Eight Of The Most Common Worship Leading Mistakes

No worship leader ever stops making mistakes. From the most seasoned and experienced worship leaders, to the newest and greenest, mistakes are inevitable, humbling, and part of the process of maturing. We’re imperfect people, working alongside other imperfect people, playing musical instruments and singing songs imperfectly, with a congregation of imperfect men and women trying to sing along.

So our goal is not to become flawless worship leaders who never make mistakes. Our goal is simply to keep being humbled by our awareness of our imperfection, and to keep growing, so we can more effectively point our congregations to Jesus in the power of the Spirit, not the power of our own professionalism.

To that end, here are eight of the most common worship leading mistakes that I’ve observed in my own ministry, and through friendships and experiences with lots of other worship leaders too:

Wrapping our identity up in our performance
We feel good about ourselves after a good service, and bad about ourselves after a bad service. We need to resist this temptation – every Sunday – and always ground our identity and our worth in the gospel reality of being hidden in Christ.

Inserting too much of our personality into our performance
Using “performance” here in a very broad sense of “standing in front of people”, worship leaders can sometimes make the mistake of allowing so much of their personality, sound, look, and “stage presence” onto the platform, that people in the congregation get a subtle hint that they should tune out and watch. Worship leaders, while remaining themselves and being who they are, have to also know how to dial back their persona, especially depending on the context, so that the congregation can focus on the main task at hand: signing along with each other and magnifying the greatness of God.

Doing too many new songs
This is another big, and all-too-common mistake. Too many new songs in a service, or in a row, can have an incredibly detrimental impact on your congregation’s ability to engage in worship. Worship leaders should be building a solid repertoire of songs, anchored by the best songs of the centuries, and enjoying the best songs of the modern day. Adding one or two new songs a month to that repertoire, is realistically the most we should aim for.

Doing songs with ranges that are too high
Most people don’t want to – and can’t – sing songs that hang out near Es and Fs and Gs. They just simply can’t do it. Being aware of this, and being willing to take the extra time to transpose songs down to sit in more singable ranges, will serve your congregation and result in stronger singing.

Playing it too safe for too long
What risks are you taking? Where are you pushing your musicians? Where does your congregation need to grow? In what ruts are you – and your congregation – stuck? If your worship team and/or choir and/or congregation is still singing the same songs, in pretty much the same way, with pretty much the same instrumentation, then you may be making the mistake of playing it too safe for too long. Prayerfully discern where you might need to expand your expression of worship to a God whose “greatness is unsearchable” (Psalm 145).

Trying to be too creative too much
On the flip side – a common worship leading mistake comes in the form of always trying to be more creative, more inventive, more cutting-edge, and more different than last week, or last Easter, or last Christmas. Some worship leaders get stuck in a vortex of pursuing relevance/creativity and eventually lose their bearings. If this is you, take a step back, go back to the basics, and rest in the good news that, at the core of worship leading, is a call to be consistently, faithfully, reliability, and pastorally persistent in helping your congregation sing to, and see, and savor Jesus Christ, Sunday after Sunday after Sunday. 

Allowing our wounds to harden us
Over time, even in the healthiest of churches with the most gracious volunteers and congregation, worship leaders get beat up. Maybe a full-fledged critical campaign is launched against you, or maybe it’s just one person who views their life-calling as being a thorn in your side. Whatever the case may be, every worship leader will get wounded. We can’t help that part. But we make a mistake when we allow those wounds to harden us, so we become angry, or burned-out, or resentful, or we pull back and just phone it in so we don’t get wounded again, or we quit ministry and give up. The good news of belonging to Jesus Christ, and knowing that he calls us, equips us, protects us, and goes before us, allows us to operate in ministry whether in good times or rocky times, with a rootedness and security that keeps us both soft-hearted and thick-skinned.

Basing our assessment of worship on what we see with our eyes
Lots of hands raised = worship happened. No hands raised = no worship happened. Sadly, that’s an all-too-common way that many worship leaders can tend to assess a service. We look out at a congregation, and we make a snap assessment, that may or may not have any basis in reality, especially in an invisible and spiritual reality which we cannot see with our eyes, and we stick with that. I’m not saying we shouldn’t look at our congregation, or that we can’t tell a lot by what we see. We certainly should, and we certainly can.

But never forget this, worship leader: you have no idea what’s happening in people’s hearts, you can’t possibly know all that God is up to, and you most likely won’t ever know the short-term and/or long-term impact of your faithful leadership in people’s lives over the course of years’ worth of Sundays that help them remember and proclaim the good news of the gospel. Don’t make the mistake of making a quick assessment. God is like a gardener, not a Photo Shop artist. So plant seeds, water soil, pull weeds, enjoy fruit, prune when needed, and repeat as needed. That’s the reality of ministry, and every worship leader in the world, from the most experienced to the most amateur, can never hear that truth enough times.

9 thoughts on “Eight Of The Most Common Worship Leading Mistakes

  1. Pastor Mary May 18, 2017 / 6:11 am

    Dear Jamie

    Thank you for for your posts which are always helpful. I don’t know if you can assist with this and do forgive me if you think I am asking out of turn.

    We are a multicultural Church in Maidstone Kent looking for a new Worship Leader. Any ideas of how and where we can get the word out? Any thoughts would be appreciated.

    God’s blessings

  2. matthewbeech27 May 18, 2017 / 8:41 am

    I have one question, and it’s not particularly on topic, but it just occurred to me.

    Why do we refer to the music leader/minister as the worship leader when the whole service, scripture reading, prayer, singing and preaching are all part of the worship?

    I know it seems petty, but I was just curious if anyone had the reason we’ve changed from music leader/minister to worship leader.

  3. tyler clements May 18, 2017 / 9:50 am

    Great post! I really resonated with mistakes 1, 5 and 8. Identity, ruts, and evaluating only with our eyes.

  4. Anne May 18, 2017 / 10:39 am

    Another common mistake: repreaching or recapping or adding to the sermon. The pastor has spent many hours studying and preparing and ends the sermon with a challenge or important point and then instead of just leading the congregation in a responsive song of worship he preaches a mini sermon or tries to add to the sermon giving the impression that the sermon just wasn’t quite good enough.

  5. Mike smith June 6, 2017 / 11:16 am

    I think there is only a few things I would say- in a way isn’t this swaying a person one way or another to really overthink things? I say first have a true walk with God -ask him to cleanse your heart before you sing in front of a congregation! Then second, sing to God with all your heart because he is worthy.. 3. practice much. 4. Be nice to others -treat others the way you’d want to be treated. 5. Learn to actually sing.. Yes. Actually work on learning to advance your gift of singing. 6. Help others (kindly) who are willing to listen to your singing direction. 7. Do not be a worship leader who thinks he just won a singing competition. Drop the famous routine and just worship. 8. Take the worship team out for food and hang out with them -Become friends with your worship team. No one cares what you know until they know that you care! 9. You must let the pitchy singers sit second string even if it is the pastors son. It could be a detriment to worship!- 10. Pray at EVERY meeting! with prayer- Everything will all fall into place- let God lead you. And one more..consider learning chording on guitar or piano.

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