The Making of a Great Worship Leader

*Disclaimer – I’m no worship expert. I’m just a pastor. I’ve spent most of my ministry years serving young adults. Now I lead a “hipster church”. Either they are older and need a new hip or they are young and shave the sides of their heads more than their faces. This is my church family. And I love to worship God. My singing stretches any idea of making a joyful noise to the Lord and the only instrument I can play is my iTunes playlist. But I earnestly desire that all seek the face of God. I’m NOT one of those pastors who believes congregational singing is just entertainment and warming up the crowd before the message. In my thinking, the time of congregational praise and prayer is just as important as the preaching (which happens to be my responsibility).

Whatever you want to call their position – Music Pastor, Worship Leader, Worship Arts Director, Praise Team Facilitator, or Person Standing Up Front Leading Us in Singing to God – they play a vital role in the local body of Christ. They are the ones who are responsible for helping lead God’s people in the experience seeking the Lord, individually and collectively. They assist the pastoral team in shaping others’ understanding of who God is and what He does. They teach, model, and lead worship. Whether a church is looking for a worship leader, trying to help develop a worship leader, or a worship leader assessing their own ministry, here’s my two cents on what makes a great worship leader. 

Their heart resounds with making known God’s glory. Not their glory. Not their team’s. Not the church’s. But His only. Their passion and success is that God alone is glorified – and not just during a church service. It’s a 24/7 thing. The applause belongs solely to the Lord. “Your name and renown are the desire of our hearts” (Isaiah 26:8).

They spend lengthy and daily time in the Scriptures. Because that’s where they hear from God. They desire to expand their view of all that God is and to walk in submission to His will.  “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16). As a result of time in God’s Word…

They have a deep foundation in His truths and are discerning over what they are teaching others about the Lord through worship. Because they love God’s truths…

They don’t just lead songs because they sound good but because of the truth in them. Each line is aligned biblically and prayerfully. Knowing what people sing today is what they believe tomorrow. Sometimes the worship leader doesn’t even lead using their own favorite songs.

To them, worship is more than just music. It is about everything they do in life to bring honor and glory to God.  “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:17).

Their humility and awe of the responsibility of leading God’s people carries over to the whole team. The band, as well as the tech people, emulate the primacy of God’s glory in what they do as a worship team. They are grieved when they catch themselves, or a team member, “performing” (drawing attention to themselves rather than God). To be part of the team, one has to be more than just talented. They have demonstrated over time to the worship leader a passion and purpose for God’s glory.

Much of their preparation is done on their knees. Prayer plays a major role in their ministry, privately and publicly. Worship “practice/rehearsal” involves the team praying together through the songs, as much as one would expect a pastor to pray through the prepared sermon. They genuinely seek the face of God and desire others to come alongside and do the same.

They concentrate on leading the congregation and not performing for them. Participation trumps presentation.

They are sharing Christ with the lost on a regular basis. The worshiper of God cannot help but be a proclaimer of God to the lost. A passion for Christ leads to a passion for people. The fruit will tell.

The size of the group they are leading does not matter. Each worshiper is important. The worship of God is important. Of course they want to see masses worshiping the Lord because He is worthy that all worship Him. But they also desire to be faithful in leading whoever God has brought to them. Young or old, classic or modern, stadiums or a small campfire circle. It doesn’t make much of a difference. “One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek Him in His temple” (Psalm 27:4).

When they lead in singing they help the worshiper think more about God than about them and the worship team. They want God in the foreground and themselves in the background. The goal is not to have brothers and sisters walk away from the time of worshiping together thinking, “Wow! That was some incredible music!” But rather, “Wow! We have an incredible God!”

They care deeply about the spiritual walks of their team members, the tech people, and the band.  They are intentionally mentoring a few of the team members to be leaders themselves. 

They don’t engage in worship wars. Despite their personal preferences (and they have them), they care primarily that ALL worship God. For them, the function of worship takes priority over the form of worship.

They see criticism as an opportunity to grow and are not personally offended. Nor do they blow people off when they criticize. They have teachable hearts. They have a wisdom and sensitivity to know when criticism is legitimate and not legitimate. When criticism is an act of immaturity they use those times as teachable moments toward their brother or sister.

They have a rich private worship and devotional life. All that they do in public worship is a reflection of their private worship. They know they can’t lead people to where they haven’t gone themselves. They have also learned to worship God by faith. Because when the “Hallelujah” feelings aren’t there, God is still worthy to be praised.  “My heart says of you, ‘Seek His face!’ Your face, Lord, I will seek” (Psalm 27:8).

They are often extremely skilled musicians. Because what they do privately is not practice but overflow from their private worship before the Lord. And they do it often. They want to be good at their skill, not for themselves but for God. Being skilled allows them to concentrate more on God and His people than the notes, chords, and all that musical stuff. They see bad musicianship as a distraction. Speaking of distractions…

In congregational worship they want to remove all distractions from the worship of God. A heart out of tune with the Lord is just as disturbing as a guitar or voice out of tune. A prideful spirit is just as cringe-worthy as feedback from an amp. They make this a focus for themselves and their team. Humility and holiness trumps a tight worship set. Speaking of more distractions…

They care more about how God looks than how they look. ‘Nuff said.

They can laugh at their blunders up front. This is the fruit of a life freed from seeking approval. Their approval comes from the Lord. No matter how much one preps it is inevitable that something goes wrong during community worship. Nothing more awkward than an embarrassed, frustrated, or angered leader up front. These occasions of mess-ups allow the church family to experience the fruit of freedom in the life of the Spirit-filled worship leader.

They view other churches and worship leaders as being on the same team, the same family for the same purpose – the glory of God. They don’t see others as competition. They rejoice when others succeed. They mourn when others fail. They cheer others on! They do not consider themselves as more “spiritual” than others nor as having the corner on the worship market. They can be led in worship as easily as they can lead worship.

Yes, they are genuine! But they are also genuinely in love with their Savior. Being real and vulnerable in front of people is important but it’s no substitute for being real before the Lord on a daily basis.

Let me live that I may praise You” (Psalm 119:175).

Copyright © 2015 Clark Crebar. All rights reserved.

Clark Crebar has served in pastoral ministry for over 20 years.  He holds a degree from Talbot School of Theology and an M. Div from the University of Oregon. Among his years in ministry, he has served in numerous youth, young adult, and senior pastor roles.  Clark’s humility and spiritual authenticity have allowed him to be such an effective leader and teacher to the “post-modern” generation.  Upon meeting Clark, you will immediately realize his immense heart for prayer and worship. Clark and his wife, Lisa, have five beautiful children.