When I started leading worship aged 17 I thought the primary role of a worship leader was to play and sing the songs well (which was ironic as I was terrible!) Over the years my thinking about the role of a worship leader has changed and now I’d see the primary role of a worship leader as being a Pastor- someone who cares for the people they are leading. This has affected the way that I approach a Sunday morning. I’m wanting us as a worship team to pray more for the congregation than ourselves. I’m also wanting to encourage the congregation more than just play the songs well. Let’s have a look at some of the ways we can lead a congregation.
We can lead by SINGING with passion. A clear, passionate and loud vocal reassures the congregation you know where you're taking them. A friend of mine who leads the worship team at a London Church said that he’s encouraged to sing the first two or three songs as loudly as possible so people can really get behind the melody with him.
We can lead by making eye contact and SMILING at the congregation- people will follow your lead and generally respond more if they feel like you're connecting with them. I find it more difficult to engage in vibrant praise when the worship leader has their eyes intensely shut the whole time and every song is a “holy moment"! I was leading worship at a Relational Mission conference a few months back and some people came up to encourage us afterwards. There was me hoping for encouragements such as “Oh I loved that new song you wrote!” or “Was that your arrangement of that classic hymn!?” But no! Nearly every encouragement was “You guys really looked as if you were enjoying worshipping Jesus” and “You were smiling so much!” At first I thought this was a rubbish encouragement to receive but actually the way we lead is so important. We want to be inviting and inclusive rather than intense and exclusive.
Finally we can lead by TALKING to the congregation. I find this works best when I talk in an unhurried way and also without my instrument in the way. Sometimes we can talk in time with our guitar strumming and it just ends up sounding strange! I often get the synth player to play a light pad as I talk to the congregation at the beginning of a meeting or in between songs. Some people really love the sound of their own voice and will over-do it when it comes to “talk time” but as long as the worship leader is directing people’s attention to Jesus and reminding them about the gospel then I’d encourage leaders to go for it and talk to the people they are leading! You can try these out...
Sharing stories with the congregation - One worship leader at my Church shared about how on a Friday after work he wraps his tie around his head and does a dance around his flat in celebration of the weekend. He then encouraged the congregation that if we get this happy about finishing a week at work how much happier should we be singing God’s praises in light of all he’s done for us! This was such a memorable story and carried a great link and exhortation AND used humour (which is allowed in Church!)
Sharing scripture with the congregation- a verse or a passage can be used to explain a song, tie in a theme or to teach into why we worship. I love using Zephaniah 3 where it talks about God delighting over us. There’s a beautiful picture in our worship of us singing to the Father and the Father singing over us. We can even get the whole congregation to read out a passage of scripture all together. This is incredibly powerful!
Getting the congregation to encourage each other- maybe asking the congregation to turn and tell each other a great thing God has done in their lives or something to be thankful about from their week.
Explaining to the congregation why we are doing what we are doing. If a spontaneous song has been brought or if we are teaching a new song why not explain what’s going on? This will help the Church and be accessible to visitors.
Follow on from contributions. If your Church is a Church that lets people contribute from the floor why not get the congregation to respond in particular ways. For example- a chap brought a challenge to the congregation last week about how we need to lay down anything in our lives that we feel commends us to our Father in Heaven instead of trusting in his grace alone. I thought this was a brilliant word and that the congregation needed to respond together so I asked everyone to quietly name the things that they think commend themselves to God and as they speak them out to gesture with their hands that they are laying them down before the cross.
We need to be ourselves as we lead. Don't put on another voice or try and be another leader! God has made us all with unique personality and gifts. There’s one guy who leads at City Church who’s naturally very funny and without trying he makes people laugh. This is a great gift to use especially when kicking off worship on a Sunday morning. It can really help make people relaxed.
In light of what I’ve been saying why don’t we take some risks when leading? Not just sticking to the safe path we’ve trod before. A few questions for us…
-If you were leading a dancing song and people weren't dancing would you take the risk of stopping it, pointing out the obvious, exhorting people to dance, then starting it again?
-if you felt you'd started a slow song but no one was responding well to it would you cut it early and do another song?
-if you felt like you had something to sing over the congregation but only had a few words would you do it?
Have you found anything particularly useful from this article or have you got any tips to pass on yourself? Comment below!