Are Worship Leaders Being Suffocated?

This post was originally published here and has been republished with permission.

I’ve heard a common statement recently. It goes something like this, “That worship leader is too self-centered” or “That worship leader is doing nothing but putting on a show.”

I agree with the premise that we need to get the focus off of ourselves and onto God. However, I’m worried about the response this causes from pastors and the congregation.

A few requests I’ve heard are:

  1. Sing songs in a key that the whole congregation can sing
  2. Sing your original songs very sparingly
  3. Don’t do songs that only hype people up
  4. If I pay you, you’ll only look at this as a job
  5. Just sing the songs like the CD. We don’t need your extra artistic flair
  6. (Insert your own churches preferences on what worship leading should look like)

While there are helpful tools in all of these suggestions, they can become more like rules. These expectations have suffocated worship leaders inside of a little box and we wonder why it all feels generic. I’m more concerned about worship leaders falling in love with Jesus and learning how to lead people to worship Jesus than trying to fix their “pride” issues. I don’t know about you, but I’m done trying to gauge someone’s pride level based on how they look while leading worship. I’d rather focus on my issues of only being able to focus on Jesus when the mood is just right.

Here are my suggestions for pastors on how to treat your worship leaders/musicians:

  1. Don’t give them a list of “don’ts” for what they shouldn’t do in worship.
  2. Help develop them as a worship leader.
  3. Disciple them and give them tools to help them grow in the knowledge of God, lead people, and love God more. Serving them will teach them to serve the congregation.
  4. Encourage them to write their own songs.
  5. Pay them. If you don’t, they’ll go get a “real job” later on. It breaks my heart to think of all of the God-gifted musicians that gave up on their dreams because they couldn’t feed their family while doing what they love.
  6. Remember that they aren’t cover band robots. They are humans designed by God that have a unique gift that they NEED to express. They can lead a congregation while being themselves, I promise.
  7. Don’t be afraid to let them have fun during worship songs. Sometimes it’s good to connect on a surface level in order to go to a deep level.
  8. Listen to their ideas and don’t be too controlling.

Worship leaders, don’t be afraid to be yourself. God created you to worship Him. He doesn’t want everyone to worship Him like Chris Tomlin. He wants you to worship the way you worship. When you’re on stage, worship an audience of One. But don’t forget to lead the others to worship as well. Also, while I’m at it, leading in front of thousands of people isn’t a sin. If the Lord calls you to lead the nations in worship, don’t let anyone stop you. If you have a dream in the will of God, don’t let anyone stop you. That being said, not everyone is called to a big audience. Whether you lead a lot of people or a small congregation, keep your heart alive in God and in music and don’t quit.

About the author

Brandon Oaks

Brandon and his wife Morgan live in Kansas City serving at the International House of Prayer. Brandon is a full time worship leader and electric guitar player. He has led worship for about 7 years and has played guitar for 9. He also travels to play guitar, lead worship, and equip musicians across the U.S. Brandon is from Tallahassee, Fl and moved to Kansas City in 2011 to join the prayer movement at IHOPKC.

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