NOTE: This post originally appeared on The Resurgence which has since closed.
Many teaching pastors talk about their worship leader the way an apologetic dad talks about their uncoordinated child at a soccer game.
“He's got potential.”
“She's having fun, isn't she?”
“If we could get some better players around him, he'd really shine.”
Church leaders, and planters in particular, know all too well that you have to make the best of your situation and use what you have. Yet, when it comes to the music portion of a worship gathering this often translates into a leader getting thrown on stage that learned five chords in her dorm room last semester, or a guy that couldn't explain the gospel if a $10,000 gift card to "Guitar Center" was on the line.
We all start somewhere, but what is an acceptable starting point? How do you pick and develop the leader that will play an integral part in your gatherings? How do you choose between a leader that is godly and one that is musically gifted?
It's a mistake to assume that because the teaching pastor carries the primary responsibility of doctrine and vision, that the worship leader can be any guy in a
plaid shirt deep v current uniform who can nail the latest worship anthem. Below you'll read some key questions to ask yourself of any new music leader you're looking at bringing in or developing. Note that I have not specifically devoted this to paid hires, because candidly, I don't think it matters.
Repentant and Humble Heart Required
The scriptures repeatedly address the heart in the context of worship (John 4:23-24, Amos 5:21-24). Worship is always a heart issue. Look for leaders (and volunteers for that matter) that love who Jesus is more than their act of service to him. Do you sense an adoration of Christ in their life? Are they quick to confess? Are they teachable? What makes their heart beat faster; musical excellence or gospel transformation in people's lives?
Challenge your worship leader in character issues, and name pride when you see it, in a loving but truthful way. While you aren't looking for a perfect track record, you do want to see a pattern of repentance. Do they own their mistakes? Do they show a desire to grow? These are essential elements of any healthy leader, even those just starting out.
Skillful Leading is Also Important to God
Despite the common refrain of "as long as their heart is in the right place", the idea that skill doesn't matter to God is simply not biblical. God raises up godly and skilled artisans to serve in their craft. This doesn't mean your worship leader needs to have his own record on iTunes, but it does mean that “sloppiness drains the vertical dimension out of gathered worship” (Keller). Skill does not make our sacrifice more acceptable to God, but it does help us serve our purpose as worship leaders more effectively. Being properly trained and prepared helps keep the focus where it belongs, on Jesus. Can your worship leader lead with an appropriate level of skill? Are they competent on their instrument of choice? Can they speak with clarity when they address the congregation?
Be Wary of Those More Eager to Lead Than Serve
Most church plants will have a few eager folks that want leadership roles out of the gates. A good worship leader will invite the elders or pastors in the church to confirm their calling. If someone approaches you and says: “God told me I am supposed to lead worship here,” you should be very cautious. It is the exception to the rule that a person making that sort of uninvited claim turns out to be a solid leader. You would be hard pressed to find a place where the "be faithful with little, before you are entrusted with much" concept is better applied than leading worship. Does your leader love to meet the needs of others or have the spotlight?
Look Up, Look Down
An essential part of selecting a worship leader is determining their chemistry with those they report to and those they'll lead. Will they encourage and challenge (in healthy ways) those above and below them on the "org chart"? Can you see volunteer musicians following their lead? Do you picture this person being easy to work with when planning Sundays? Does your worship leader care about the people they lead? Would you want the congregation to follow their example off-stage?
"Look for leaders and volunteers that love the person Jesus more than their act of service to him."
I'm pleading with you to not overlook character issues for the sake of coverage. Don't assume that somehow a teaching pastor that "gets it" will balance out an incompetent or self-serving music leader. If it's your job to hire/find a music leader, make your application and audition process robust enough to assess their understanding of the gospel, spiritual maturity, and level of skill. These all mater, and while it may take time to get there, you want to be sure you are partnering with someone with your eyes wide open.
I Don't Have the Leader You're Describing
You may not have the leader you'd love to have today. Look around and ask "who could be that leader with investment in a year or two?" I've said before, investing in your worship leader is a smart move for a variety of reasons. If you think you're too busy, consider the following: your average church-goers will give you 54 hours of their attention annually. Depending on your liturgy, your worship leader will get roughly 18-27 of those hours. Your worship leader sounds like a wise place to invest your time, doesn't it?
If you'd like to discuss a leadership development plan for your current leader, or want to train up a new music leader, let me know. Don't buy the lie that placing an unqualified leader on stage is better than going without corporate worship in song for a season. If you feel unqualified to make an evaluation, reach out and I'd be happy to help. Every leader (including you and I) needs continued development. Your music leader might need theological training or a voice lesson. Mechanics can be trained more easily that character.
No matter the size of your church, don't propagate the prevalent double-standard where other spiritual leaders are tested for competency and character, but worship leaders get a hall pass. It will take effort and time but you can have both. Aren't the Savior and his bride worth it?
Here is a brief downloadable PDF of some questions to ask in the audition process of a worship leader or volunteer. It's not fool-proof, but simply a tool to identify both red flags that may come back to bite you later, and strengths that will serve you well down the road. As always, pray for wisdom and discernment when appointing leaders, and let them be tested.
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Father, guide us by your Spirit in raising up worship leaders that adore your Son and desire to serve and equip the saints you entrust to us...leaders that love you more than their gifting, more than emotional highs, and more than perfect productions. Strengthen the unity between lead/teaching pastors and worship leaders. Protect our flocks from wolves, and help us to discern between those that need coaching and those that need to be pulled out of leadership. Grow us in our love for your people as shepherds. Shape our gatherings to bring you glory.