I’ve been a worship pastor for a long time, and I’ve realized there are a lot of misconceptions about what worship leaders do. Here are seven things you might not know about being a worship leader.
1. This is hard work
A mother once asked her little son what he wanted to be when he grew up. The boy answered enthusiastically, “A garbage man!” Puzzled, the mom asked why. The boy replied, “Because they only work on Wednesdays.”
Many people have a misconception that the worship leader just straps on a guitar on Sunday morning and starts to sing, and everything just kind of flows out of this God-bathed spirituality. After all, how hard is it to play the typical worship song anyway?
The gritty reality is that worship leading is a lot of work. Our roles often include music director, technical manager, lead vocalist, instrumentalist, scheduler, spiritual leader, and friend. He’s the guy who unlocks the doors in the morning and rolls up the cords after everyone goes home. Then there’s the emotional exhaustion that goes along with the imperfect, time-consuming, and often messy process of pastoring people. No wonder one of the universal practices of the worship leader is the Sunday afternoon nap!
2. This job can get pretty weird
In my role as worship pastor, I’ve written parody songs, dressed in an animal costume, hung disco balls, washed dishes, consoled the homeless and the well-to-do, written plays and liturgies, pounded nails and dug trenches, danced in tights (not my idea!), baptized in a freezing river, designed buildings and logos, and set theater lights from 30-foot rafters. I’ve led worship conferences from Europe to Asia, convalescent homes and prison chapels, funerals and weddings, even street corners and water parks.
Last Lent, we had the idea to create a 16-foot sandbox at the front of our stage to signify a walk in the desert. As I delivered 500 pounds of sand into our auditorium and spread it on our stage, I had a singular thought: I might have the weirdest job in the world.
3. We are (mostly) normal
Worship leaders are often a little off-center. After all, we’re musicians and creatives, with artistic dispositions and complex temperaments. If there are tattoos in the sanctuary, chances are the worship leader is the one with them.
At the same time, we’re just like anyone else. We have fears and doubts, goals and aspirations, secret dreams and hidden angst. We juggle the need for acceptance and approval with the desire to be humble. We are driven by insecurity and anxiety more than you realize. And ultimately, we want what everyone wants—love and grace and community and significance. We aren’t perfect. Please don’t expect us to be.
4. It’s not just about the music
Many people equate worship with music these days. And that’s unfortunate. Most worship leaders are concerned with the overall flow of the service, sweating out the details of technical issues, liturgical and sacramental acts, visual and video elements, even stagecraft. And we serve the speaking pastor, creating meaningful responsive elements to the sermon when possible. While corporate worship is mostly expressed through music, it is so much more.
5. We see you
When we lead worship, we can see you. We can tell when you’re texting, nodding off, or disengaged. Your body language speaks to us: The teenager who doesn’t want to be there, the married couple disconnected from one another, the toddler crawling under the pew. But we also see when you are alive to the reality of God in the room. When the congregation is passionate and engaged in worship, arms raised and voices strong, it is a great encouragement to us—deep in our souls.
6. Sometimes we lead worship even when we don’t feel like it
Yes, we sing and close our eyes and strum our guitars, and we earnestly seek the presence and power of God during worship. And we hope to encourage you to do the same. But the reality is, sometimes our hearts aren’t in it. Sometimes God may feel far away from us, or we are distracted by some issue, or we are simply going through a dry time in our spiritual walk. It happens to everyone, so why shouldn’t it happen to the worship leader?
When that happens to me, I remind myself that the quality of our worship is not dependent on my feelings. This may seem counter-intuitive, but worship is ultimately not a function of my personal satisfaction. After all, God is real regardless. If the object of our worship is God, then worship has more to do with how we make Him feel than how I personally feel about Him.
It is in those dry times that I lean more on the Truth of God than the experience of God. In other words, I worship more with my head than my heart. And that’s okay, because God is still glorified, still lifted up, still praised as an act of genuine obedience and submission. Thankfully, this doesn’t happen to me very often. And I thank our gracious God for that.
7. We love the church
It’s true. We worship leaders love the church. Not just the theoretical church, but the actual warts-and-all church—the people who show up each Sunday and graciously allow us the privilege of leading them. It is an amazing calling, one which we don’t take lightly. We are thankful that you allow us this sacred opportunity—week after.