How a Lack of Confidence Manifests Itself in a Worship Leader

1At some point in ministry you come to the terrifying realization that your personal issues are not as easy to hide as you’d like them to be.

Whether or not you use Crest or Colgate might not affect your worship leading (unless you use neither) but whether or not you’re short tempered sure can make things awkward at a rehearsal or service when someone crosses you at the wrong time.

Whether or not you eat your vegetables might not effect your worship leading, but whether or not you’re arrogant sure can ruin a relationship with your pastor.

One issue that can sink worship leaders is a lack of confidence. And when I say “confidence” I mean a confidence in the power of God’s call on you, the power of the Spirit within you, and the power of the gospel no thanks to you.

If you’re not confident that God has called you, that the Spirit has equipped and anointed you, and that the gospel will prevail in spite of you, then you’ll be walking around on shaky knees, making a mess, and allowing your “issues” to manifest themselves in some unhealthy ways.

Here are some ways a lack of confidence can manifest itself in a worship leader:

Hunger for the spotlight
Your name, your face, your time, your title, your platform, and your fame will become really important to you when you lack the assurance of who you are in Christ.

Resistance to sharing the spotlight
Instead of seeing and appreciating other people and their gifts around you (and wanting to prop them up for the glory of God and the building up of His Church), you will see them as threats to be neutralized.

An insatiable appetite for praise
The needy worship leader is a praise vacuum. He sucks it all up for himself and is always hungry for more. The applause of an audience becomes more to him than the assurance of the perfect love of Jesus. A confident worship leader doesn’t heed “man’s empty praise”.

An overreaction to criticism
A worship leader who finds his grounding and identity in Jesus will view criticism through the confident lens of a well-loved son, able to shake off what he needs to shake off, and learn whatever needs to be learned. A worship leader without this confidence will be crushed by criticism.

A worship leader who lacks confidence is impatient because he self-centeredly thinks that every service, every performance, and every thing that he’s involved in is ultimately a verdict on his worth as a person.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to have people on board with your vision. That’s a good thing. But there is something wrong with wanting to make everybody like you. Having people on board with your vision and having everyone like you are two very different quests. When you lack confidence you forget the difference.

As long as you’re in ministry you’ll be battling these symptoms of a lack of confidence in the God who has called you and gifted you for ministry. They can be frustrating! But they can also good reminders from God himself to keep you humble and dependent on him.

A God-rooted, gospel-informed confidence will enable you to survive in ministry for the long-haul, and will enable others to survive under your leadership as well.

On Not Beginning with the Ending

1This past August, during two weeks’ vacation, I had the wonderful experience of actually sitting with my family during church, not leading any songs, not being up front, and being the one to do the nursery and Sunday school drop-off/pick-up. It was great.

And whenever I get to experience church as a someone in the pews (or comfortable padded chairs), I’m reminded of how helpful it is when the worship leader begins with the beginning and ends with the ending.

Here’s what I mean.

On those Sundays, when I had finally gotten my kids signed up for Sunday school, dropped my 21-month-old at nursery (and left her crying), convinced my 4-year-old that the donuts she just saw were not for her, and figured out that my 6-year-old had a very specific seating chart in mind (in between me and Catherine), the opening song was already halfway done, and I needed to get my bearings.

Kindly, the worship leader had chosen opening songs that focused me upward. He helped me get my bearings on just who this God is that I’m singing to, and some of the countless reasons why he’s worthy of my worship.

This is good worship leading: it’s thinking through how to pastorally guide people, as distract-able and weary as we’re all prone to be, to behold again (and again, and again) the God who has revealed himself to us, principally in the person of Jesus Christ.

But all too often, worship leaders don’t begin at the beginning. Instead, they begin at the ending. And to make things clunkier, they end with the beginning.

When the opening songs have to do with sending, going out into the world, or songs of mission, your congregation might be saying “but I just dropped my crying kid off at nursery, and I’m not even sure I remembered to lock our front door when we left the house…” It’s good to sing these kinds of songs, but it’s a better idea to sing them after you’ve laid a little bit of groundwork first.

Wait until people have gotten their bearings, heard the Good News, and had God’s Word opened to them before singing songs about the implications of it all.

Songs that articulate a response, and a willingness to go out in mission to the world are good and necessary (and rare), but usually work a whole lot better at the ending. And this way, you can begin with the beginning: consistently calling people to look upwards, before calling them to look outwards.

To Have (And To Be) A Normal Mentor

1When I was a young lad, an early teenager who was sensing a call to pursue worship leading as a career, I was blessed to have a healthy supply of normal mentors in my life. These were guys who were the worship leaders or youth pastors at my church, and who were fantastic at what they did, but (and this is not a bad thing) were just plain-out normal.

They wore normal clothes. They drove normal cars. They did normal things. They didn’t present themselves as being any better than anyone else, they were accessible, and they were people I could see myself emulating someday.

Even the “celebrity” worship leaders (who were putting out albums, speaking at conferences, and doing worship leading seminars around the country) were pretty normal too. They wore dorky sweaters on their album covers, they had a job at their local church with fake plants covering up the floor monitors, and when you met one of these guys at a conference or seminar, they surprised with you their… normal-ness.

A lot of the guys and gals in my generation of worship leaders were deeply impacted by a collection of normal trailblazers, that we either knew personally, or came to know through their broader influence, and to this day (whether we’re conscious of it or not) are still emulating what we saw.

I’m grateful to still know a lot of those guys who helped shape me from an early stage. And they’re still pretty normal. And I still need (and will always need) their continued mentoring.

But I’m not as young a lad anymore, and now I’m the same age that MY mentors were when I first met them. There are middle schoolers, high schoolers, and even college students who are discerning a call to worship leading, or worship team involvement, and I’m not so much a peer to them – I’m actually more of a mentor.

And I want to be just as “normal” as my mentors growing up were. The worship leading world is bigger than it was 15-25 years ago, and it has become a wee bit more difficult for up-and-coming  worship leaders to find older/more-seasoned worship leaders in their own church or in the music/conference/seminar world who are normal. The celebrity factor is a bit more of an issue than it was in the 90s, or even the early 2000s.

Those of us who benefitted from normal mentors need to make sure we become that kind of normal mentor ourselves. We owe it to a crop of young musicians, who will one day be shaping the worship of the church, to provide a model of accessible, genuine, down-to-earth, humble local-church servanthood. If all that’s being offered is a glossy picture of cool church celebrity-ism, or performancism, then we’re setting up the future generation (and their churches) for a drift away from the ancient paths.

The more we pursue (and seek to be) normal, faithful, accessible, and Christ-centered mentors, the more the aura of celebrity will fall away from the role of worship leading: and that can’t happen soon enough.


A Heads-Up Before Auditions

1Meeting with potential singers and/or instrumentalists for auditions is always something I look forward to, but it’s also something that carries potential risks for awkwardness if the person I’m meeting with is under the impression that they have a musical gift (when in reality they don’t), or if they think they’ll definitely be given an up-front role (when in reality they might not).

I’ve found that once someone has indicated an interest in singing and/or playing on a team, and I’ve arranged a time to meet with them, communicating in advance the possible outcomes from the meeting is helpful.

A few weeks ago I sent the following brief explanation to an interested musician at my church:

First, thank you for your willingness to explore using your voice to serve this congregation. I’m grateful!

Secondly, please relax and be yourself, and don’t worry about anything.

Third, please think of 2 or 3 worship songs that you love, and come ready to sing those (advance notice of which songs would be great). Let me know a good key for you. Bring lyrics, either printed out or just on your phone.

Fourth, it’s my job to listen well to your voice, and then to prayerfully discern what I think God might be intending for your musical gifts. Usually one of three options will be obvious: (Option A) Your voice is well-suited for group singing, namely in our choir. (Option B) Your voice is well suited for singing on a mic, either on Sunday mornings or Sunday nights, or at things like Alpha, or occasional events. (Option C) Your voice could work in one of the previously mentioned applications, but I suggest singing lessons. (Option D) Your voice has been given to you to praise God from within the congregation, but not in a public setting, so let’s think about another place where you could serve the church.

I always tell singers (and musicians) before I hear them sing (or play), that the number one thing to remember is that their musical giftedness level has absolutely nothing to do with their worth as a person, or their place in the church. The good news of the gospel is that we’re covered, we’re loved, we’re accepted, and we’re free to be good at some things, not-good at other things, and bad at other things :)


It’s a lot to send someone before an audition, but I’ve learned through experience that it lays a foundation for things to go a lot more smoothly.

Instead of You

1Last month I had the privilege of preaching at my church’s Sunday night service, where I wrapped up a summer sermon series called “Seeing Christ in the Old Testament”.

The text was 2 Samuel 18 (verses 1, 5-9, 15, 31-33) and dealt with the death of David’s rebel son, Absalom.

There’s good news and bad news when you read that story.

The bad news is that, if we had to play a part in that story, we would play the part of Absalom: the rebel child, arrogant enough to think we deserve to be exalted in our Father’s place, and deserving of punishment, even a brutal death hanging from a tree.

The good news is that Jesus plays the part of David: weeping over his rebel children with love, longing to die in their place, and then (as the true and greater David) dying the death we deserved to die, hanging from a tree instead of us.

The Old Testament shows us a problem: man has fractured his relationship with God.

The Old Testament shows us the solution: the perfect keeping of God’s law.

The Old Testament shows us that no one can do that. We all deserve God’s punishment.

The Old Testament, and even this story of David and Absalom, points us to the One who would restore our relationship with God, who would perfectly keep God’s law for us, and who would die in our place, as our substitute, “suspended between heaven and earth”.

Jesus died “instead of you“. And in Christ, our rebellion and arrogance is paid for, and covered over, and we are made sons and daughters of God, co-heirs with Christ, forevermore.

This is really good news!

You can listen to my sermon here if you’d like.

Psalm 104

Yesterday at my church we sang/said Psalm 104 as a response to the story of creation in the first chapter of Genesis. I wrote a melody to the last half of verse 35, which we used as the refrain before/after different chunks of the Psalm, and we said those chunks of verses over the musical accompaniment.

It worked pretty well, so here’s a rough video of me showing how it goes. (And here’s a PDF of the chord chart, which has the melody of the refrain I wrote.)

[35b] Bless the LORD, O my soul!
Praise the LORD!

[1] Bless the LORD, O my soul! O LORD my God, you are very great!
You are clothed with splendor and majesty,
[2] covering yourself with light as with a garment,
stretching out the heavens like a tent.
[3] He lays the beams of his chambers on the waters;
he makes the clouds his chariot; he rides on the wings of the wind;
[4] he makes his messengers winds, his ministers a flaming fire.

[5] He set the earth on its foundations, so that it should never be moved.
[6] You covered it with the deep as with a garment;
the waters stood above the mountains.
[7] At your rebuke they fled; at the sound of your thunder they took to flight.
[8] The mountains rose, the valleys sank down
to the place that you appointed for them.

[31] May the glory of the LORD endure forever;
may the LORD rejoice in his works,
[32] who looks on the earth and it trembles,
who touches the mountains and they smoke!
[33] I will sing to the LORD as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
[34] May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the LORD.


Responding To Mud-Throwers with Spirit-Empowered Restraint

1Several years ago I had just finished leading worship for a big event that had taken a huge amount of my emotional and physical emotional energy, the better part of six months to plan and execute, and a significant amount of ministry capital, when a letter arrived in my mailbox (an actual letter, in my actual mailbox) addressed to (you guessed it…) me.

As any humble worship leader would do, I hoped that this letter would contain high praise for my incomparable musical and spiritual prowess, list specific ways I was awesome, tell me particularly impressive things I had done, and possibly contain a financial blessing (i.e. “cash”).

I opened it up, ready to receive the flattering praise of an adoring fan congregation member, and instead read the following (I’ll summarize for time’s sake):

  1. That was the worst thing ever
  2. You are the worst worship leader ever
  3. You have ruined everything
  4. Did I mention you are the worst worship leader ever?
  5. Grace and peace to you from God our Father

Let’s just say it wasn’t the glowing letter I was hoping for.

I immediately wrote this person a response that said:

  1. That was actually the best thing ever
  2. I’m actually the best worship leader ever
  3. You’re an idiot
  4. Did I mention that I’m the best worship leader ever?
  5. May God’s richest blessings be showered upon you

Then I felt better. And then I crumpled that letter up and threw it away. Then shredded it. Then threw it away again. Then I wiped the servers. Even though the letter was handwritten. It’s never a big deal to wipe servers, apparently, as we all know.

Then I wrote another letter that basically said:

  1. Thanks for taking the time to write
  2. I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy the event
  3. Here’s what I was praying for in the months leading up to the event, and now in the days following
  4. I hope you’re able to enjoy Jesus even more the next time you come to church
  5. May God refresh you with joy in him (and I mean it)

There was no good reason at all to start a war with this person. There was nothing I could say to convince them I wasn’t the worst worship leader ever. For whatever reasons (unbeknownst to me, even to this day), I had pushed a hot button for that person, which resulted in an inappropriately harsh letter sent to me, giving me the choice to either respond in kind, or as the theologian Queen Elsa says, to “let it go”.

I would have loved to send that first letter. It would have felt SO GOOD to throw some mud back into that person’s face.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23)

The Holy Spirit gets in the way (thank God) of our desire to throw mud back at people, even people who tell us we’re the worst person ever. He allows us to respond with the kind of strength and tenderness that resembles – and glorifies – Jesus Himself.