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Why Worship Leaders are the Worst (and the Best)

  • Carrie Dedrick
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  • 2016 Aug 19
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Editor’s Note: I’d like to preface this by saying that I am writing from my own experience on a worship team in a large church. The opinions expressed in this piece are my own, and are likely different than yours which is okay. People worship in different ways, and as long as they are God-glorifying, He delights in all forms of worship.

I’ve been serving on the worship team for long enough to have heard and seen things I didn’t love, while a short enough time to still feel full of energy for the work that we are doing. My team puts in hours of work each week to make sure the music portion of the service goes smoothly. (Note: I don’t call it the “worship” portion of the service because it’s all worship.)

I’ve seen beautiful, God-honoring moments unfold during services and out of services. There have also been moments that made me cringe internally.

Author Jared C. Wilson wrote two posts for The Gospel Coalition on today’s worship leaders. His first post “Top 10 Things I Wish Worship Leaders Would Stop Saying” addresses those cringe-worthy church moments. If your worship leader has ever said one of the following, I’m sorry:

1. Are we ready to have fun this morning?

Not to sound like a complete stick in the mud, but the purpose of worship is not “fun.” It’s to glorify God with praise (1 Chronicles 16:23-25). So, while most people in church are probably not planning on having a bad time, whether or not one has fun during church is unrelated to why we are there.

Wilson writes, “Is ‘having fun’ where you want hearts directed as you lead people to exalt God? No, it’s where you want hearts directed when you’re just trying to ‘crush your set’ or ‘rock it out for Jesus.’”

2. How is everybody feeling?

This common church opening line is setting the wrong tone for worship. For one thing, this is just begging for a positive response, and let’s remember that church is for the broken (Mark 2:17). There are a lot of people in the pews that are facing battles in that very moment. Asking them how they are feeling privately is fine, but let’s not make them feel worse by asking everyone else to scream with joy.

As Wilson says, “... my guess is that 9.9 times out of 10 what you’re really trying to do is get people to say, “Woooooooo!”

3. Here’s an oldie we dusted off.

This is always said in reference to a hymn, many of which are still used in churches all over the world to this day. The melodies and language may be different than what your church is used to, but perhaps these hymns should be kept a little less dusty.

“Please don’t apologize for leading us in the rare song that is theologically rich and doctrinally solid. Apologize for not leading us in them more often!” Wilson writes.

4. Lord, we invite you to be here.

God doesn’t have to be invited to His own church. It’s the exact opposite actually. God has called us to worship in His house, not the other way around.

Wilson writes, “God isn’t a genie and worship isn’t like rubbing a golden lamp. Nor is he a cosmic butler to be summoned. Don’t invite the Lord into a space like he doesn’t already own it and isn’t already there.”

5. Let’s give God a hand.

This one is 50/50. If the worship leader joins the congregation in clapping with praise for God, there is no problem here. If, however, the worship leader is clearly basking in the attention, Wilson says the translation here is, “I would like to hear some applause.”

Still hanging on? Maybe you’ve disagreed with everything here so far. Let me reiterate that it’s okay. Churches express worship differently and God hears it as all good.

Speaking of all good, let’s have some positive reinforcement for what worship leaders are doing right. You deserve serious kudos as well which Wilson expresses in his second piece “10 Things I Love That Worship Leaders Do.” So thank you for always striving to do the following things:

1. Lead rather than perform

When worship leaders treat church services like a talent show, it is painful to watch. The congregation knows how talented you are, and would probably come cheer you on at an coffeehouse open mic night. But now is not the time to display your talents. It is the time to use your talents to lead the church in glorifying God.

Wilson simply says it like this: “I am grateful for talented vocalists and musicians serving as worship leaders, but I’m especially grateful when our leaders don’t treat their position as a showcase for their gifts but as an opportunity to shepherd the flock.”

2. Not fear silence

It is refreshing find a moment of silence, even in the middle of a planned worship service. Just a beat of quiet may be all the congregation needs to hear God speak.

Wilson writes, “In our daily lives we are awash with noise. We are hurry-sick. Even when we’re alone, we’re taking in the ‘noise’ of the Internet or something else. I think it’s wonderful to take this into account in our worship services, not feel inclined to mirror the constant noise of the world, and give us some time to hush. It’s good for our souls.”

3. Pray for real

When prayer is simply a transitional filler, the congregation can tell. But they also take notice when a prayer is raw and real. Reach out to God with those real prayers and act as an example to the people you are leading.

Wilson says, “I am led to cry out to God myself when it sounds like my worship leader is crying out to God.”

4. Lead with joy

I understand that you are playing for early service and you got to church even earlier to practice beforehand. But remember that you are in God’s presence. Smile! Delight in His presence and be amazed by this time to sing before Him. When you embrace that joy, your church can too.

Wilson writes, “... I love it when worship leaders capture both the gladness and the gravity of responding to the Lord’s call to worship… I love it when you are both happy in and humbled by the holiness of God.”

5. Point to the gospel

Thank you worship leaders for remembering why you do what you do. Your life has been changed by the gospel and you are using your gifts to share the gospel with others. You are truly doing the Lord’s work, even when it is hard.

Wilson writes, “This is what I need. I need the announcement of the historical work of Christ on the cross and out of the tomb more than I need oxygen! So I’m very, very grateful when your song choice, banter, worship order, and everything else makes it clear that the grace of God given to sinners through Jesus is your reason for being.”

Worship leaders and churchgoers, thank you for each playing your part in worship. Together we are following the Lord’s call to worship and praise His name.

And remember, dear friends, worship is so much more than the music we sing. As writer Kendra Fletcher says, “Music doesn't equal worship, it's a facet of worship. Worshiping God takes any number of forms, from the preaching of the Word to fellowship to communion to confession to verbal, spoken praise to caring for the sick to discipling a new believer.”

Above all, we do not come to church for ourselves. Do not go to church with an intention of getting something out of it. Go to church to give of yourself to your Creator, God.

“Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord.” (Psalm 150:6)


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Publication date: August 19, 2016

Carrie Dedrick is an editor of When she is not writing or editing, she can usually be found teaching dance classes, running marathons, or reading with at least one adopted dog on her lap.