they are all important and needed in a time of Worship. This is important. I hear so much venom and indifference thrown around on this subject. Makes my heart sad as they all have their place in full hearted, full-throated musical worship.

We are whole-body beings, incredible complex in every way. God instructs us to Love Him Mind, Body, Soul and Strength. Applying this to our worship times means there is no ceiling to our experience. Add in the incredible Mystery and power of the Holy Spirit and it creates an environment of incredible power and expectancy. Let the ones who lead with their head, lead with heart. Let the ones who lead with their heart engage their mind. Let all of us submit to His Holy Spirit to lead it all.

When we throw stones and say, "Well, that is just a Me song, I'm all about doing songs that are about Him" I want for you to take a moment to hear yourself. I'm wondering how in touch you are, there is a tone of pride that comes through this. There is a religiosity that can be blinding as though what you think, how you see things can be a stumbling block. Be careful with this. Nothing can kill the Spirit of God quicker than our dead and critical religiosity. For those who say, "There is no Spirit here. It feels too staid, rigid" As the first comment goes, so does this. Those who remain stuck and satisfied with a predominately emotional response without provoking or depth within our lyrics will remain unchanged and go to times of worship in a selfish frame of mind. Like a vacuum, sucking whatever they can get, not posturing to give and engage.

We are all guilty of criticism and selfishness. I hear it all the time. And when I don't hear it I can sense it. As worship leaders let's stretch ourselves and grow. Let us be kind, pliable, passionate and prophetic. Let us be teachable and soft, yet adventurous and provoking. Let us be bold and confident yet only in the safety of being muzzled and led by Him.

Just some thoughts.

Go Well.


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