Three Mistakes Worship Leaders Should Avoid This Sunday

From a guy who’s made all of them

Matt Tolander
May 2, 2018 · 5 min read
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Whether you’ll be leading worship for fifty people or five thousand this Sunday, you know that any musically competent person can stand up and play these songs on a stage. You know as well as I do that worship songs are, by design, simple for all involved — musician and congregant alike. But what sets you apart as the worship leader is not your abillity to play and sing the songs.

Our responsibility as worship leaders is to help the people in our churches communicate with God in musical corporate worship. We do this by creating an environment of participation.

The individuals in your church may have internal spiritual walls that keep them from engaging in worship — it’s not your job to tear those down. It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to do that. It is, however, your responsibility not to throw up any additional barriers to their participation in corporate worship on Sunday.

Here are three ways I’ve seen worship leaders unknowingly undermine participation in corporate worship:

Playing the songs in keys that are unsingable for the congregation.

Have you ever wrapped up a worship song by dropping out for a voices-only chorus, only to hear a sea of voices that is distinctly female? I used to wonder why men seemed disengaged in corporate worship. Maybe it’s because men don’t like expressing their emotions, I thought (wrongly).

I was a worship leader for ten years, but it wasn’t until I stopped leading worship to focus on other ministry that I started to understand why men weren’t singing during worship: the songs are too stinking hard to sing.

Worship leaders are good singers. Guys who lead worship know how to sing high. But the next time you‘re leading your church in singing “Cornerstone” pay attention to what happens when the melody jumps up an octave during the second verse: nearly half the room just might stop singing. Why? Because the men in your church don’t want to have to shout to be able to match the notes you’re singing. Worship leaders often operate under the assumption that the people in their congregation sing as well as they do — don’t assume that.

Make it as easy as possible for the people in your church to participate. Consider dropping the songs at least a whole step from whichever recording you’re using.

Talking too much.

How many times have you been moved by the Holy Spirit during a sermon, and then eagerly anticipated responding to God in corporate worship, only to have a worship leader come onstage and go on for several minutes clumsily re-hashing what the speaker just said? It’s awkward, it’s distracting, and it kills the spiritual momentum in the room. Even the most well-intended worship leader can throw up a hurdle to participation because of a simple lack of self-awareness.

As a worship leader you will be tempted to shoulder responsibilities that aren’t yours. It’s not your responsibility to explain the text from the sermon — that’s the speaker’s responsibility. It’s not your responsibility to do your people’s thinking for them — it’s their responsibility. And it’s not your responsibility to motivate the hearts of people — it’s the Holy Spirit’s responsibility.

When it comes to speaking between songs, less is always more. Songs speak for themselves. You don’t need to add very much to them. Resist the urge to sermonize between worship songs.

Using guilt to motivate your people.

Let me paint you a picture:

A worship pastor has been leading at a church for a year, and he’s frustrated because he doesn’t see visual cues of participation — singing, arms raised, etc. Based on the body language of the congregation, he draws the assumption that they’re not giving themselves fully to the worship moment. In an effort to motivate them, he says something like this:

“We worship a God who is so good, and so loving, and so powerful, and who has blessed us so richly — how could you not be moved by that?”

He might even wrap the sentiment up in coded spiritual language:

“I want you to surrender yourself fully in this moment.”

If he’s desperate, he might even give an instruction:

“We’re all going to lift our hands together for this next chorus.”

Worship leaders who demand a specific response from their people in worship and try to manifest that response through spiritual coercion demostrate several things:

  • They are comfortable with insincerity in the worship setting as long as the physical demonstrations they desire are present.
  • They are putting their confidence in their ability to motivate people, not the Holy Spirit’s power to move people.
  • They are willing to spiritually or emotionally manipulate the people they lead.

The people in your church are perceptive. When they sense that you are trying to use guilt to motivate them it creates an environment of distrust and robs you of your greatest asset as a worship leader: your authenticity. When worship leaders desperately try to get their people to behave a certain way in worship, it communicates to those people that the leader is insecure and wants to manipulate and use them to feel validated.

Your job as a worship leader is to create a worship environment that is conducive to participation — that’s it. Don’t put up a barrier to that pariticipation by selecting unsingable songs. Don’t distract your people from hearing the Holy Spirit’s voice by filling the room with your own. And don’t ever give in to the temptation to guilt or manipulate the people you lead. Instead, encourage participation by bringing powerful songs that are accessible for your people. If you can’t find them, write them. Leave room for the the Holy Spirit to speak to your congregation. And trust Him to do what only He can do, which is move in the hearts of people.

Thank you for reading. Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below. You can connect with me on Twitter.

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