I’m often asked if it’s possible to lead worship in song if you’re not a musician. In my response I usually make the point that leading corporate worship is pastoral function before it’s a musical one. So the answer is, “yes.”
Through the years I’ve had the privilege of training the men in the Pastors College of Sovereign Grace Ministries in the area of music and worship. Most of the guys have at least one opportunity to lead the rest of the class in song, whether they’re musical or not. It helps them see what really goes in to leading, and also enables them to evaluate others in a more informed way.
They learn that you don’t have to know about scales, chord inversions, or time signatures to proclaim God’s works, word, and worthiness. You don’t have to be proficient on an instrument, or even know how to play the first note in order to direct people’s attention and affections towards Jesus Christ and his glorious work of substitutionary atonement on the cross. Your singing voice might sound like fingernails on chalkboard but you can still extend the invitation to, “Magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together” (Ps. 34:3)!
While most of non-musical guys in the Pastors College don’t end up having to lead songs in their churches, occasionally they do. Not too long ago I found out that Ken Delage (pastor of Sovereign Grace Church in Fredericksburg, VA) was in that position and actually enjoying it. I asked him to write up a few thoughts on his experience, which I’ve posted below. I hope it will encourage any non-musical pastors (or any unmusical types for that matter) who find themselves having to lead worship in song.
I never wanted to be a worship leader. As I planted Sovereign Grace Church, my desire to not lead worship only grew! Don’t get me wrong. I love to sing, I love to lift my voice and praise God’s name. But I don’t play an instrument and my singing voice is best described as “adequate.” I didn’t think I’d do a very good job, so I didn’t want to serve.
So, about 18 months into our church plant, God called our worship leader to another church. On the day he left, my music resume looked something like this:
1. I’d sung in children’s musicals as a kid, before my voice changed.
2. Ten years ago I sang in our church choir for 4 months
3. I’d listened to lots of worship music.
When our worship leader left, I was left with questions. Am I willing to serve God in an area of personal weakness? Am I willing to look (or sound!) foolish for Him? Will I refuse to work for his glory, unless I’m guaranteed a bit of my own glory too?
As God revealed my heart, I grew in faith to serve. So I jumped in and have been serving for about a year and a half. Despite my lack of musical ability, God meets us each week. The church is blessed and God is glorified. Here’s how it breaks down for me:
- I pick the songs we sing. Songs teach, and pastors are called to teach. So I’m in my ‘comfort zone’ doing this as a pastor.
- I arrange the team schedule. No big theology behind this, but this lets me put together teams that work together well and make up for each others weaknesses.
- Each week, I try have at least one musician on the rotation who can pick the right key for the songs, arrange transitions, suggest arrangements, and help newer musicians.
- Since I’m also serving in other ways in the church, I streamline by sending out a month of serving and song schedules at a time.
- I lead the congregation from the mic, center stage, as the “lead vocalist.” My voice isn’t “solo quality,” but sufficient to lead.
- I’m supported by two gifted vocalists each week. One sticks to melody with me the whole time.
- Since I don’t play an instrument, I direct the musicians by vocally cuing the congregation and using hand signals behind my back.
- We practice once a week at my house, and get about 30 minutes to do a sound check and run through before the Sunday meeting.
- I lean heavily on the team for musical suggestions, ideas, and creativity. We probably take more time on discussion than many worship teams, but everyone is included and I’m equipped to make decisions. What God didn’t give me personally, He gave to the body. Worship leading meets 1 Cor 12.
- I tell every instrumentalist that I expect them to ‘be the expert’ on their instrument. If they have ideas on what will sound good, then try them. Since I don’t have the creativity, the instrumentalists bring it! This enables me to have a full buffet of musical options on the table from which to choose.
- We take the first 5-10 minutes of practice to pray as a team, to focus on Christ, and perhaps to teach a bit on worship. My hope is to build a culture on the team which treasures worship above worship leading.
I’d love to hear about your experiences or suggestions for leading songs when you’re not musical.