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Why You Need a Safe Place to Make Mistakes

I could fill multiple pages of this blog with mistake after mistake that I’ve made when leading worship. Some very minor. Some enormous. Some that made me want to run out of the room and never come back. Some that no one noticed. But I’ve made a ton of them and will make a ton more.

I’m not perfect and never will be. Neither are you. You’re going to keep making mistakes when you lead worship, and if you’re hoping to arrive at a point when your worship leading is flawless, you’re never going to be satisfied.

The only way to keep from making mistakes when you lead worship is to not get out of bed on Sunday morning. Really. You’re bound to make at least (at least!) one mistake every time you get up in front of people. And this is OK. This is normal. And this is good for us.

Mistakes show us our weaknesses. They keep us humble. They remind people that we’re not perfect. They help us mature. They give us stuff to laugh at.

I remember one Easter a long time ago when I made a mistake in front of (at least) 1,000 people. We ended “In Christ Alone” and were supposed to go into a corporate prayer led by one of our pastors. The song ended and he wasn’t moving. So I started to say “we’re going to pray a prayer now …” just as he stepped forward. I saw him, stopped, tried to make a joke by saying “would you like to lead us in that prayer?” and it was just plain awkward. No one laughed. Crickets. I should have just given him another few seconds and it would have been fine.

Is this a big deal? Absolutely not. Does anyone in the world remember me making that mistake? Probably not. On the day I made that mistake, did I think it meant I was the worst worship leader in the world? Probably so.

There is no such thing as mistake-free worship leading. Of course we should seek to remove distractions and to lead as effectively as we can, but we’re still human. We’re going to forget a chord or forget a word. We’re going to get the persons of the Trinity messed up when we pray. We’re going to do a song too fast or too slow. We’re going to forget that little detail we talked about before the service. We’re going to repeat a verse too many times.

There are hundreds of possible mistakes we can make. For example, we could lead music for a Sunday evening carols service, including giving the message/sermon, all with your zipper down the entire time. I wouldn’t know anything about this, of course. Let’s just say this happened, hypothetically, last year. Hypothetically. Ahem.

Mistakes are inevitable, even for the “professionals.” It’s important that we realize this fact so that we don’t have unrealistic expectations burdening us as we lead.

It’s also important that we have a safe place to make these mistakes.

This has been, and is, crucial to my own growth and development as a worship leader. When I make mistakes, no one is threatening to take away my job, or attacking my character, or demanding I never mess up again.

This isn’t to say that I’ve never been called out on areas of immaturity or patterns of weakness that have been displayed over weeks and months. I’ve certainly had this—and need this—and you should expect and receive godly, constructive counsel and critique as well. It’s good for us.

But sadly, many worship leaders don’t feel like they are safe to make mistakes. Either by their own internal pressure, or some outside force like a pastor or harsh critic or power bloc, they exist under a constant level of anxiety that is crippling.

Something’s got to give. Either you’ve got to become perfect or the expectations have to change. Which is it going to be?

If you’re looking for a worship leading job, look for a place where you’re safe to make mistakes and grow and learn. If you’re in a place where grace is extended to you and you’re allowed to mess up, thank God for providing this. But if you’re in a position where you don’t feel free to make mistakes, I’d like to kindly raise a red flag. It’s not healthy and it’s not realistic.

Worship leaders thrive when they have a healthy balance of freedom and feedback. Too much freedom and they can explode. Too much feedback and they can be crushed. Sometimes we’re fortunate and this atmosphere is provided to us. But sometimes we have to do some work to cultivate it. It’s important that we have the safety to make mistakes and the grace of God extended to us to help us mature.  

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Jamie was born and raised in Florida as a preacher’s kid. Since age 14, he has been leading worship pretty much every Sunday of his life, experiencing all of the joys and trials of church ministry. For over 10 years, Jamie has been writing at his blog, Worthily Magnify, in the hopes of helping worship leaders lead better. In 2006, Jamie married Catherine, and they now have four wonderful kids: Megan, Emma, Callie, and Jacob, who keep them busy, laughing, praying, and very grateful to God.