Ten Ways To Improve Your Worship Leading
Featuring Mark Cole Posted on March 5, 2008
1. Study under a great worship leader.
This is the best way to learn and it can take on many forms. Jesus used this method to teach His disciples. If you have a good mentor in your church, watch them and learn from them. In this situation, you can watch them in a weekly worship setting. Tell them that you are interested in learning and to study what they do. Study what makes them successful and learn from their strengths and weaknesses.
If you’re not blessed with a good mentor in your local church, search out a mentor. You can go to worship conferences, watch the leaders and attend their classes. You can go to local worship events and watch leaders. You can attend other churches as the opportunities arise. Note what each church does well and not so well. You can also buy videos of worship leaders and note their different styles and ways of leading.
2. Make scripture reading & prayer a daily part of your life.
Anything that you do daily, you improve on. Spending time with God on a daily basis is a prerequisite for being a worship leader. This should include daily time in the Bible. I would suggest that you read a Psalm and a Proverb every day. I use a daily reading plan that takes me through the whole Bible each year.
I once worked with Billy Graham and he said that no matter how busy he got, he always made time to read at least one Psalm and Proverb everyday. Reading a psalm each day will give you insight into what the biblical worship leaders have gone through. You’ll notice that they have their good days and bad days. You’ll notice their passion and trust in God. You’ll notice that they also have victories and defeats like most people.
The Proverbs will give you insight into human behaviour. One of the most crucial areas of leading worship is relating to people. You can’t be a leader without people. Proverbs gives great wisdom into relationships, finances, work ethics and a host of very important areas that all leaders must deal with.
Reading the whole Bible every year will give you an overview of what God is saying to man. In reading the Bible through every year for the last 20+ years, I learn something new every time. God’s Word has a way of being relevant for the situation that you’re going through right now.
Another important part of spending time with God is a prayer life. Prayer is better if you spend more time listening than talking. The well known pastor Dr. Cho of Korea, who pastors a church of a million people, said that the key to his prayer life was ‘I pray and I obey’. The key to prayer is finding out what God wants you to do and doing it. That comes through reading His Word and listening to the His Holy Spirit daily for direction.
A prayer list and journal can also be a great asset to a life of prayer. Keep a record of things that you are praying about and note when God answered them. I keep a list of areas that I’m praying about and note each time God answers my prayers. Keeping track of answered prayer helps your faith to grow.
As you spend time with God daily, you will know Him better and love Him more and your passion for worshipping Him will increase. The best worship leaders worship much more privately then they do publicly. Your public ministry should only be the tip of the iceberg.
3. Learn the great worship songs.
God is birthing great songs around the world. There has never been a better time to learn worship songs. We now have access to great songs and recordings from around the world, songs from Canada, Australia, England, South Africa, America and many other parts of the world. We have hymn books full of songs from our spiritual heritage and songbooks full of the new songs that God has been birthing this century. Learn the old songs and the new songs. Find the songs that God’s Spirit is resting on. Find the songs that are blessing the nations.
I personally try to buy every new songbook and worship CD that comes out. I have a Maranatha Collection, a Vineyard Collection, a Hosanna Integrity Collection, a Hillsongs Collection, a Worship Together Collection, a Praisechart Collection, a hymnbook collection and various other songbooks. I use songs out of them all. There is no one organization that has the corner on God’s songs. Each publisher has a slightly different slant and style. It’s great to be able to incorporate all of that into the local church.
A good place to find out the most popular worship songs is to look at the lists that Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI) has compiled. They track the songs that are sung in most English speaking countries. Their lists, from over 160,000 churches, will give you a good indication of what the Body of Christ is singing around the world. Their lists tends to favor the songs that have been around for a while but it is still a good place to start. If you have access to the internet, go to www.ccli.com and check out their website.
Another good resource is Praisecharts.com. There you will find hundreds of charts of the most popular worship songs of our time.
Take time to memorize these songs. I’ve memorized hundreds of hymns, choruses and new worship songs and it is amazing to see how they enrich your life and worship.
One of the keys to leading a great worship service is to pick great worship songs. A great worship song will almost lead itself. All you have to do is sing along and worship. Different songs have different purposes. Don’t pick a song just because it sounds great on a recording. Find songs that cause people to set their hearts on God.
4. Understand the progression of worship.
Psalms 100:4 says, "I will enter His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise." God likes it when we come before Him with singing. One of the most common ways to begin a worship service is with songs of thanksgiving. These songs are often songs that are sung about God as opposed to songs that sing directly to God. They are often (but not exclusively) faster songs that are more praise orientated. It often takes time for the general congregation to get warmed up in a worship service and starting with thankful upbeat songs is often the best way to start a service. Worship leaders shouldn’t get in the habit of using formulas to program the service. Starting with more upbeat songs is just a general observation. A worship leader should always listen to what God wants for them to do in that particular moment and situation.
People often come to services with their minds on anything but God. A leaders responsibility is to help everyone focus on why they really came to church in the first place, that is to meet God. Having a progression in the worship service can help people to set aside other distractions and focus on God.
The progression of songs often goes from general upbeat songs that talk about God and give thanks to Him to songs that talk directly to God. When we sing songs that talk directly to God we are beginning the progression toward worshipping Him. The term ‘Praise and Worship’ indicates that general trend of going from praise about God to worship to God.
5. Understand the importance of worship in the Bible.
The largest book in the Bible is a songbook (the Psalms). There are songs sprinkled throughout the Bible. Some of the greatest men of God were songwriters. Moses, David and Solomon are among the most prolific. God is looking for people to worship him. In John 4:23-24, Jesus said, "But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as those to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth." God loves worshippers. King David was called a ‘man after God’s own heart’. He was also one of the chief songwriters of the Bible and a man who loved to worship God. In spite of his failures, his desire was to be close to God and worship was one of the best ways for him to express that.
6. Learn a musical instrument.
Playing a musical instrument is of great help in worship. Most great worship leaders play an instrument. It is not a prerequisite, but it is of great help. The two main instruments for a leader are the guitar and the keyboard. Piano generally takes longer to be proficient at, so I suggest that people who take up an instrument later in life should take up the guitar. Obviously the earlier in life that you start playing an instrument the better chance you have at being proficient at it.
If you’re just starting to learn an instrument, I suggest that you find yourself a good teacher. A Christian teacher is preferable. In any case, find someone who will teach you not only the basics of the instrument and reading music, but someone who will help you to read chord progressions and help you to accompany yourself as you sing and worship.
Another great way to learn is just to copy the worship CD’s that you listen to. Take it song by song, chord by chord and learn to listen what the keyboard or guitar player is playing. This is often the most effective way of learning once you get past the basic stage of learning an instrument. Copying the players on CD’s will teach you better rhythm and help you learn a variety of styles. It will also help you learn relevant material, the material that you want to use in your worship services.
7. Learn to sing to the best of your ability.
Singing is a big part of leading. You don’t have to be an awesome singer to lead but the more acceptable your tone, pitch and vibrato is, the less distracting it is to the congregation. The opposite can also be true, great singers sometimes don’t make good worship leaders. They are often too busy vocalizing to facilitate the average singer in the congregations worship.
Just as taking lessons is an important part of learning to play an instrument, it’s also important to take vocal lessons. Most teachers tend to be more classically trained. They can teach you a lot about breathing, projection, tone and enunciation. You don’t necessarily want to copy some of the operatic tendencies that they may have since modern worship tends to be more gospel, pop and rock orientated.
Listening to recordings of yourself can be a good way to learn. It is often discouraging at first since most people don’t like the sound of their own voice. But, as you get over that you will hopefully learn to pick out pitch problems and other weak areas in your singing. Having a teacher critique you is also a great way to improve.
Another great way of learning to sing is to simply copy the tone and articulation of your favorite worship leader on the many CD’s that are available. Copying other musicians and singers is one of the chief ways musicians learn. On a side note: it’s best to learn from a number of different leaders so you just don’t become a clone of one style and sound.
Leaders should generally just sing the melody. The leaders voice is usually highest in the vocal mix and if you sing harmonies it will often throw off weaker singers in your congregation. It is ok to throw in an ad lib occasionally but don’t let it become a distraction. Learning to ad lib in the various musical forms is an art form, use good taste and discretion and listen to tapes of yourself frequently.
8. Learn a variety of different styles of songs.
Variety is the spice of life. A congregation appreciates variety. The tastes of most congregations represent a huge spectrum of music. Pop, rock, rhythm and blues, country, folk, Irish, classical, ballad, Jewish, gospel and alternative are among the many styles that are used in worship services. Putting the right style with the right song can bring the song to life. Learning new styles can be fun and invigorating. Don’t get stuck in a rut. Music is constantly changing and we should grow and change with it. God is not limited to a style. Classical styled worship music is not more spiritual then pop styled worship music. It’s the lyrics and heart of the musicians that define the spiritual depth of a song.
One of the faults of the church in the past has been the slowness to change. Churches generally like to stay with the safe and familiar. It’s been my observation that the most successful churches are the ones that stay relevant to the people and the culture that they minister in. That includes staying current and relevant in music. That doesn’t mean that you have to become trendy. I believe that the message of the Gospel is unchanging but the ways that we communicate it are constantly changing and growing.
I make it a habit to listen to the songs that the youth are listening to. I don’t always initially like the style but I try to see it from a teenager’s perspective. If the lyrics are projecting biblical Christianity, then I try to look past my personal tastes in music. If we want to be relevant worship leaders, we have to grow with the new music and styles that God is using in the younger generations.
9. Learn to communicate in front of your congregation.
Effective communication comes in many forms. The way we speak, act and dress all communicate volumes to our congregations. Learning to speak in public is hard for many people. Polls indicate that speaking in public is many peoples greatest fear. Worship leaders are not required to speak volumes but the right word at the right time is very effective. Worship leaders most always remember that they aren’t the preacher. Some of the most effective worship leaders speak very little.
One of the most effective ways to speak is to quote the Bible. People will more readily accept direction and change in worship if they are shown it in the Word of God. This should never be done in a hard or condescending manner. Teaching and encouraging God’s people in worship should always be done with love and respect. Proverbs 25:15 says, "A gentle tongue breaks a bone." People will be much more open to direction and change if it is done gently.
Learn to overcome such problems as stuttering or talking too fast. Learn to speak clearly and succinctly. Learn good grammar and don’t get in the habit of using to many clichés. Saying ‘Amen’ and ‘Hallelujah’ every second word usually shows insecurity on the part of the speaker.
Humility in a worship leader is of paramount importance. You can’t fake humility, or at least not for very long. Your body language will speak volumes to the congregation. If they see a worship leader and team who are totally yielded to and passionate about God, they will be more open to that leadership. Leading with a humble spirit but with authority is an important balance in effective leadership. People can usually tell when you’re just ‘going through the motions’ and when your passionate about God.
The style of clothing that you wear is also relevant to the message that you are sending your congregation. There is no one style that is the right style. When I lead at youth retreats, I lead in jeans and t-shirts. Sometimes I lead with a sports jacket, sometimes not. The key is to be relevant to the congregation that you are leading. I’ve lead in shorts and a Hawaiian shirt on the beaches of Waikiki and worn a three-piece suit at major events. Being sensitive to the situation and congregation is the key. Don’t let your clothes be a distraction for your ministry. The topic of your clothes should be the least discussed topic at the Sunday dinner tables of your congregation.
10. Learn to work well with your pastor.
A church will only rise to the level of its pastor. If your Pastor is a worshipper, the church will soon follow. Developing a good working relationship and understanding between the worship leader and the pastor is of paramount importance. If they don’t share the same vision, the vision won’t get accomplished. They will always be pulling in different directions.
I have found it to be helpful to meet, at least once a week, with the Pastor to review the last Sunday’s services and to plan for the next week and weeks to come. It is also good to meet occasionally in informal situations (coffee, breakfast, sports activities, etc.) to continue to develop a good relationship. The Senior Pastor and the worship leader usually are the most visible in public ministry. Their ability to compliment each other can be a powerful asset. If they don’t work together well then the opposite is true.
There are a number of ways that a Pastor can facilitate worship in a church. One of them is by regularly teaching on it. The Bible is full of great passages on worship and if the Pastor is not comfortable teaching on the subject there are a number of good books on the subject from which to gather resource material.
Another important way for a Pastor to facilitate worship is to model it. If the Pastor is a wholehearted worshipper, the congregation will take their cue from him. If the Pastor is not comfortable with being a model for worship then it would be good for him to sit on the front pew rather than on the platform.
Worship leading is a great privilege and challenge. It is great to be able to point people to God through worship. Learn to grow in your singing, playing and leading. Learn to hear God as you lead. Be passionate in your love relationship with God and the people in your worship team and congregation.
Tag: Worship Leading
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Other Posts Featuring Mark Cole
- 7 Tips On Taking Your Sunday Morning Worship To The Next Level
- What I’ve Learned About Running A Worship Band Rehearsal
- What I’ve Learned About Picking New Songs For Worship
- Bringing Your Church to a Higher Level of Worship
- Three Keys to a Great Worship Rehearsal
- Ten Ways to Improve Your Worship Team
- Keys to Developing a Great Vocal Section
- Keys to Developing a Great Rhythm Section