What is the Difference Between a Worship Artist and a Worship Leader?

Featuring Daniel Collison Posted on May 11, 2008

The question begs for a punch line. It is something one would expect hear at a worship conference with the audience of worship leaders nodding in knowing laughter. (I am receptive to all e-mail submissions!) Nonetheless, the question calls attention to a subtle but critical topic for worship leaders today: What should be the balance between artistry and leadership? How are they different? These are complicated questions because worship directors are asked to be worship leaders.  However, if one is not also a worship artist, there is a critically lacking ingredient.

I have conducted countless meetings, interviews and auditions with people who aspire to become worship leaders. While they have not said this overtly, seventy percent of the time it is my perception that the person is an artist that has not yet understood their mission or career path. Often, they perceive the church as a place where they can be paid as a professional or gain experience toward a performing career as a soloist. I draw these conclusions from conversations which often revolve around one's songwriting, their recording aspirations, and their overall personality. These individuals usually demonstrate musical talent, but lack a cohesive understanding of what leadership entails. 

The other thirty percent of those who audition actually do emphasize leadership concepts. But there tends to be a real mix of situations that unfold. For example, one person waxed beautifully of the role of leaders and displayed a clear worship theology. Later, during their musical audition I was astounded at their low level of artistry and their apparent lack of discernment concerning it. In all fairness, most prospective Christian leaders do not know how to frame careers and ministry calling. Additionally the church is rarely there to help. There are signs, however, of this changing as colleges and seminaries begin to launch academic emphases in worship leadership and churches are investing in internships. Their initiatives must remain mindful of developing individuals toward acquiring a critical balance between musical excellence, theological knowledge and leadership principles.

My own path into worship leadership is one that was definitely not ideal. I will admit that throughout the past 17 years of worship leadership and intermittent schooling, I frequently took notice of peers pursuing degrees such as law or engineering who were offered paid internship which often led to full-time employment. I desperately wanted to see this in my own life and in the lives of others who were called to ministry. But instead, my path, which I believe mirrors the confusion of so many others, is summarized below:

High School (Interlochen Arts Academy): Personal passion to be a performer

College (Eastman School of Music)
     Freshman Year: Disillusionment with performance career path
     Sophomore Year: Re-commitment to Jesus Christ and general confusion about career path
     Junior Year: Personal hunger to be in ministry; however, professional training to be a performer
     Senior Year: Total confusion

Post Graduation: Scrubbing grocery floors, office product sales, various musical gigs, local symphonies, running Christian adult foster care, serving in a small church.

Equipped with a passion for Jesus Christ, the guidance of God, and numerous good (and a few bad) mentors, I eventually unearthed important pieces of the worship artist/leader puzzle. Which returns us to the critical question: What is the proper balance between artistry and leadership?

It is my belief that while competent worship artistry is a requirement of a worship leader, one's primary role should be that of leader. Both competencies are necessary but it is leadership that multiplies ministry, empowers others to service, and expands the ministry environment to become more about Jesus and others and less about the worship leader. Here are some points to consider:

A Worship Artist                                                

  • Talent-artist-displays personal gifts                       
  • Trained in music-creates appreciation of music    
  • Evaluated by personality & performance and its impact upon mood, and responsiveness in a particular event                                              
  • Visible, up front presence                                    
  • Emphasis on the worship event         

A Worship Leader

  • Recognizes other's gifts-catalyst & equipper
  • Creates appreciation for various means of worship accessible to a larger percentage of the body's gifts
  • Evaluated by the empowerment and use of other's gifts and their influence upon drawing people into whole-life worship
  • Decreasing personal visibility
  • Emphasis on whole-life worship throughout the week

In reality, all worship leaders are a mixture of both categories. However, if we are called to be worship leaders we ought to emphasize leader over artist. This is a subtle but imperative consideration.

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