Every worship leader has to start somewhere: as a beginner. There’s no secret fast track to become seasoned, no easy way to learn hard lessons, and no short cuts through the long process of maturity. Every worship leader, at some point, is at square one. How does a beginner worship leader become experienced? By getting experience.
The process of becoming an “experienced” worship leader never ends. I do not claim to have “arrived” at some sort of final point of maturity or expertise as a worship leader. Have I grown in the last fourteen years? Yes. Do I still have room to grow? Oh yes.
To a beginner, just-starting-out worship leader who wants to grow but doesn’t know how, I would suggest two simple things:
First, say yes to every single opportunity
If someone asks you to lead music for a vacation bible school, some songs for a small group meeting in a basement, a time of singing at a student ministry bar-b-q by the lake, a senior’s ministry breakfast at IHOP, or a song at the bedside of a dying woman in the hospital, say yes.
It might be the most awkward experience of your life. Maybe no one will sing. Maybe you’ll fail miserably. It doesn’t matter. You’ll learn so many more lessons from leading worship in as many different settings as you can, then you ever will by reading a blog or going to a conference. Seek out as many possible venues, settings, age groups, traditions, and occasions as you can.
The worst thing that can happen is you’ll learn a lesson. That’s called becoming experienced.
Second, have mentors
I remember the time I left a service so frustrated by the congregation’s lack of participation, enthusiasm, and physical expressiveness. That afternoon I shared my discouragement (and how it was all spiritual warfare!) with one of my mentors, a pastor friend who had been in the service the morning. He listened and said to me: “let’s go to Starbucks”.
He then proceeded to, gently but firmly, tell me that I was developing some bad habits as a worship leader that were beginning to grate on people. I was going on for too long, talking too much, demanding certain physical responses, and being more of a “presence” than I needed to be.
I asked him “have I caused real damage?”, and he responded “no… but you might if you keep it up for much longer.” He then encouraged me about things I was doing well, and ways I was displaying maturity and humility. He wasn’t harsh, but he was honest.
If you want grow as a worship leader, you need people who you trust, and who love you, who can be honest with you. They’re not just expressing an opinion or criticizing you for the fun of it. They have your growth and development in mind, and they have been given the freedom to give input into your life.
Seek out two or three people, preferably older than you, and regularly ask them for an hour or two of their time.
These two things: regular hands-on worship leading experience, and honest and loving critique, will, by God’s grace, result in steady growth and maturity.