Eight Ways to Maintain Your Integrity as a Worship Leader
Here's the thing: you can phone it in because ministry can be phoned in.
If you're like many worship leaders, especially those employed full-time to serve the church, you may have plenty of time and freedom to pick songs, rehearse with your team, and do all the things required to be prepared for Sunday. It's a good thing!
But there is a danger, because there's always a danger, and the danger is that idleness, intended or not, can go easily undetected and unnoticed.
There's a reason why there's a ring of truth to the often-heard cliche: "What does he/she do all week? Don't they just pick four songs?" You may only have to pick four songs every week to keep your boss satisfied and your congregation singing, but there's so much more you actually can, should, and need to do to maintain your integrity as someone who has been called to sing Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to the people God has called to worship Him in grace and truth.
I want to encourage the work of worship leaders/pastors who might find that the ease in which they can facilitate their tasks has led them to becoming bored, uninterested, and lethargic. In no particular order, here are eight ways to maintain your integrity as a worship leader, and avoid the temptation to phone it in:
1. Learn new songs consistently. Commit yourself to building a solid repertoire of songs that cover the full range between adoration, confession, and thanksgiving. Learning new songs keeps your mind fresh, your team sharp, and your chops challenged. There's a lot of music out there, so spend time exploring songs that are not only tuneful, but communicate a rich theology that speaks clearly to the wonder, grace and mercy of God and our humble response to Him. If you happen to be a songwriter, write new songs! Learning and writing new songs creates air in your soul that can be a springboard for creativity in all other facets of your ministry.
2. Teach new songs appropriately. You probably shouldn't introduce a new songs every week, unless you want people whispering during worship with half-mumbled gasps of air every Sunday. Use discernment for whatever is appropriate to your congregation and introduce accordingly. A younger church or a church plant may be open to learning new songs more frequently, whereas an older congregation might need a bit more pacing. Regardless of how often you introduce new songs, make sure you teach your people what they're about, why you're singing them, and remind them that learning new songs are important for the life and vitality of the church body.
3. Alter arrangements tactfully. Sometimes overplayed songs can become fresh again if you make subtle edits to the arrangement. Small changes like starting with the chorus, ending on a verse, dropping a section to voices only, introducing a solo, etc., can inject new life into something that people have sung a thousand times. Like everything, use good discernment, because you're not trying to make songs people already love and appreciate more difficult to sing, but to make them difficult to ignore after years of repetition.
4. Connect with your people faithfully. Your job isn't to simply have a band ready to perform on Sunday. Whatever your title or job description at your church, you need to know the people who are serving alongside of you. Musicians play better together the better friends they are. So reach into their lives, pastor their souls, cultivate friendships, and be more than just "the lead guy or gal" to them. It's not just about how they play on Sunday, but how they live throughout the week that will affect how they play on Sunday. Care for their hearts first.
5. Study God's Word diligently. I've written about this elsewhere, but do your best to push against the stereotype of worship arts being the least theologically-driven ministry in the church. Spend time reading, meditating, and reflecting on God's word, with the understanding that God cares deeply about preparing your heart to lead other hearts in singing His words back to Him on Sunday.
6. Read worship and non-worship books voraciously. Seriously, spend less time with your face planted in Sweetwater catalogs and more time reading books by men and women from whom you can gain wisdom. But don’t let it end with you. Give good books to your team to read; let them learn what you’re learning. Become a theologically-driven worship team that is constantly reminded that you are musicians second.
7. Pray with your team constantly. I'm not talking about a token prayer before first service on Sunday. I'm talking about creating a culture of prayer within your team. Put down the instruments, gather as a group, and spend some concentrated time in prayer every week, so that you all remember that you're not there to perform but to proclaim the excellencies of God. There's only one other person who is on the platform as much as you, and that's the lead pastor. Prepare your heart to withstand the challenges and temptations that come with being on a platform and leading a people from it.
8. Lead your team through your liturgy weekly. This can happen during your prayer time, but make sure you're teaching your team. Whatever your liturgy looks like, lead them through the thought and intent behind it. Show them that there's more intentionality to the services than simply selecting four songs in the right key, and if there's not, this is a great time to begin adding that kind of depth.
Ronnie Martin is Lead Pastor of Substance Church in Ashland, Ohio, and author of Stop Your Complaining. He is also co-host of "The Happy Rant" podcast with Barnabas Piper and Ted Kluck. You can follow him on Twitter @ronniejmartin.