The Effective Worship Leader

Early on in ministry, I was given some constructive criticism that to be honest sort of offended me.  However I have since learned the value in what was said and God has used it to be a teaching tool and motivator for me to grow as a worship leader.  Here is the comment…

“You know, Zach, you are a tremendous vocalist…but not much of a worship leader.”

Since that time I have realized that vocal talent is great to have, but it is not the most important ingredient in being a worship leader.  My vocal talent helps provides me with opportunities, but it does not guarantee that I am effective.  Here are some practical things that I have come to learn are vital for those wanting to be effective worship leaders.  Obviously this list is not exhaustive…

1.  An Effective Worship Leader will Cultivate His Relationship with the Lord.  As worship leaders we must walk what we talk.  It is so easy for me to spend time making copies, ordering music, preparing media, planning, arranging instruments and furniture.  All of those things are important but our daily time with the Lord is crucial if we want to effectively lead people on Sunday.  I’m not talking about our spiritual performance.  Not an “If I do my Bible study this morning then God will use me, if not He won’t type of thing.”  God is able to use us even in our most feeble and spiritually dry moments.  However, the faithful worship leader must continually put himself under submission to the Word of God and the Spirit of God if he desires to lead people effectively.

2.  An Effective Worship Leader will Listen to the Heart of His People.  My ordination service was preached by my good friend and mentor, Shane Garrison.  Shane presented me with a stethoscope at the service.  He challenged me to listen to the heart of those I minister to.  So many worship leaders bow at the altar of themselves.  Their preferences, their fame, their notoriety, etc.  Their way is THE way.  Our job is not to drag people kicking and screaming to where it is that we think they should go.  We must understand where our people are currently, where God wants us to take them, and how we go about pastorally leading them to that in a way that honors God and brings the most people along for the ride.

3.  An Effective Worship Leader Will Carefully Handle the Word.  We must not abdicate our responsibility to be found faithful of 2 Timothy 2:15.  “Do your best to present yourself approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.”  Don’t underestimate your responsibility to handle the Word of God.  As a worship leader, you are not just the hired musician.  Christian songs and hymns are vehicles that carry a message.  We must be thoughtful, thorough, and discerning when selecting songs for worship.

4.  An Effective Worship Leader is Always Learning.  I struggle with public speaking.  I’m not good at shooting from the hip.  I have learned throughout my ministry that I need to take time every week and think through what it is that I will say between songs on Sunday mornings.  Whether it is scripture reference, a spoken transition, or whatever, I realize my need for improving my skills as a communicator.  It may be that your “way” to do ministry worked well 10 years ago but the ministry context you are now in demands a different methodology.  Are you willing to change?  Maybe you realize you need to know the scriptures better and are contemplating seminary?  Whatever the case may be, we all have areas where we can learn and grow.

Here are some other comments that I have received about what makes an effective worship leader.

  • An effective worship leader must have a biblical, gospel-centered understanding of his role; what he is, and most importantly, what he is not. 
  • An effective worship leader must also be a genuine worshipper.

I will conclude with Bob Kauflin’s definition of an effective (faithful) worship leader from his book, Worship Matters.

A faithful worship leader
magnifies the greatness of God in Jesus Christ
through the power of the Holy Spirit
by skillfully combining God’s Word with music,
thereby motivating the gathered church
to proclaim the gospel, to cherish God’s presence,
and to live for God’s glory.


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