Worship Leaders – Five Things to Remember About Skill

I’m in the midst of rewriting my book for Crossway. Things didn’t go quite as smoothly as I hoped last week. But my good friend, Jeff Purswell, saw I wasn’t doing well and offered to pray for me. I realized I’ve only been thinking of what I have to do and haven’t been focused on what God can do. That changes everything. I’m happy to report my attitude is much better this week.

In any case, I don’t have much time for blogging. So I thought I’d post an excerpt from an unedited chapter. It may not even make it in the final version of the book, but I thought it might be helpful. It’s from the first section on “What Matters.”

Just wanting to become more skillful isn’t a sufficient foundation for leadership. We need God’s perspective on developing out gifts. The road to skillful leadership is plagued with detours, potholes, and dead ends. It’s helpful to remember some basic truths about skill. I can think of five.

1. Skill is a gift from God meant for his glory. None of us can claim credit for any ability we possess. As Paul asked the Corinthians, “What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it” (1Cor. 4:7)? I remember having a conversation with a guy in college who was having trouble understanding why God should get any glory for his musical gifts. He reasoned that God wasn’t the one sitting in a practice room for hours on end. He didn’t understand grace, which provides not only our gifts, but the strength, ability, and endurance to develop them. That’s why our skill is meant to direct people’s eyes to God, not us. As my good friend C.J. Mahaney said, “Every gift from God is meant to direct our attention to God and create fresh affection for God.”

2. Skill has to be developed. Michael Jordan was one of the greatest basketball players of all time. For years he was the standard that every other basketball player aspired to. But few of them ever came close. Why? Because the mind-boggling stats that Jordan and other greats achieve is due to practicing harder, longer, and more comprehensively than every other player. They take the time to develop the skill God gave them. They realize that skill isn’t perfection. It can just look that way to us. Likewise, the greatest musicians have put in countless hours listening, practicing riffs and scales, playing with others, and honing their craft. The goal of practice isn’t doing something until you get it right. It’s practicing until you can’t get it wrong.

When I entered Temple University as a piano performance major in the fall of 1972, my goal was to practice enough to be able to play any piece I desired when I finished school. Over the next four years I practiced an average of four hours a day, seven days a week. I had friends who put in more time than that. Sometimes people come up to me and say, “I wish I could play the piano like you do,” My standard reply is, “You can! It just takes a little gifting, and practicing four hours a day for four years.” Skill has to be developed.

3. Possessing skill doesn’t make me better than someone else. I mean this in two ways. First, I can be skilled in an area but someone else can be more skilled. That doesn’t mean I’m not effective in an area. It just means my best might not be as good as someone else’s average. Second, while God values skill, he doesn’t accept us on the basis of it. So even if I can play complex chord progressions, write songs like Matt Redman, or have a four octave vocal range, I still need the atoning work of the Savior to make my offering of worship acceptable (1 Pet. 2:5).

4. Skill should be evaluated by others. Even though I’ve been leading worship for over thirty years now, I still can’t always tell if what I’m doing is helpful or where I need to grow. I thank God for feedback I get during rehearsal and after a meeting. Is that arrangement working? Did I sing that chorus too many times? Was I clear? Did I play too much (to which the answer is almost always yes)? We need the eyes and ears of those around us. It’s both humbling and helpful to hear back from people we trust who will speak the truth to us.

5. Skill isn’t an end in itself. Skill can easily become our ultimate goal and focus. At that point it often becomes an idol. We spend more and more time rehearsing and get impatient when others make mistakes. We minimize spiritual preparation and devote ourselves entirely to musical issues. We evaluate the failure or success of any meeting solely on right tempos, in tune vocals, and well executed plans. Which are all good things. They’re just not the ultimate values. Years ago I read a pastor comment that “God isn’t looking for something brilliant; he’s looking for something broken.” That’s a biblical perspective to keep in mind as we seek to develop our gifts.


5 Responses to Worship Leaders – Five Things to Remember About Skill

  1. Nick Fitzkee April 25, 2007 at 9:42 AM #

    Hi Bob,

    I think this was helpful, and it was a nice summary of some of your earlier messages given at worship conferences, etc.

    One section you may want to consider reworking was the number 2. I know you want to focus on practicing, but the starkness of your statement (all you have to do is devote 28 hours a week to practicing) discouraged, rather than encouraged me.

    I think your point is right on–I believe one of the ways God shows his sovereignty over our lives is not by some innate gifting that needs to be discovered (though this does play a part), but rather through giving us (a) time and (b) interest to work at things. Perhaps a more encouraging addendum to that statement would be, “Yes, it takes a lot of time and effort, but if God has called you to this level, he will equip you with both.”

    Another point that you may address elsewhere is the question, “Why do you want to be as good as Bob Kauflin?” Addressing this here doesn’t seem like it will fit, but when I’ve found myself asking a question like that it’s often because of jealousy–envying the gifts of others without being grateful for my own gifts. It’s easy for me to think that I should be able to master music when my career calling has led me elsewhere. This is simply pride, and it may be worth pointing out somewhere else, perhaps a section on humility. It’s unrealistic to expect that those with a clear calling to other careers and families at the same time will become virtuoso musicians without sacrificing important priorities. That’s not to say they shouldn’t practice, but their (and my) expectations should be within realistic, Biblical constraints.

    It’s especially humbling comparing our limited talents to God’s limitless abilities. I will probably never be the best in my career, and it’s even less likely that I will top any professional musicians, but God’s abilities surpass anything we as an entire planet could ever achieve.

  2. Bob Kauflin April 25, 2007 at 11:04 AM #


    Very helpful feedback. I do talk about humility and motives throughout the book. But I definitely don’t want to discourage anyone! Thanks.

  3. David S. Spaggiari April 26, 2007 at 9:35 AM #

    I read your blog on a regular basis. I also attended the Sovereign Grace Leadership Conference and sat in on your meeting with the Worship Leaders. I appreciate your point #5 as it seems that many, if not most, worship teams focus a tremendous amount of time on rehearsing songs and (relatively) very little time in preparing for the corporate worship time spiritually (e.g., praying, meditating, seeking the Lord for words of exhortation). What are your thoughts and practices as a worship leader?


    David Spaggiari

  4. Dan April 7, 2008 at 10:35 PM #

    One thing I try to do in any theological writing I have done (articles, books, blogs, etc.) is to make sure that I offer support for statements made in the context of the writing. For example, point #1 does a nice job of pointing me to scripture as the basis of the assumption that skill is a gift from God meant for His glory. No argument there. Then we get to point #2 – about skill needing to be developed. I am not flat-out debating this point, however I’d sure love to see some indication in scripture that we are CALLED as WORSHIP LEADERS to hone our skills. I realize this might sound outrageous because modern music and worship in the church has forced all of us to spend considerable amounts of time and energy on making the music we create SOUND not just “good” but – amazing! CD-quality, in fact. Yet, God does not demand the same of us. I only point this out because it would be great to see what the Bible REALLY says about this so-called demand for “skill” in our worship leading. Thanks.

  5. crystal loszchuk July 17, 2008 at 11:32 AM #

    Hi Bob,
    I’ve just come across your website and thoroughly enjoy your teaching. I am a worship leader in Calgary, AB Canada for a Vineyard church here.

    I love this article. I think in the church we have swung on the pendulum between heart and skill and have a hard time finding the balance, not realizing we can indeed have both.
    I have been so tired of seeing and hearing music or arts teams do something for worship or evangelism that has no skill whatsoever. And it can be embarrassing. I am not about hyper-professionalism (as the above post suggests you are saying) but I do believe that God gives us talent and we are not to waste it. Why would we?

    In reference to the above post, the parable of the talents should be a good indication of God asking us to develop or hone our skills. I know the “talents” refers to money in that time, but I believe it also refers in general to what God has given us. Why wouldn’t we? If we are worshiping God, why would we not want to give our best? Why would we not want to become more proficient at our art? *also see the OT regarding the Levites and how they had to prepare for worship and how their entire lives were devoted to the tabernacle.

    As far as leading worship – the skill and practice gives a greater ability to worship with charted music or “free” worship. I have often been stunted in my leading because I didn’t know the right chords to a song, or couldn’t properly communicate with the band. These are skills that can be developed and must be if we want to progress and be able to quickly adapt to where the Spirit is leading in a particular moment. Of course God can do whatever he wants without using us, but He does choose to use us, so I for one want to be in prime and ready condition so that when He asks something of me, I can do it.

    I also believe that outside the church the musical quality (I mean melody, songwriting, band playing etc, not recording quality) tends to be at such a higher standard than inside the church. This is so sad to me! We are made in the image of God, and God is does not do a “good enough” job of creating, so why do we? We should be the leaders of our culture in music and art forms (and all other leadership) because we know who we are in Christ – His children, made in His image.

    I get very passionate about this subject!
    I’m sure I’ve gone on too long…but I do truly appreciate hearing another person value skill and development.

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