For those of you who are regular readers of Worship Matters, you know that last year I started a book on worship for Crossway. At the end of January, after I had almost finished the first draft, my very good friend, C.J. Mahaney, helped me see that I needed an editor and a more specific audience. I’m happy to report that I now have both. Crossway has hired Thomas Womack, formerly of Multnomah but now an independent editor, to help me write the new book.
Thomas and I have had a number of interactions already, and he is a gift from God to me. He has given me invaluable suggestions for what I want to say and how I should say it. The target audience is a worship leader in his mid-twenties who is doing fairly well, but wants to grow in his effectiveness. My hope is to help an upcoming generation of leaders be more effective in helping others to bring glory to Jesus Christ not only with their songs, but with their lives. I also plan to include a section that addresses pastors.
There are two ways you could help me in the process. First, if you could pray for me over the next few months (final draft due July 1), I would be extremely grateful. You could pray that I be clear, biblical, relatable, humble, courageous, effective, and pleasing to the Father. Second, I’d like to hear about the greatest challenges you face as a worship leader. I have some idea of what they are, but I’m always inspired and helped by real life situations that people are facing. You can either leave a comment on this post or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks.
I think that there are two common issues faced by those who have lead worship through music. 1) Seeking to find a balance to contemporary style and having God-exalting lyrics. 2) Handling criticism from the “older generation” and/or the conservative crowd that would like to have only a traditional-style of music.
I will continue to pray for you as you endeavor to worship God through the writing of this book.
I would say that my greatest challenge is motivating my players to take their craft very seriously. As a musician I really want to play at a very high level and I try and see that I am always improving at what I do (playing guitar and keys). This assumes a desire to work hard at your instrument and the context is probably outside of our rehearsals. The problem is that at church most guys (unless they are hired) who play are simply hobbiest musicians who want an outlet to play but aren’t exactly going home and working to get better during the week.
1. Should expectations be adjusted?
2. How do I motivate the typical musician to “take it to the next level”
3. Is it ok to exclude guys who don’t express this desire? Should my pastor and I be the ones who decide “where the bar is”?
Thanks for your most helpful blog,
Two years ago I started leading worship full time as the main worship leader for a small church of 300. During that the time the biggest challenge for me has been relating to the older saints. I was hired at 24 and I am now 26, as I look back over the past two years I have struggled with older saints who come to me with suggestions that are more like commands. I have been greatly humbled with my responses which many times have not been helpful.
These two years have been the most difficult ministry years of my life. God has seen fit to greatly humble me as I have gone to many of those older saints to apologize for the things I said. Yet I still struggle with the heart issue that many older saints idolize hymns and will not sing on Sunday unless it is a hymn and only if the hymn is played in it’s original form and style.
I am so thankful for you blog and for you conferences which have helped me to see the sin in my heart, to repent and grow as a worship pastor.
I am looking forward to your book and will be in prayer for you as you write.
Here is my greatest challenge: trying to incorporate new music ministry members that don’t have the same skills as the current band, without stretching myself too far administratively. I am not on staff, but serve as the Director of Music at my church of ~300. I have a wife, 4 kids, and full time job in IT.
I truly care for these folks, but I don’t have the time to consistently provide them with the tools (sheet music, audio arrangements,etc…) they need to succeed. When I can’t provide for them, I feel I have relationally fallen short which reduces my effectiveness in pastoring them.
I’d have to say that for the whole team, at times… the sense of forgetting that we’re worshipping as well comes along. We’re in front of a medium large church, we get hyped up with the songs, and instead of worshipping the Christ, we start performing. The a great meaning behind the word “lead” and many times I have to bring my team down and pray through the same thing that has been happening for centuries past. Forgetting who we’re here for.
That’s incredible about the book that you are writing. I will continue to pray for you as you work with Thomas and listen to God in how to put the final format together.
Talk to you later
I am a Music Director at a church that has recently grown from @ 120 to @180.
I’ve been here two years,but have led worship off and on at different places since 1985. My age is 44. I lead a blended worship service utilizing a small band (sometimes just piano), 30 voice choir, men’s singing group (quartet style), and a Ladies’ choir.These groups alternate in the schedule. We also do a mixed ensemble now and then. I enjoy leading groups and directing choir.I am a Firefighter by trade and am not a full time staff member of the church. I love being served by God by getting to lead worship! My challenges are:
1. Time management to keep the plates spinning.
2. Energy to give the practices their due.
3. Balancing the style of music to the culture of the congregation.
4. Feeling I have spent enough time praying for the music service to be God honoring.
5. Getting enough time to rehearse in busy people’s lives.
Thanks for listening! Paul
I have been very fortunate at the church in which I serve. I’m 30, bi-vocational, and I’ve been serving as lead worshiper since 2001. We are contemporary with some refurbished hymns, and the older members of our church are completely supportive, and even complained not too long ago that we don’t do enough new stuff. The Lord has blessed, and helped me change the lyrical content of our music over the past 5 years so we are both contemporary and have rich lyrical content.
The 2 problems I face most often are the following:
1. Raising the standard of worship in the congregation. In other words, helping people understand that their individual worship 6 days a week greatly enhances the corporate worship on Sunday.
2. Creating environments for our worship team to come to and have their skills and knowledge refined. Since I’m bi-vocational, I’ve only been able to have retreats with my worship team 2 times in 5 years. And we rarely have any conferences come within driving distance of our church (Sterling, CO). Any suggestions you can offer for time-stretched bi-vocational leaders would be great!
I served in one particular fellowship as worship pastor for 14 years. In that time the main, ongoing struggle I had was working with the strong personality of our pastor who had a hard time trusting his staff to do what God had called them to do (a micro-manager).
I continually had to find the balance between conducting the worship ministry in the way that I felt God had gifted me and was leading me and being submissive to the man whom God had placed in leadership over the church fellowship.
What usually ended up happening was me making the conscious decision to submit and do it as unto the Lord, which, interestingly enough, gave me freedom since the responsibility was no longer mine. The pastor was the one who was ultimately responsible for the decisions that were made in that church.
But the artist in me…
In our churches (RPCNA), we don’t have “worship leaders” or “worship pastors”; the pastor (or sometimes a ruling elder) leads the service, and a precentor leads the singing. (I’ve had some lessons on precenting, but have never actually done so during services.) I can’t see that we would ever have the kinds of issues that others have mentioned in the comments above mine; unaccompanied congregational singing tends to preclude most of those things.
But having worshipped in contemporary, traditional, and Covenanter services, I believe that the biggest issue facing all worshippers is NOT that we need more practice. Above all else, we need a due apprehension of God’s holiness and majesty; our hearts must be rightly disposed; our thoughts must be concentrated on every element of worship in which we participate. One can “go through the motions” and not even think about the words of a song, or prayer, or sacrament, in any style of service — not excluding contemporary services.
I know, it’s easy for me to say that the mechanics of worship don’t really matter, when we don’t have too many mechanics of worship… but it’s true.
I appreciated the comment about prayer. Throughout my worship leading experience praying together as a team has always been important but as I’m thinking about it, prayer has not often been addressed in general in relation to worship leading.
I am 23. Unlike others commenting on this blog, I am not a worship pastor but rather have lead worship with a team at summer camps, a monthly praise and worship event in my area and other similar events. One of the biggest challenges is finding the balance between playing skillfully without getting performance minded. Another difficulty is having theological depth and knowing how to encourage worship based on truth in the midst of a music context.
Thank you for your blog site. It has been very helpful practically and theologically.
Bob, I have lead worship for many years. What I have often wondered is
are we doing a good job helping the congregation worship?
Yes they sang loud, yes, they clapped,
yes they seemed to enjoy the worship,
yes, we used Scripture, prayed etc.
but is there a way to determine if people actually worshiped rather than were entertained?
My goal is to point them to Christ and help enter into God’s presence, but how do we know if we have been successful?
Yours in Christ,
What I see as a problem in worship leading, is the tension between creating a worshipful song and balancing that with the musical style and artistry we like. I am learning that creating a spirit of worship in a song must take pre-imminence over style. Sometimes style gets in the way and completely dominates the song so much so that there’s nothing left to worship to. You see this in a lot of really jazzed up songs or songs that are too rock and roll for the lyrics. I’m not against those styles of music but just that we have to be careful that the style doesn’t distract from true worship. There’s so much more I could say but I’ll save that for another post.
May the Lord bless your new upcoming book! It’s so needed among young worship leaders.
I tried leaving a comment a few days ago and it didn’t take… hopefully this time’ll be different.
I think as a worship leader my biggest run-in with problems isn’t so much what song to sing or how to blend the music to please every generation present. God’s blessed us in that area and I praise him for that.
It’s more in where our heart is… remembering that we are leading in WORSHIP not standing up here so the congregation can watch us sing and think we hve great voices and we’re great and blending the piano and electric guitar. Finding that, has been the hardest thing, and brings my team and I back on our knees on a weekly basis reminding ourselves and giving it all back to God. But it’s a tough deal, you know how the enemy works. We’re a huge church, we’re literally under the lights. When the Music fades turns on a whole new meaning.
talk to you later
Bob, I’m sure that my current season will always determine my sense of the “challenge” of worship leading, but my current sense of the challenge is that of leading for the long haul. That is, the year in-year out, with the same basic musicians and congregation, to create a continuing growth in our corporate worship. I feel the challenge of saying the same truths in new ways and singing the same songs in fresh ways. I feel the challenge to “get up and do it again” for the 200th time and not be “mailing it in,” but be emotionally and spiritually prepared myself. How often has my worship leading exposed by spiritual bankruptcy! Addressing that would be great, bro.
The biggest challenge I think worship leaders face always deals with people (and of course a corresponding sin problem). I had a “prospective worship leader” shadow me for a week and at the end of the week I asked him, “What did you learn?” He was shocked that I only played my guitar during the week for 20 minutes plus rehearsal. He said that the administrative load for our church of about 2,000 was way more than he thought it would be(getting people into place, dealing with people’s sin issues/pride, delegating well, pastoring my area captains and getting them the information they need). I think he had visions that a WL sits around drinking lattes and write top ten CCLI songs. HA!
Interestingly enough, very few books for WL’s deal with ways to be Godly and effective in the trenches Monday – Friday. It was for that reason we started worshiptrench.com.
Give us this kind of wisdom …hypotheticals…what do you do with a band player getting a divorce (both of his volition and if his wife leaves)? how do you challenge your WL’s to drive to God’s address Monday-Friday? How do you wrestle with the bar of participatory authentic worship vs. a more presentational model (aka are moving fixtures innately evil…ha!)? What systems do you use for accountability of attendance to rehearsals etc.? Et. al. What are the foundational leadership principles (non-platform I mean) that you find yourself putting into practice most often (ex. ours is good delegating).
I cannot wait for the book. It’s due date is on my birthday so as I blow out the candles (38 of them, btw), my wish will be that your publisher is happy. Later, Bob.
Being the worship pastor at a church of about 250, my constant struggle is recruiting enough volunteers to create any amount of depth in the ministry. Our church is an area outside metro Phoenix – the average age of our church attenders is 50, and the area has historically been more of a retirement community. Like any church we gain some new folks, and then lose some for various reasons. Right now we have one full team, but if one person is sick, or out-of-town, we feel it acutely. One band member leaves for the entire summer.
We do have some younger musicians who are talented and who I am mentoring and trying to involve more, but they are still too young to be regular participants. I also have been told that maybe my standards are too high, but I don’t believe it’s helpful to lower standards just to add more warm bodies. I’d be willing to work with all levels of talent, as long as their hearts are rightly motivated.
SO, we make announcements from the front, in PowerPoint announcements, in emails, etc. I encourage my team to pray for God to provide and to keep their eyes and ears open to possible candidates. I even have some “spies” in the congregation who take note of those who sing well on Sundays. BUT, is it just a matter of being content with what God has provided, praying more earnestly? I am not a fan of paying musicians on a regular basis.
One of the challenges for me is reflected in a sermon Mike Bullmore gave at a Sovereign Grace conference last year – “The Functional Centrality of the Gospel”. He talked about how one of the key signals of Christian maturity is reflected in one’s ability to make “gospel connections”. I would LOVE to hear that message expanded upon, with illustrations, diagrams, and whatever else I can get my hands on to better understand how to intentionally pursue greater gospel-centeredness in my thinking and pastoral care in the setting of worship leading.
Related issue – it is so easy to continue to default to thinking of the worship time as being successful or not based on how many hands were raised, how many intense faces, surging shouts, open singing, etc. For those of us who come out of less doctrinally grounded charismatic backgrounds, subjectivism dies hard. I’d benefit greatly from a treatment of what post-worship evaluation should look like in light of the overarching priorities of what we’re aiming at as we lead God’s people in worsship.
I’ve determined that the foundational issue that I have had in any challenge as a worship leader stems from man’s natural instinct to be self-centered. We are wrong to think that our self-centeredness does not extend into worship preferences. We prefer to sing songs that we like, regardless of style. I know just as many people who are prudish about their ‘contemporary’ music as some are about their ‘traditional.’
The most difficult challenge we face (or at least I face) as a worship leader is helping, leading, and guiding my brothers and sisters on a journey in worship that has as its end result a bigger picture of God, a greater love for Him, and a greater desire for His glory. It is a challenge to lead people in something that should ultimately deny every selfish instinct in us when we live in a selfish world.
The greatest challenge is not navigating the worship wars, hoping that in the end Jesus is glorified and we don’t have too many casualties. The greatest challenge is helping our people (and ourselves as well) to understand that worship is not contemporary or traditional, or even music for that matter, but rather it is adoring, bowing down to, and treasuring an infinite God who has redeemed us.
We must pray that God would release us of our selfish ways in worship. We too often want to meet God on our own terms instead of glorying and delighting ourselves in Him.
In terms of how to address this problem: 1) It comes in teaching. 2) It comes in the way we lead and the words we speak while leading 3) It is reinforced in the music we select 4) It is ultimately combated with instilling in people a big view of God rooted in the truth of His Word.
I am 24 years old and have been leading the youth in worship at my church for about 7 years and a year ago last October I have been the interim worship leader at my church on Sundays. A current concern that I have for my church is not necessarily what we sing (which, that can create problems but they have already been addressed above)but rather I am concerned about the heart of the worshipper. It has come to my attention that whenever a song is criticized for reasons other than content that I can only come to the conclusion that it is criticized for the wrong reasons and with wrong motive. How, as a worship leader, can I convey to the congregation what it is a heart of worship should look like? Is it my duty or that of the senior pastor? Is it my place to say something instead of sing something? What is the proper way of doing this? Calling worshippers to worship God beginning with their hearts rather than their voice is something I would love to read about and get advice on.
As a leader, I must be careful not to “play” with the emotions of my congregation. Sometimes the “Holy Spirit” that I say I feel during a time of praise feels identical to the chills I get when I listen to a U2 or Coldplay song that captures my emotions. As a musician, I know that if I crescendo here with a big electric guitar swell or insert a stacatto stop part there with thundering drums and sudden silence, I could give my audience an emotional high. Especially considering many in the congregation are looking for those “chills” that they got back when they first met Christ.
At my church, we have very powerful times of praise some weeks, and not so intense times of praise during other weeks. I need to be careful and check myself every time I step on that stage to make sure I’m not bastardizing the time of praise into just another Sunday morning high. It’s about praising the One who is worthy, not the high we sometimes get.
First, let me say that I am very excited to read your new book.
As far as struggles, my main trouble involved the commitment and lack of commitment of musicians, particularly youth musicians. My primary responsibility is with our 2 youth teams, and kids are VERY BUSY – I run into the problem that some of our kid’s are simply stretched way too thin and find it hard to make it to rehearsal regularly, and sometimes actually bail (without prior notification) on their responsibilities altogether at the last minute (“I’ve got a paper due first thing in the morning”), which really throws a wrench in what is otherwise (without cancellations) a top-notch team. I’ve tried implementing rotations to make it easier on my musicians/vocalist, but then they tend to plug into other youth groups that need them more, yet let them come and go as they please. Maybe I’ve set my standard too high, but I feel that 1.) God deserves our best and 2.) bad music can be a hindrance to people focusing on God during our worship time. So, I guess the struggle comes down to what sort of expectations we should put on a volunteer team, especially busy students.
One of my biggest struggles as a corporate worship leader has to do with managing and shepherding the individual members of our team toward our common worship goals, when we all speak different languages musically.
Our worship includes psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs both old and new. And our style is a blend of traditional and contemporary.
Half of the musicians on our team are classically trained. They are pretty tied to sheet music. The other half play by ear. They can only play with chord charts.
We are slowly growing in our musical abilities and appreciation for one another. But it is rather difficult at times to blend the different musical backgrounds into a cohesive unit. So any magical solutions that you might know of would be really helpful!
I find that one of the most difficult issues I face is not in the congregation, but in me. Rather than pleasing people, I must make sure that I am seeking to please God above all else. I think the temptation to ‘keep the peace’ and just play the favorites (whether that means Holy, Holy, Holy; Solid Rock; Shout to the Lord; or the newest song from the radio) is dangerously attractive.
Several people have mentioned the difference between or even a blend of both traditional and contemporary worship music. How are those terms defined? By style, by use, personal preference or other criteria? Is there a hard line on what consitutes each? When or can something move from traditional to contemporary worship? Do those terms extend to other forms of worship like servanthood or evanglism?
I just came across your blog whilst doing research for a seminar on worship and what needs challenged in this world of modern worship. I have found both your thoughts and the comments very insightful. I am a worship leader from N.Ireland so it’s great to connect with others across the world.