I cut my teeth leading worship at youth group for my church. Sunday nights, Wednesday nights, retreats, and mission trips provided invaluable opportunities to grow. I got to gain experience, make mistakes, learn, receive input, run something resembling a rehearsal, learn how to operate a basic sound system, and enjoy some sweet times of worship.
I think every worship leader should start off this way. Even if they’re out of the youth group age bracket, starting off small, starting off in a casual setting, and starting off with lots of freedom is a great way to build confidence and competence.
But for those who grow up or start off leading worship in a youth group environment, an important shift has to take place at some point. When we begin leading worship on Sunday mornings we can’t treat it like it’s youth group anymore. We can’t be as loose, as cutesy, or as casual anymore. We have to grow up, the way we lead worship has to be more mature, and the way we present ourselves has to be different.
I recently saw a worship leader start off a service this way:
“Good mornin’ everybody! Get on up ya’ll. Hey Willy! Everybody say hey Willy! (Scattered hoots and hollers). If ya’ll don’t know who Willy is just clap anyway. Let me read you this Scripture now…”
Seriously? You’re going to start off a Sunday morning worship service that way?
Call me old-fashioned (and I’ll laugh at you) but I think a teeny bit more decorum is appropriate for the central worship gathering of a congregation. Having everybody clap for Willy is fine for youth group. But on a Sunday morning it smacks of flippancy, and I’m not sure that does a worship leader any favors, especially with the older generations in the room.
My guess is that a good majority of worship leaders who are serving churches right now and leading music of the more contemporary flavor started out doing so in youth group. Many of them serve under pastors or music directors who have helped them mature in how they present themselves. But others haven’t. Maybe they serve under a pastor who’s the same age as them and doesn’t really care if they treat Sunday morning like it’s youth group. Maybe no one has ever mentioned this to them.
Here’s why this matters.
If you treat Sunday morning like it’s youth group, the young and young-at-heart won’t really notice, but the older and old-at-heart will. This will turn them off.
If you treat Sunday morning with a bit more maturity and preparation, no one will complain.
If I were you, I would choose the second option.
Yes, be yourself. Yes, relax. And yes, help people feel comfortable. But don’t take that too far. Don’t be flippant. Don’t be cutesy. Don’t draw attention to your relaxed-ness by being so relaxed that people can’t help but notice how relaxed you are.
You should lead differently depending on a wide range of factors: the venue, the time of day, the average age in the room, the average (can this be measured?) spiritual maturity in the room, the repertoire they’re used to, time constraints, etc. The list is endless.
But the point is that part of growing as a worship leader is growing up and learning to adapt how you lead and how you present yourself in order to serve God’s people more effectively. No two services are the same. No two sessions at a retreat are the same. You need to adapt.
Don’t treat Sunday morning like it’s youth group. Treat it like it’s Sunday morning. Treat youth group like it’s youth group. The two are very different, and so should your approach to them be.