No worship leader ever stops growing. If they do, they’re in trouble. There’s always more to learn, more to understand, and more experiences to have. Likewise, no worship leader becomes “seasoned” overnight. If they expect to, they’re in trouble.
But if you’re a young worship leader and just starting out, and you want to grow as a worship leader, there are some crucially important experiences you have to have.
Here’s a list of 13 of them, in no particular order of importance. They’re all important.
Lead worship for 3 or 4 retreats and you’ll realize that they require an incredible amount of planning, coordination, logistics arranging, and flexibility, and leave you utterly exhausted. You need to get good at leading worship on retreats and remember to bring your own pillow.
2. Weekly leadership
It’s one thing to lead worship on an occasional basis, and this is a good place to start. But the next step is finding an opportunity to lead a regular congregation on a regular basis with a regular worship team of some sort. It’s a roller coaster of ups and downs that you need to learn how to ride. Sometimes you’ll feel sick, but it’s actually a lot of fun.
3. Weddings and funerals
There are no do-overs when it comes to weddings and funerals. These are profoundly emotional, high-stakes, memorable, photographed, and meaningful services. You will mess up at them for sure, but you better make sure they’re small mess ups or there will be people who remember you for the rest of their lives (and not in a good way).
Serving as a guest-worship leader for a church that isn’t yours, with musicians you’re unaccustomed to working with, and using a repertoire you haven’t built is disorienting and a lot of work. Learn how to listen to what they need, serve them with humility, and come back to your home church more grateful for the blessings you don’t appreciate like that nice gentleman who always makes fun of your pants.
6. Small group
It requires much more sensitivity and pastoral skill to lead worship for 10 people than it does for 1,000. Don’t underestimate the life-long difference that leading worship in someone’s living room can make to your worship leading skills, especially when you’re interrupted by a screaming baby.
7. Big group
You can get away with things in a small group that you can’t get away with in front of a big group (200 or more people). Leading worship for a large number of people requires you to muster up a level of planning, preparation, and leadership authority that will seem impossible at first but will begin to feel natural the more you do it.
8. Christmas Eve and Easter
Mature worship leaders learn, through years of trial and error, how best to carry the burden of planning music for the two biggest-deal services of the year, in a way that doesn’t totally consume their lives (or their volunteers’), provides their congregation with a genuine encounter with God, and includes everyone’s favorite songs and ensures no complaints (I’m joking).
9. On-the-side services
Occasional healing services, vow renewals, baby dedications, church staff meetings, Veterans’ Day services, and any other service that requires a time of singing that isn’t on Sunday morning, will cause you think outside the box and factor in a whole different slew of things while planning a time of worship that will engage people.
When adults aren’t engaged in worship they’ll stand there like a robot. When kids aren’t engaged in worship they’ll get really loud and ask their mom for a snack or jump on their friend’s back and try to tackle him. Learning how to lead kids in worship will prepare you for the grumpiest of all adults.
The older generation isn’t looking to be impressed. They would like to actually be able to sing along with you, hopefully something true, meaningful, and familiar.
My experience as a teenager leading worship for a congregation in which one-half of the room would stand while the other half would remain seated with their arms folded, while staring at me angrily, was the most valuable worship leading experience I ever had. Leading worship for hostile groups will force you to grow in dependence on God, and confidence in who he’s gifted you to be.
This has nothing to do with playing an instrument or singing. It has to do with the fact that if you’re a worship leader, you need to learn how to run a good meeting. Have an agenda, move things along, get results, and adjourn it before it goes too long and people start throwing things. This will serve you for the rest of your life, and help you run good rehearsals as well.