What Does A Worship Leader Do?

Featuring Bob Kauflin Posted on April 13, 2010


If you were born after 1980, you probably don't remember when the term worship leader didn't exist. But that designation really didn't emergeuntil the early 1970s. I still remember my shock and delight the first time I heard the group Love Song. They're singing to God. And they're a band! I was hooked. 

At that time Integrity's Hosanna Music was still a decade away, mostchurches were singing hymns, and Scripture choruses were one of the hottest things going. I don't think anyone back then had a clue how the thinking, structure, and practices of the church would come to be dominated by worship music and worship leaders.

Today it's hard to imagine the church without them. Their influence has been broad and often beneficial. They've made us more aware of the importance of praising God and engaging deeply with him as we sing. Churches all over the world are singing new, expressive, Christ-exalting songs. Many Christians have started to see themselves as worshipers for thefirst time in their lives. 

Worship leaders are one part of a long line of musical leadership in thechurch. Cantors, choral directors, accompanists, soloists, music directors,song leaders, conductors, and organists have all played a part, with varying degrees of success. Churches have tried everything from a cappella singing to a single guitar to full orchestras with two-hundred-voice choirs. It hasn't always been awe-inspiring.

A low point occurred during the seventeenth and eighteenth centurieswhen some congregations employed the practice of “lining out.” One author describes it this way: 

Each line of the psalm verse was recited—and often sung—by the leading voice, which the congregation would then follow. . . . Both leader and individual members of the congregation tended to take their own time (and a very long time indeed it was—perhaps half a minute for each line!). Where harmonization was attempted it was unsupported by any organ or instruments, probably improvised, and most unlikely to conform to the four parts of a printed book. The slow pace of the singing allowed the possibility ofdecoration and ornamentation of the melody by extra notes, though these might be spontaneously and simultaneously created by several singers atonce. The result was a kind of semi-improvised chaos.

We've come a long way. 

Some Lingering Questions

As I've thought about and studied my role as a worship leader, I've had questions. I've wondered if “worship leaders” have become too significant.

“For many young people choosing a church,” writes Gordon MacDonald, “worship leaders have become a more important factor than preachers. Mediocre preaching may be tolerated, but an inept worship leader can sink things fast.”

Music in the church is important. But is it more important than solid biblical teaching that helps me grow in knowledge of God and obedience to his Word? In a word, no. 


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