20 Jun, 2015 Chapter 6
HOW TO DISCIPLE WORSHIP LEADERS
Worship leaders are the most well known, and often most popular of all the leaders in a youth ministry. As such, their Christian character and example is paramount, over and above the skill and felt spirituality of their worship leading.
If the question was raised: ‘How can we strengthen our worship expressions?’, the answer could correctly be: ‘Strengthen and disciple the worship leaders!’ This is the focus of this chapter. What the members of a Church are like will in many ways reflect what the leaders of the Church are like.
Worship leaders are the most well known, and often most popular of all the leaders in a youth ministry. As such their Christian character and example is paramount.
Some areas worship leaders could be discipled in:
1. Character and spirituality
Quite obviously, if there is a significant problem with their personal character or spirituality, they should not be in the role of worship leader. Giving time to encourage their ongoing growth is worth while.
2. Skill set
If their skill set is deficient, they can learn and grow with someone who can guide them. Many worship leaders make classic leadership mistakes that really affect the ‘atmosphere’ of meetings, sometimes hindering worshipers from directing their focus on God, and at other times hampering the creation of an environment in which people can respond freely in worship of God. Working on basic skill set deficiencies is important, because these worship expressions are directed to a holy God. God loves to be praised by His people.
If a worship leader’s perspective (of God) is deficient (this sometimes has to do with theology), they may be unable to bring worship expressions that both engage the mind and release sincere emotion.
A congregation’s momentum is somewhat affected by the tone its worship expressions. As such, while other areas of discipleship might be delegated by a Pastor to a ‘second tier’ leader, this is an area worthy of a Pastor’s personal time and focus. I have sought to have the overall leader of the worship ministry as a member of my core leadership team, so I can work closely with him / her, and to be hands-on in helping equip and encourage the worship leaders.
How I disciple the worship leaders
I meet with them to discuss a selection of articles.
Pride is the most subtle of sins. When we cannot see it we are in greatest danger of it.
While that is a very simple sentence, it is an important point. It was worth writing, and is worth re-iterating. I MEET with them!
A copy of one ‘discipleship program’ I did with our worship leaders (ten sessions) in 2009 (including articles and discussion questions) can be found in the attachment ’07 – Articles for the Discipleship of Worship Leaders’ in the Kick-start Resource CD. This lengthy document has great content, is worth looking at, and worth using!
I might meet with them, for example, eight to ten times in the span of a year, maybe meeting monthly over lunch on Sundays after Church. Then I might not meet with them for a year or two, leaving them in the capable hands of our worship ministry leader of the time. However, I have found that the knowledge, principles, and values I have imparted to the worship leaders (a) dissipate with time, and (b) do not always get passed on to new worship leaders with the same level of conviction as I would have passed them on with, and (c) are significantly lost if the person in the position of worship director (worship ministry team leader) changes. In short, I have found that if leaders did not have the values ‘impressed’ upon them personally by me, they somehow do not give serious thought to living out those values that I desire.
Perhaps it is being in the “limelight” so much that pulls worship leaders strongly toward performance based values, or perhaps in the name of conservatism they have underestimated the valid place of emotion in the expression of worship. Whatever the reasons, I have found that it is not advisable to ‘delegate’ the discipleship of worship leaders. The matters involved are most effectively addressed and tackled by someone with spiritual authority over them.
The heartbeat of the content
Taking the example of my meeting with our worship leaders in 2009, I had the following goals for the year’s discipleship (ten sessions). However, please note that this content is not exhaustive. The goals and content in this one ‘course’ of training merely reflect what I felt was important at that time for that group of leaders.
Under each of the following titles I will make comments, so as to share some thoughts on the areas in which I wanted to disciple the leaders. Hopefully this imparts some understanding and vision of ways in which we can disciple these leaders.
1. The key danger area for worship leaders: Pride.
If they do not understand or see this, they are in danger, even thought the problem may only surface recognisably in a decade’s time (if they are still a worship leader then). Here are some examples of how pride can manifest: Strong opinions on song arrangements, desire for instrument solos, feeling put-out when not rostered on leading often enough. When they are found, five years later, arguing with the Church’s leadership about the direction of the ministry, fighting for their ‘rights’ or particular perspective on a particular issue, or leaving the ministry feeling disgruntled. Those who have been in Church a few years will be smiling right now – for this behaviour is recognisable to many of us. Pride is the most subtle of sins. When we cannot see it, we are in greatest danger of it – for everyone struggles with pride! So, we need to discuss it openly!
2. To help identify the next young potentials who can be raised as worship leaders
We discuss and identify a group who might be suitable but we seek to bring in just one or two people per year.
3. To re-establish an ‘organisational’ principle that holds an important purpose.
Namely, that each worship leader serves for only one year at a time.
Leading worship in a larger group is a special gifting, and sometimes it really is a matter of gifting, not just training.
This guideline exists because:
(a) We want to create space to disciple a number of our young people in the skills of large group worship leading. Because we are a youth ministry, our goal is not only to have worship leaders for ourselves, but to develop them for the Church in future. We cannot disciple many of those with potential unless we create space for their involvement. There is only really space for up to four worship leaders to be actively involved at any one point in time.
(b) It is to avoid problems that seem to repeat themselves when worship leaders need ‘moving on’. It can be hard to move worship leaders on. This is usually because of (1) pride (they can take offense, or feel unappreciated for their hard efforts) or (2) because of insecurity (they fear they may have been making a fool of themselves each week if they really were not very good at large group worship leading). If worship leaders are involved for just one year at a time, there is far less opportunity for them to feel disgruntled when their term of service is ended.
This organisational principle has yielded rewards many times, as large group worship leading really is a specialised skill, and not everyone has the aptitude to excel in it. I have seen ex-worship leaders deeply hurt through the mismanagement of their being ‘stood down’ (because leadership felt they did not really have the needed skill sets or ‘persona’). This organisational principle helps us to avoid the risk of that.
(c) It helps counter pride. Worship leaders will see their service as a season in life and are prevented from thinking that they have a permanent status as a ‘worship leader, seen and known by all’. This helps maintain a more servant-like attitude. Pride is very deceptive (even for Pastors!).
Those who are invited to stay on beyond their initial year are, thus, those recognised to have a real gift in worship leading. They are then ‘signed on’ for one more year at a time, with the understanding that no matter how good they may be in the role, they will still need to step down at some stage so as to make room for more younger ones to have this exposure. Our goal is to ‘disciple’ as many of those we think have the potential as possible in our youth and young adult ministries.
We thus serve our adult congregations by helping to identify and develop those truly gifted for this specialised area. In my estimation, only one in one hundred believers will really have the ‘gift’ of large group worship leading. Many others can develop reasonable excellence in the role – so we should give them the chance – but those who really stand out in the role will be rare. (There is subjectivity in this as well, because we will prefer some leaders over others for purely stylistic reasons).
4. To consider what ‘real worship’ is when given a large group setting, with a rock band set up, and in just twenty to thirty minutes of time.
Keeping such expressions truly authentic is no small feat, and worthy of diligent consideration (God is worthy of this)!
5. To ensure they understand the difference between worship in a small group and large group setting.
Anyone can be a small group worship leader. While there is a skill set to it, it is not as specialised. (Small group worship leading requires a facilitator more than a leader, creating an environment of contribution, encouragement and restraint. In this definition, ‘restraint’ is for the purpose of giving everyone an opportunity to contribute rather than having just one person dominate).
(See the exposition on 1 Corinthians 14 on the teaching of ‘Worship’ in the Small Group Leader training folder on the Kick-start Resource CD.)
However, large group worship leading is a specialised skill.
For example – Personality: In a large group the personality of the leader really does make a difference. Imagine a group of more than fifty people, or even of one thousand. If the leader comes across as ‘melancholic’ by nature, it does dampen the feel of the service. They really need to be positive and cheerful in disposition.
For example – musical ability: If they cannot sing very well, this is not much of a problem in a small group, but when they are amplified in an auditorium such that they are clearly heard by hundreds of people, it makes a difference.
For example – clarity of thought: If they are inclined to talk too much, or talk incoherently, this does not really bother people in a small group. But if they talk too much (or unclearly) between songs when leading a larger congregation, more is expected by the congregation. It is generally observed that the larger a group, the higher the expectations of those sitting in the group.
If the same manner of leadership found in leading a group of fifty were used with a group of five hundred, the difference would soon be noted by everyone present. Spelling errors in projected lyrics are not a big problem with fifty people, a reasonable problem with five hundred, but a terrible problem with five thousand (you would get complaints from members). The acceptable casual approach taken when leading fifty may come across as disrespectful and inappropriate when leading five hundred. Leading worship in a larger group is a special gifting, and sometimes it really is a matter of gifting, not just training.
6. To ensure they understand very well the difference between healthy and unhealthy expressions of (the manipulation of) emotion in worship.
Sometimes ‘hype’ has its place, and sometimes it doesn’t – but where is the boundary? This needs discussing. There also should be authentic emotional expression, as God gave us our emotions. Surely, expressing our joy, excitement, love and longing is what a true expression of worship is about!
7. For the training of skills
To help them understand and develop a large group leadership skill set so they can lead in a manner that is smooth, positive, encouraging, and yet authentic in the purpose of worship to a Holy and Awesome God.
One of the best ways to help new worship leaders grow in the needed skill set is through on the job training (having them lead alongside a more experienced worship leader). If the group is already large, such an approach, more than being just helpful, is probably necessary, as weak leadership can result in a loss of ‘momentum’ in the service, negatively affecting the flow and feel of the whole service.
One of the balances we need to recognise in our skill development is about how much we are pursuing ‘professionalism’, balanced with pursuing genuine spirituality. These are, by no means, mutually exclusive things. But there is a bit of a balancing game in this, and different Churches will put the boundaries in different places.
Regarding skill set, in the Kick-start Resource CD there is a document ’07 – A training on an ideal service flow’. This has an outline of how all the various people and teams involved in an individual service can each do their part to create what I titled ‘A Seamless and Superb Seeker Sensitive Service’. It has encouragement for how all involved can best work as a single team, including the ‘Service Pastor’ (greeter), audio visual teams, worship team, welcome team and preacher. This training is very ‘mechanical’, but I have found it useful – so long as we understand the necessary balances.
While such training’s for certain ‘professionalism’ are important, we do well to have a certain ‘relaxedness’ with them, recognising that our faith, and the leading and work of the Spirit, are the true keys to a ‘successful’ Church service!
There is much that can be learnt. Hopefully some of these are of some help. In my opinion, discipling the hearts and then perspectives of the leaders is the most important thing. Beyond that, the bigger the group, the more important the skill development becomes.
Something to reflect upon
1. In what areas do you feel your worship leaders are strong?
2. In what areas do you feel your worship leaders are weak?
3. Are you happy with the way your worship ministry is functioning? What is good? What could be better? How important are the points you have noted (I.e., prioritise them for use in your own discipleship of your leaders)?
I encourage you to now consider the things you feel you could disciple your worship leaders in, and when you could do this. Using an article or two, such as the ones in the Kick-start resource CD, may be helpful in doing this.