The Role of the Worship Leader

In each church someone fulfills the role of Worship Leader.  Who is that in your congregation?  A paid staff person?  A volunteer?  The Pastor?  An associate Pastor?  Regardless, the individual has a vital part to play in the unfolding of the corporate worship setting within any congregation.  Let’s look at some ideas about what this person does.

First, there is one theory circulating that turns the title “Worship Leader” on its head and suggests that this person is the “Lead worshiper.”  In other words, it is assumed that this person should have a heart and attitude of worship both individually and in front of the corporate body – this qualifies him or her to then lead the worship of the congregation.

Second, there is the theory that the “Worship Leader” is really the “Song Leader.”  Within this realm the person only leads the songs, especially since the rest of the elements of the service are not really considered “worship.”  Other individuals handle other aspects of the service (i.e., announcements, Pastoral prayer, offertory, Scripture reading, etc.).

Third, some suggest that the “Worship Leader” is the Pastor.  Why?  Well…because he’s the Pastor.  The Pastor’s primary responsibility is the planning and execution of the Sunday Service, so regardless of who else does the planning, song leading, etc. the Pastor is the “Worship Leader.”

Fourth, how about the idea that the “Worship Leader” is a Team?  The expressed purpose of this approach is to avoid drawing attention to any single person.  A “Worship Team” is developed to facilitate and lead the worship, as well at times to help with the planning.  This also allows for shared responsibility.

Fifth, another possibility is that the “Worship Leader” is actually the “Worship Planner.”  He or she is responsible to plan the various elements of the service, but does not lead the congregation in any way on Sunday.  This allows for a wide use of gifted individuals in the leading of the services.

Sixth, in some primarily denominational settings, the Organist is the “Worship Leader.”  There may be someone up front “leading” the songs, but he’s following the Organist – not vice versa.  In this model the Organist segues between elements of the service, sets the tempo of the songs, and can even help the Pastor realize that he’s gone too long by moving to his seat at the organ at the appointed time!

Seventh…Well, OK, I won’t go on.  I think you might have gotten my point – the role of the Worship Leader is neither well-defined nor commonly understood.  If we were to think through each of the above “theories” we could actually make a case that there is merit for each one.  The “Worship Leader” should be a worshiper, and often their primary activity is leading songs.  He is often the Pastor, who at least sets the spiritual tone for the service.  In some settings a Team approach works great, and sometimes the planner of the services is gifted in planning, but not in leading a group in public.  There are even times that the Organist, or another musician, should take the lead role in the service as is fitting for the moment.  All of these ideas work, in the appropriate setting and circumstances.

Let me share another idea with you about the role of the Worship Leader.  One of the Worship Leader’s primary roles is to gather distractions.  That’s right – gather distractions.  I can hear you now, “What is this guy talking about?  He’s gone off the deep end.”  Just keep reading and I’ll explain.

In a previous article I discussed the importance of transitions in worship.  Transitioning from song to song, song to prayer, prayer to sermon, sermon to song, etc. can make or break the atmosphere of worship.  Muff up a transition and the congregation can lose focus.  Fall apart moving from one song to another and the joy of the moment is replaced with frustration and embarrassment.

Gathering distractions is another form of dealing with transitions.  A broken transition is a distraction to the congregation.  A Worship Leader must anticipate this and do all that is humanly possible to avoid distractions that will interrupt the congregation’s experience.  He must gather the distractions to himself.  In many ways that means the Worship Leader is full of distractions in order to provide for the congregation to have few distractions.

Well, how is this done?  Practice – especially for the musicians.  Spend time rehearsing prior to the service (during the week, on Saturday, etc.).  Another way is to plan ahead and visualize the service before it happens.  Will Mrs. Smith be able to get up to the piano without tripping on those cords?  Do the Deacons know when the Offering will be taken and do they have people ready to do that?  Is it too warm or cold in the sanctuary?  Does the choir have enough time to sit down between their two songs, or should they remain standing?  Can the congregation hear the speaker and singers well enough?  How’s the lighting?

I could go on and on, but be sure to ask questions.  A Team approach works well for this in that some individuals will see a problematic transition (distraction point) and the group can solve it before it even happens.

I have used this technique of visualizing the service before it happens over and over again with great success.  The more complicated the service, the more time spent visualizing.  I have found that it helps to go into the sanctuary (or gym, or cafeteria, or wherever you do worship) and “see” the event happening.  I’m not suggesting some mystical, new age vision-seeking.  It’s more like rehearsing an important conversation before it even happens.  What are you going to say?  How should you say it?  Where should you be when you say it?  Should you be on your knees, or looking into her eyes?  You know what I mean.

Well, no matter what, the role of the Worship Leader is an important one.  Pray for that person in your congregation as he or she plays an important role in corporate worship to facilitate an atmosphere that is beneficial to the worship and praise of God, and the proclamation of His Word.



Posted on November 10, 2014, in Content of Worship, Corporate Worship, Leadership, theology, Worship Leader and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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