Things I wish I knew as a new worship leader

Years ago, I was playing clarinet, oboe, flute, and sometimes saxophone in the worship team in my church. I loved showing up for rehearsals on Wednesday evenings. I loved the Sunday morning get-togethers and joining in on worship with everyone at 9:30 a.m. We had a pretty big band including two guitar players, a fantastic young drummer, a worship leader that played piano, a bass player, three or four singers, and little old me adding to everything with my dulcet tones. The group was steady and we had great fellowship.

Then things changed…

All of a sudden, the associate pastor (who was also the worship leader) and one of the guitar players came up to me and said, “We think you would be a great worship leader.” The first thing I checked was the date. It was not April 1st, so I waited to see what came next. It turned out they were serious! She told me to think it over and come and talk to her during the week.

After a few days, I went into her office. I was excited and nervous. I didn’t know what being a worship leader actually involved. I didn’t even know how to play guitar (which I wanted to learn in order to lead). I had some time to pick her brain when I first started, but that didn’t last long. Very soon, she and her husband were moving to New England. I was now on my own. I had some direction, but I had to figure a bunch of stuff out on my own. I enjoyed doing it!

I know that there are some folks out there that are in the same boat right now. I want to take a minute to tell you the key things that I wish I knew when I was starting out as a worship leader. Read these and let me know what you think.

Your worship team is a small group

At my first church, a lot of individual growth happened in small groups. When I say “small group,” I’m talking about groups of 5-15 people who meet outside of regular church service times. In the small groups, the members can fellowship, have Biblical discussions, or just enjoy life together.

When I was first in the group, we went to a Desperation Band concert as a group. That was fun! We all got to stand and worship together without our instruments and microphones. It was an amazing experience! Due to the unpredictability of health at home, I haven’t really been doing this much. But here are some things that have helped the small group grow:

  • Worship team fellowshipHave food nights. Sometimes, in addition (or instead of) rehearsal, we will bring in food to eat. The last time we did this, each band member brought in different pizza ingredients. We then gathered and made pizzas together. I felt like it really relaxed everyone and brought us closer together. Being close helps worship be more meaningful.
  • Prayer. Remember to pray together before rehearsing. It reminds the small group why we do what we do and focuses our eyes and hearts on the One who called us
  • Keep in contact. It’s a good practice to keep everyone talking through the week. We have to remember that worship is more than just Sunday mornings. One of the things that we have done lately is communicated through a group text. Everyone chimes in with their thoughts, witticisms, and overall silliness that make us all who we are. It makes it nice when we get together for the next rehearsal or service–someone will say one word from the group text and get us all in a better mood.
  • Remember praises. Yes, we’re there to praise our God. We also have things that come up through the week that are reasons to celebrate. Whether one person in our group is graduating college, or in remission from cancer, or starting a new job, we all know about it and celebrate life with them.

What does this all have to do with leading worship? A very wise friend of mine once told me, “being a worship leader is like shepherding your own little flock.” What did he mean by that? You become a pastor of sorts as a worship leader. Your congregation is your worship team. Don’t let this scare you! It just means that you need to be of a mind and heart of love towards them–and to keep them connected with the One we all serve.

People get burnt out

Burnt out WorshipThis was a hard point for me to learn. The people who were part of the worship team when I joined had been a part of the group since before I even thought about going to the church. They started the band, they started the contemporary service, and they saw the service move from Thursday nights to Sunday mornings at two different times. When I started leading everyone, it seemed the people were dropping out of the band left and right.

I took it personally at first. But, then, I realized that the same group of people had been giving up their evenings and Sunday mornings for years. Some of their job situations were changing. Some of their family situations were changing. And others were moving on to other churches. Was part of this because of my different style in leading? Probably. But, I really didn’t know much, either.  Knowing what I know now, I could have handled things a lot differently. Here are some things to consider:

  • We’re not the only ones who are musical in the church. This means that we can get multiple drummers, multiple guitar players, and multiple singers (or whatever instruments) to play some Sundays each, rather than everyone in the band playing every Sunday. This is an area I still need to improve on–recruiting. Oh no!! The R-WORD! Later on, I’ll touch on recruiting and what it means for worship teams.
  • Be thankful for what each member contributes. I don’t think we can thank everyone enough. They are not serving you, the worship leader, though. They are all serving God, and you’re just facilitating that service. You should still thank people for what they do and for presenting their talents and time to our Lord.
  • People’s lives are busy! When I first started, I treated everything like an expectation (or I think I did, at least). Now, I try to show grace with everything. Most worship team members don’t put as much time and energy into the ministry as you do, so we shouldn’t expect them to put the priority as high as we do. In fact, parents have kids that are in sports. Others have school obligations or family things that they have to attend. However, communication is the key. I’ll talk about that communication in another section.

We put so much energy into the planning, maintaining, and building of the group that we sometimes lose sight of these things. Always try to be mindful of their time and their needs.

Be mindful of time

In my beginning days as a worship leader, I was such a perfectionist. I wanted everything orchestrated a certain way, and we would go through songs multiple times to get it all right. I didn’t really have a time budget for the rehearsal times.

It wasn’t until one late rehearsal when I heard someone say, “four hours is a bit much” to another band member. They weren’t happy! I didn’t realize that it was that late! We started rehearsal at 6:30 p.m. and it was after 10! No one can understand how absolutely horrible I felt that day. I also wondered how often I had long rehearsals like that.

I’d advise you to practice a few points of time management. There are more things to think about, but these three should get priority:

  • Try to keep rehearsal shorter than an hour and a half. Depending on the attention span of your group as a whole, that can be adjusted to an hour or two hours.
  • Mix older and newer songs. Songs that are familiar to the band will take less rehearsal than the newer ones. If your service uses 5 songs, for example, it is better to pick a few familiar ones and two newer ones than all 5 new songs. Sometimes, it’s good to do more new songs to push the band a little, but not too often! Also, you can reserve some songs for a smaller representation of the band as special music. That will also cut down on rehearsal time.
  • Encourage everyone to be there on-time. This is the toughest one for my group! Sometimes, members will show up a half hour late (which cuts 1/3 of the rehearsal time out). However, you have to do the best you can when you don’t have everyone there. You still have to be mindful of the time of the members who were there on time or early.

Utilize your resources

There are several resources that we will discuss in later sections. There are GREAT worship leader tools like planning center online, Abelton, SongShow Plus, and CCLI that will make your job easier, more diverse, and more interactive. Learn what these are NOW so that your headaches and creative mind can flow at the start. What other resources do you use?

Comments

While these are just a handful of things I wish I knew when I first started as a worship leader, I know that there are others I’d like to share with you. I love what I do and I love everyone on the worship team! What are some things you wish you knew? Please comment below!

2 thoughts on “Things I wish I knew as a new worship leader

  1. I think the experience I have with the church I attend is probably quite a bit different. We’re all closer to, I guess, a home church? Since we’re so small and all, we have all really become more like family than anything (of course, many of the people truly are my family, literally, but there are more people that are not genetically family than are). Every practice and fellowship is more like a family reunion. We’re very flexible. We’re able to do more things than I think could be done in a bigger church. For example, we’re able to practice as long or as little as we all can, and change the day of our practice or the time of our practice 15 minutes before we originally planned if life happens, and it doesn’t affect any of us in the way it would with so many musical people and so many differing lives. So, I can’t speak as much to these more formal things to think about in regard to worship.

    However, there is one very big thing that I learned (or rather had to remember) that I think is applicable to worship leaders across the board….from megachurches to home churches: Worship is not so much for us to give something to the congregation, or even for the congregation to get something out of. Not that it should be horrible, mind you, but I must explain. Worship is first and foremost *for God*. It is a community of believers to give to God the praise and honor due Him. We, as worship leaders, are just one facet of directing the congregation to worship of God. Short version, it’s not about us…it’s about Him. It’s not that I didn’t know this, and it’s not that I went into worship with the attitude of “it’s all about me.” But I think, as trained musicians, sometimes our “ears” can lead us into the wrong perspective. As we (by necessity and understandably) worry about the notes we play/sing and how it sounds, and even how the congregation responds to these things, it is very easy to forget why we do this. I find that reminding myself that I am literally playing/singing for God, and am just one voice in a room of voices lifting our praises for God’s pleasure restores that right perspective, and in turn the notes/sounds fall into place automatically, as well as ushers in the right perspective for the congregation. We’ve always clapped at the end of our music, and to those not familiar with our church and the people in it, it may seem we are applauding ourselves. But the reality is, we’re clapping in praise to God. That is why all of us leading worship also clap after our songs, and why, if anyone looks at the faces in the congregation, they will see no one looking ahead at us, but rather looking up (so to speak).

    I think this is the single biggest trap new worship leaders can fall into. Getting so caught up in the glory of the music, that they forget we are singing praises for the glory of God. And we’re not the main event. We’re simply the ones ushering the Body into collective worship.

    1. Excellent points Dana. We’re not a huge church, either, but I totally get what you’re saying there. I think at my old church in Louisville, it was even more structured than here. But it’s hard not to be so rigidly timed when people come from all over the city to rehearse!

      Before we practice or worship, we always ask God to remind us why we’re doing this. It’s not to bring attention to ourselves. It’s not to perform. Rather, it’s to help facilitate worship to our God. Whenever the congregation claps, I always try to say “praise God!” to make sure He gets the glory:) It definitely is a trap that we fall into if we’re not careful.

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