What is a worship leader? It’s a question many of us have neglected to stop and actually think about, yet it’s one that really needs to be answered, so that the position that’s been created for the modern church today is actually validated.
When we refer to worship in this article, we’ll be looking at the modern position of “worship leader” being the one who leads singing and prayer in the modern church. There are a whole host of assumptions that come with this term — that we can only worship when we follow the leader, that worship must be led by a musician or even that the worship leader is somehow “different” or more “in tune” with God.
None of these assumptions are correct. However, it’s important to understand that the modern church has adopted this title and some of the assumptions that go with it. People can identify with the title “worship leader” because it’s now become part of our church vocabulary, and this position that the church created for itself is now very much legitimate.
To begin with, it’s worth unpacking why worship (in a musical sense) especially has become so important in the modern church. We model our singing as a method of worship on a lot of the Old Testament, especially the psalms that urge us to “…Break forth and sing for joy and sing praises” and to “…raise a song, strike the timbrel”. Ephesians 5:19 – 20 instructs us to “speak to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, sing and make melody with your heart to the Lord”.
Zoom forward a couple of thousands of years and we now have worship leaders in most churches whose role it is to lead us in musical worship. Because of this it can sometimes feel like worship has become just the sets of songs slotted into our Sunday meetings; that music is the only legitimised form of congregational worship.
Singing as a form of worship is mentioned over 400 times in Scripture and there are over 50 direct commands to sing God’s praises so clearly singing is a form of worship and one that God appreciates. But there are so many more examples of worship in the Bible from dancing, to praying, to tithing, to transforming your mind, to evangelising. Biblical examples of worship suggest worship is less about the act or form, and more about desiring to connect with our Creator and bring Him praise. When we examine all of this we realise worship should be displayed in all areas of life, with some of it accompanied by music.
One definition of a worship leader could be that a worship leader simply invites others to join them in what they’re already doing. A worship leader should be living a life of worship with the Sunday service just an outward, public act of worship that others can also participate in. If we strip the meaning to simply that, then there are several factors that are entailed in the role of a worship leader.
A worship leader should be leading worship with the guidance of the Holy Spirit and from a place of authentic worship. This doesn’t mean a worship leader is the perfect Christian or their worship is to a higher standard than the congregation, but that they are coming from a place of authentic, honest worship (not mere lip-service or a performance) and rely on the guidance and strength of the spirit to lead.
Worship leading should never become a performance, but preparation is a key part of worship leading. God expects our best offering (not our second best or the best someone else can offer) as an act of worship. Coming prepared to lead people is important, unnecessary distractions like sloppy playing or not knowing what song is next takes away from the true purpose of corporate worship; united adoration of God.
Just like being prepared, song selection is really important. Part of the role of a worship leader is to choose songs that will help the people they are leading connect with God. This involves both the music AND the lyrics. The songs we use to worship should be based on Biblical truth and should align theologically with our beliefs, and the music that accompanies should help create an atmosphere that encourages worship (in whatever form).
The role of the worship leader is to help those they are leading connect with God, not with themselves, the bass player or the pretty lights. It’s really important that all the elements involved in worship leading, from the words and prayers that are said to the outfits that are worn, allow people to focus more on their own worship than how cool the worship leader is. Worship is about connecting with our Creator, honouring him with our lives and bringing glory to his name.
One of the biggest parts of worship leading is encouraging people to worship beyond the Sunday service. Worship is far bigger than a few songs once a week, worship should be a part of all we do. The Sunday service is one just way we worship (and an important part) but corporate worship is an opportunity to spur each other on in our own pursuit of a worship-filled life. Sunday worship should encourage people to worship in many different forms and long after the service has ended!
Worship is a huge, complex and subjective topic. It’s important that the people who find themselves in this position are dedicated to furthering their relationship with Jesus, and continue to worship in spirit and in truth.