9 Essentials of a Great Worship Leader

NOTE: This article originally appeared here at the 9Marks blog.

My local church is in search of a worship leader.[1] To that end, our senior pastor cobbled together a group of 12 members for a Worship Leader Search Committee. Despite my musical ineptitude, I was among those asked to serve.

I suppose I’m equal parts grateful and terrified. After all, the title “worship leader” is nowhere in the New Testament. This fact tempts even the most levelheaded toward the subjective and superficial, where already drawn lines and white-knuckled commitments merely evidence what we’ve previously seen, known or been comfortable with.

So I wanted to pass along a few thoughts I’ve developed as I’ve prayed through what my church is undertaking in the coming weeks, and what your church may be going through right now. I’ve unoriginally titled them “Nine Marks of a Healthy Worship Leader.”

Nine marks of a healthy worship leader.

I’m convinced these nine things are must-haves for anyone leading a congregation in song week after week. Far from exhaustive, they are a set of traits, postures and characteristics I believe are informed by Scripture and ought to transcend culture and denomination.

1. Your worship leader should meet the biblical qualifications of an elder.

This is important. Even if he won’t be called an elder, the congregation will likely treat him like one.

And it’s important to remember the qualifications for an elder/pastor/shepherd include being “apt to teach.” This is what worship leaders do, and their aptness to teach (or lack thereof) is evident every week in the songs they select and the way they facilitate the congregation’s worship.

I need to add a caveat here. Depending on what song-leading looks like in your particular congregation, meeting the qualifications of an elder may be unnecessary.

A friend of mine helpfully pushed back on this point and offered a helpful distinction: “A person who is simply leading musically needs to have the biblical qualifications of a deacon/deaconess. A person who is leading that portion of the service which includes songs, prayers and readings needs to have the qualifications of an elder.” I agree, under the assumption that this second scenario naturally propels the “song leader,” or what have you, into a more pastoral function.

2. Your worship leader should be musically capable.

This is obvious, I know. Perhaps a more specific and helpful exhortation would be that he should select songs within his skill set.

You really love that new riff on that old hymn? Yeah, me too, but it’s hard to sing along when I can’t decipher the words or melody as easily as I can the oh-boy-gotta-catch-up look in the drummer’s and rhythm guitarist’s eyes.

Also, it’s unwise to let this qualification steer the ship; in fact, it should be subservient to almost everything else. A godly and mediocre musician will serve our churches far better in the long run than a sublime talent who reads his chord charts more than his Bible.

3. Your worship leader should be invisible (almost).

A guest leaving the Sunday gathering should be more struck by the corporate witness of the congregation praising God in song than by the ability or presence of one man.

“Whoa, those people love to sing about Jesus!” is always better than, “Man, that guy is great!”

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alexduke@churchleaders.com'
Alex Duke lives in Louisville, Kentucky with his wife Melanie. He is a student at Southern Seminary and a member of Hunsinger Lane Baptist Church. You can follow him on Twitter at @evanalexduke.