Yesterday I shared five ways worship leaders can build trust with their congregation. Since people will only follow someone if they’re confident they’ll be safe, building and maintaining trust is crucial. Here are some more suggestions:
Do everything you can to discourage any air of celebrity from growing around you. Stick around after services if and when people want to talk to you and ask you questions. Pursue input and seek suggestions for ways things could improve. Respond to critical emails with surprising grace and humility. Return emails and phone calls. Call people by name. Don’t be in a hurry. Don’t sneak out back doors. Intentionally seek to be someone that people feel comfortable approaching. It will show them you’re a real person.
If worship leading is just a gig for you, a source of income, a way to build your music career, a way to play music, or something you do because you can’t think of anything else, then your congregation won’t waste the effort of learning how to trust you.
If you see your current worship leading position as only a stepping stone to your dream job or a bigger church or a better church, and you hop around from church to church every year or two, then you won’t be around long enough to accomplish much or build any relationships with people.
Effective worship leaders are committed to their congregation for a significant amount of time, through seasons and years and good times and dry times and holidays and tragedies and Easters and vacation bible schools. Stick around at a church long enough to let your ministry and relationships grow roots and will show them you’re the real deal.
Sing Old Songs
One way worship leaders can build trust with their congregation is by valuing the history and traditions that date back to long before they started their job, and seeking to do things to honor and celebrate God’s faithfulness through the years. It’s a mistake to be stuck in the past, but it’s also a mistake to be stuck in the present. Every church has a unique story of how God has brought it to the present-day, and songs from key points in that history should be kept in the repertoire and used cheerfully.
I know that there are certain songs that evoke memories of God’s blessings on my church in the 70’s and 80’s, the songs that people clung to as anthems of praise in the 90’s, and the centuries-old hymns that have been belted out on this property since the 1800’s. I would be foolish to ignore those old songs. While I want to discourage idolizing particular songs, or using certain songs in order to make people happy, I want to show my congregation that I recognize that I am a flash in the pan of God’s larger work in his Church and this congregation. Singing old songs shows them you’re thoughtful and have perspective.
Teach New Songs Discerningly
There are a lot of worship songs that I really enjoy and would love to lead – but would not work for my congregation. Maybe someday the right time will come along, but for now, I have to learn to put certain songs on the shelf and introduce other ones that are a better fit.
We should always be stretching ourselves, our musicians, and our congregation to magnify God’s greatness through various and new musical styles – but we should always be mindful of our church’s stylistic center, and discern whether a particular new song is too far from that center to be integrated into the repertoire with enthusiasm. Teaching new songs is important, but doing it with wisdom and discernment is key. It shows your congregation that you’re not in your own little world.
Lead the people in front of you
Worship leaders end up wandering into their own little world when they forget that they’re not leading the congregation they wish they had, but they’re leading the flesh-and-blood people right before their very eyes. They pick songs, choose arrangements, reach a volume level, and lead in such a way that might be appropriate for a church down the road, but not theirs.
We can all fall into this trap of forgetting that it’s the people in front of us who we have to lead, and no matter how tightly we shut our eyes or how many times we repeat a chorus, it’s still the same collection of lawyers, students, teachers, mechanics, doctors, politicians, stay at home Moms, and long-time church members who we’re responsible to lead in corporate worship.
Be realistic. In whatever service you’re leading, whatever room you’re standing, and whatever church you’re serving, look around you at the people who have gotten in their cars and come to stand in the congregation you’re now tasked with leading in song. You might wish you had more people, different people, younger people, or more enthusiastic people – but you don’t. Love and serve the people you see. It will show them you’re not faking it once the music starts.