Thursday, September 10, 2009

Worship thoughts Pt 2: The Worship Leader

The job/role of the worship leader.

Let me start by saying that, if you want to get into the finer points of this one, context is key. There’s obviously going to be a vast array of places and groups and times within which one might find oneself leading worship. (Wow, that was a sentence that could’ve been better.) But I can’t possibly try to cover all that here. Instead, let’s just paint with a broad brush and then you guys can hopefully do the fine tuning for your own individual contexts.

So, here we go. By the way, I’m going to use some terms that I don’t care for, simply because not using them would force me to find and define new words to replace them. And that’s just more work for everyone. When I have to use a word that I don’t like, I’ll put it in quotes so that you know I’m pulling that word from The Great Ancient Glossary of Baggage-Laden Christian Lingo.

The role (or job) of a worship leader is a 3-step process:
1) Determine the spiritual identity/health of a given “congregation.” You could call this identity/health the where they are (spiritually) of the group.
2) Acknowledge that identity and resolve to love the people right where they are.
3)Take the group as far as you can, in the time allotted to you, to a new where they are, which is to say, deeper into love for and fellowship with the Lord.

OK, so that may be hard to decipher. So let me say it in a shorter way.

The role of a worship leader is to acknowledge where his/her people are and then to lead them from that point into a deeper maturity.

Make sense now?If not, here it is, really short: Acknowledge, Lead, Mature.

In other words, if you are working in a sort of “full time” capacity with a group of people (like, say, you’re "on staff" at a church or leading consistently with your home group or something), then you are constantly acknowledging the identity and health of the group (yourself included, because you’re a part of that group; more later on that) and constantly trying to help the group mature and grow and express at a deeper level.

But if you’re only with a group for a short period (like, say, a one-night “gig” or a retreat or a summer camp or something), you have a different sort of strategy. The overall assignment is the same. You just have less time to do it, and maybe you change your expectations for how far you can go with them.

Got it? Making sense? Thoughts? If so, post them.

Before I’m done, here’s one important note. No matter how long you are with a group (for one night, for two years, or indefinitely), you are part of that group. Every determination that you have about them; every goal you have for them; every frustration you aim toward them; all of those things include you. Always keep that in mind. Nothing ruins spiritual leaders faster than an absence of community.

Which leads me to my last point. I don’t really include this in my broad-strokes description of the worship leader’s job, because it’s just too nuanced to try to work it in, but I’ll say it here, because this is key to the way I lead (and to the way I attempt to fulfill the “3-step” approach that I’ve outlined above).

Be honest. Be real. Be vulnerable.

The two most common things that are said to me are:
“Thanks for singing songs in keys that I can sing.”
“Thanks for being a real person.”

I’ll address the first one later in the series. I suspect that some of you aren’t going to like that one.

But the second one ought to be significant to us. Why would people say that to me so often? If “being real” is fairly common among worship leaders, there would be no reason to pull me aside, time after time after time, and thank me for doing it. And I’ll be honest, sometimes they’re not thanking me, they’re just saying it as a fact, for better or for worse.

I remember a few years ago I led worship at this big week-long college thing where there were like 3000 college students. I was with them for a full 6 days, so they got more than enough of me. I’m not sure what was different about that week than other things I’ve done, but for some reason, I heard some variation of the “you guys are real people” thing probably 25 times. I’m serious. And the funny thing was, it didn’t always sound like a compliment. Sometimes it sounded like a puzzled, what-planet-are-you-from accusation. It wasn’t like they were picking on me or mad or anything. It was just an honest “I haven’t seen this before,” or maybe “aren’t you supposed to be cooler than this?” kind of thing.

I won’t attempt to explain or over-evaluate all that. What I do know is this. Among the thousands of qualified worship leaders in this country, I’m not even close to being the best singer or the best songwriter or the best instrumentalist or whatever. I don’t think those things have been the primary contributors to my 15-plus years in this field. I honestly think people call me because I try to bring something genuine, something “just like you, only maybe more messed up” to the table. And not everybody likes what I do. I’m not offended or holier-than-thou about that. It is what it is, and there is plenty of worship-leading work to go around.

But I do think that people are longing to be led by leaders who are accessible and real. They want to be led by people who are participants in the worship; co-travelers on the journey. They don’t want rock stars. Or if they do, they shouldn’t. Rock stars look at a crowd and see fans. Worship leaders look at a crowd and see family.

OK, that’s enough of my rambling. Thoughts?


Timothy said...

These are things I need to hear and need to reminded of constantly.

Some things I know; a lot I should know.

You are helping me to reframe some of the information that is in my head into much healthier patterns.

For me, I get so lost in all the busy-ness and all the information swirling around me that I forget the essentials - I forget so much.
Hearing your heart, your thoughts, and your knowledge/wisdom is so incredibly helpful.

Thanks for writing. I look forward to it.

Wes said...

I think you've condensed it well with "acknowledge, lead, mature".

Too many times leaders end up overdoing it because "it's what Tomlin's doing" or "I experienced this at a concert/conference/Breakaway/etc and it was awesome," and think that it's what everyone needs to be doing. The jump up and dance high energy worship might be right for one place, but totally wrong in another, who might need hymns and a more "reverent" (for lack of a better word) style to better connect with God. It's not that either is the right way or the wrong way, but as you said, you have to be sensitive to the group you're with.

Good thoughts, looking forward to the rest of this series...

Dave Wyble said...

First, regarding: rock stars. I can't count how many times I correct references to the "audience." Usually in my - I'm told - unique and gentle way I suggest "how about call them the congregation for today."

On the post, this is the kind of useful straightforward stuff I was hoping for. Just pointing out what might seem so obvious: evaluate the group. Wow. How often do we just dive in and work through the pre-prepared song list, without even considering straying? (I know, that's another whole subject in itself.)

The second Aha moment is that *we are part of the group*. Again, should this be a surprise? Nope. But how often do we actually consider this? I have a lot to think about.

Thanks Ross!

JLReed said...

"I’ll address the first one later in the series. I suspect that some of you aren’t going to like that one."
...I suspect I'm going to love that one....