Confession: I think I became a worship leader on accident.
When I was in college, I worked on the staff of a summer camp in Western Kentucky. I was a lifeguard, a bible study teacher, a team building facilitator, and I also played keyboards with the camp band at our evening worship services. A local worship leader came in and led our ragtag group each week, and we had a blast leading teenagers and their church counselors every night.
And then one night the worship leader got sick. Really sick. Like, he-couldn’t-speak sick. And there we were, an hour from a service, and someone had to lead the camp that night.
I ended up being that someone. It was a wonderful and terrifying experience, and from that night on, people looked at me as a worship leader.
I think a lot of worship leaders begin their journeys like this. Not necessarily at a summer camp, mind you, but experiences where they filled a void in musical leadership in the church because they were the most qualified person to do so at the time. In a dire situation, the qualifications for who could fill a worship leader position could boil down to this:
– Can sing with some musical ability
– Not distractingly horrible
– Willing to lead others in song
*optional in some settings
And if we’re honest, this is not a bad place to begin. Even the most experienced worship leaders didn’t have robust theological vision about worship when they began leading in the church. They couldn’t articulate deep thoughts about corporate worship, song selection, the sacramental life, and the like. And, to be clear, I don’t think those things have to be in place for a worship leader to be “good”- I only mention them to highlight how these kinds of things are learned as we go. Very few come to the task of leading worship with anything more than their abilities and their willingness. And we can begin there, as long as we are committed not to remain there.
Being a worship leader is first and foremost about being a disciple, or follower, of Jesus. And no follower of Jesus stays the same for very long. Following Jesus is as much about who we are becoming as it is what we are doing. It is a grace-infused journey where our hearts, desires, actions and interactions are being conformed to the image of Christ as we offer ourselves to him as a living sacrifice. This is the call. Worship leading (or preaching, or whatever else obedience includes in your life) will grow out of this communing journey with Jesus.
I mention this because being an active follower of Jesus can take a back seat to the task of making and leading music if we are not careful, especially if ability and willingness remain the primary qualifiers for musicians who lead in the church. Musicians naturally find a lot of identity in the task of making music, and while that is not necessarily bad, it can become problematic when that identity eclipses the call to follow Christ, to be a disciple, and to be on mission in this world. Even more dangerously, music can become our mission instead of a tool to be used in the larger mission of God: to join Christ in reconciling the world to the Father.
So how do we do this? How do we become more than song leaders or musicians in the church? There are lots of ways to answer that, but the starting block will always be a surrendering of ourselves to truly follow Jesus. To offer more than our musical abilities – to offer our whole selves in worship and service to God. Time, affections, energies, resources – all of you for all of Him. You will always be more than a worship leader if you are following Jesus, and the only way to find out what “more” really looks like is to take up the cross and follow.