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Lessons Learned as a Worship Leader

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For over 6 years, I held the position of worship leader at my dad’s church.  My primary responsibilities were to choose songs, rehearse with the singers, and lead worship on Sunday mornings.  Initially, my main goal was to have enough songs to get through the 20-30 minute set, but as time progressed I realized there is an art to worship.  The song choice mattered.  The people who sang mattered.  And as hard as it was to admit, my lifestyle mattered…a lot.

Song Choice

Every Christian or Gospel song is not appropriate for praise and worship.  I learned this the hard way.  Although God can move outside of song choice, I had to realize that just because a song speaks to me doesn’t mean it will speak to the masses.  Since the objective is to involve and engage the congregation, the focus is less about popularity, or my connection to a song, but how I answer the following questions:
Does this song align with the Word? (Don’t be fooled by the classification, every Christian or Gospel song is not biblical.)  Is this song singable/easy to catch on to?  Do I need to simplify the arrangement to avoid distractions from the meaning?  Is this song uplifting?  (Believe it or not there are some songs that make you feel worse than you did before you sang it.)  Does this song exalt the character of God?  After answering these questions, choosing the right songs for praise and worship became easier.  I can’t say I always got it right, but I can say when I did; I knew it was because of the filter above.

People

Praise teams consist of people, who often times have no (or very little) desire to pursue music as a profession.  In many cases, singers on praise teams have jobs that range from students to executives.   They give of their time to support the ministry, but often have other priorities during the week.  I learned very quickly that the singers who sing with Kirk Franklin and Byron Cage are singers who either sing full-time or have the skill to do so.  This is important to know when choosing songs, but also when choosing people.  There is a love for God and a love for music ministry that must be present in all members.  Music ministry is no small job and when added to the complexity of life commitment to grow in Christ and in skill is critical.
Danger comes when a large or professional sounding praise team becomes more important than the effectiveness of the group.  A worship leader must consider the heart of the person and their love for God above their skill level and realize that at the end of the day (or end of rehearsal) the anointing makes the difference.

My Lifestyle

To whom much is given, much is required.  Although I was quite young when I accepted the position to lead, I also had to accept the calling to fully follow Christ; otherwise my worship and leadership would be counterproductive.  I had a hard time with this initially but after many days dreading to sing because of guilt and shame, I finally made the decision to commit to a lifestyle of worship.  This doesn’t mean I didn’t make any mistakes from that day forward, rather I no longer allowed my issues to go unaddressed.  Confronting myself was one of the hardest things I had to do, because it meant going to God and allowing Him to determine how I would lead my life.  It was the relinquishing of control that made me nervous.  Would I let God down?  Would I let myself down?  Could I be as strong as God called me to be?
When I took that first step, God took the rest.  The depth of my worship increased.  I sang with more authority and conviction and could boldly worship God without the shame of sin interrupting my thoughts.   I’ve said before and I’ll continue to say, worship saved my life.  I found the love of God in worship.  I found who I am in Christ in worship.  And now it’s my sincerest desire to create an atmosphere for others to do the same.
#walkthetalk
-Sarah

9 comments

  1. Sis Sarah,

    Thank you for sharing this. I just happened upon your blog and had to respond. In reading your submission it is like reading about my own understanding of what was required of me from God. I faced the same thoughts, questions and situations many years ago. It is so refreshing to know that there is someone else out there with similar convictions.

    Worship for me is a lifestyle, the songs sang, my everyday walk with God and those who interact with me has been very important in choices made regarding music ministry. I still struggle with what the questions of the selections that are pleasing to God, or what does he want to hear, or what is the message behind this particular song that I want to do. Then there are those who sing with me, is he or she as convicted as I am? Is the same call of God on their life for music ministry or do they just want to sing?

    It is so important to me, that the sings I choose are in line with the word of God and will do its part in changing, bringing repentance, a love for God or sending one running to the Mercy seat of God.

    Sarah, it is not an easy task but as you said early in your blog, “To Whom Much Is Given, Much Is Required”. Therefore, to be in his presence and draw others to him I would not want to change one requirement, but pray that it will always be said or thought that I left a taste in that individual to want More of God, and more of His Love to all that has the opportunity to come under the sound of my voice in music ministry.

    Much blessings to you and the ministry God has given to you!

    In His Hands!

    Deborah

    1. Thanks so much for reading and commenting! Your heart for worship is inspiring. As much work as it takes, I try to remind myself that I am privileged to do this work. I am given the responsibility to not only worship God, but to lead others to do the same. This is a huge honor and therefore is worth the push. Thank you for sharing your thoughts Deborah. God Bless!

  2. Sarah I totally agree with everything you have posted and know the feeling of it all and I was not the greatest singer. But the Lord blessed.

  3. Hey Sarah! I really enjoyed this blog post, specifically, the five questions you used as a filter for picking songs. How often did you create set lists? For example, I have been making set lists weekly. However, I always feel like Im behind. If your not a fan of repeating songs within the month, then quantatively speaking, this means 16-20 new/different songs every month.

    My solution is to make two set lists for the month and rotate them. I believe once you have taken songs through the “filtering process” and they make the cut so to speak, then its a matter of perfecting them as a praise team/band and as a church. When I look to select 16-20 new/different songs every month I can get caught asking myself, “Ok, which song have we not sang in a while?” Simply because Im trying to keep things fresh.

    What are your views?

    1. Hey Janie, thanks so much for reading!
      Yes I understand the dilemma. I’ve had the same issues in the past. Having to deal with someone who would complain about singing the same songs over and over or being faced with never truly perfecting a song for the sake of keeping worship fresh and less predictable. The church I attend now repeat songs a lot. But what I’ve noticed is more participation from the congregation and a perfected sound from the singers and instrumentalists.

      As I rule, I like to govern my lists by themes. So if love is my theme for the month of November, I’ll look for songs that emphasize Christ’s love, how we should love each other, how we love God. Of course, every song may not fit perfectly but at least it gives me an outline to filter the song list I have even further.

      I don’t know if you’ve heard of a website/app called planning center but it truly helps with organizing set lists. You can put songs on a list weeks in advance (and invite others to do the same). As you get closer to the date of the service you can start fine tuning the list based on what you think the church needs or based on a particular theme. This allows you to take advantage of days when you have time to think, store it somewhere online, and then come back to it. It also stores all the songs you’ve ever scheduled and the day you scheduled it, so you don’t have to rely on your memory. It’s great!
      Check it out and if you have any questions, let me know!
      Sarah

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