What Does a Worship Leader Do? Pt. 1

Before I start this series, I wanted to give you some background. Eight years ago, after I had served as a pastor for twelve years, C.J. Mahaney invited me to assume the new role of “Director of Worship Development” for Sovereign Grace Ministries. One of my assignments was to study and train others in the practicals of biblical worship, particularly as it relates to music.

As I studied Scripture and read books like Engaging with God by David Peterson and Adoration and Action, ed. by D.A. Carson, I quickly realized that the Bible, especially the New Testament, didn’t give much space to my role as a worship leader. None, to be exact. The more I read, the more I felt I was reading myself out of a job.

There’s no question that the role of the worship leader has been exaggerated in recent decades. Some pastors give 1/3 to 1/2 of their meeting to singing, led by a musician who has little to no theological training. Gordon MacDonald comments, “For many young people choosing a church, worship leaders have become a more important factor than preachers. Mediocre preaching may be tolerated, but an inept worship leader can sink things fast.” (Gordon MacDonald, To Find a Worship Leader, Leadership Journal, Spring 2002) In addition, the rise of “worship artists” has intensified the often unhelpful connection between pop music culture and congregational worship.

Ultimately, our worship leader is Jesus. He is the only mediator between God and man, and the perfect man who sings God’s praise in our midst. (1 Tim. 2:5; Heb. 2:12) He is our high priest who has offered the perfect sacrifice of Himself to insure our entrance into the holy places. (Heb. 10:19-22)

However, in spite of the all the pitfalls and abuses, musical leadership is modeled in the Old Testament (1 Chron. 15:22 and many Psalms) and can be an expression of wise pastoral care in the local church. Congregations can be taught, pastored, and led as they sing God’s praise. In fact, a pastor is the ideal candidate for leading congregational singing. But in many churches, that’s just not possible. Pastors are put in the position of finding someone to “lead worship.” But who are they looking for, and what is that person’s function?

A few years ago, I was asking myself that question and formulated a definition of a corporate worship leader (with the help of my good friend Jeff Purswell) that I’ll be unpacking in the days to come. Here it is:

An effective corporate worship leader,
aided and led by the Holy Spirit,
skillfully combines biblical truth with music
to magnify the worth of God and the redemptive work of Jesus Christ,
thereby motivating the gathered church
to join him in proclaiming and cherishing the truth about God
and seeking to live all of life for the glory of God.

Read Part 2 of What Does a Worship Leader Do?

For more on this topic, download the following free messages from the Sovereign Grace site:
Jesus: Our Access into God’s Presence by Mark Mullery
The Worship Leader’s Role by Bob Kauflin

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35 Responses to What Does a Worship Leader Do? Pt. 1

  1. Allan Sherer January 26, 2006 at 10:22 AM #

    Hey Bob:

    Your comments about searching in vain for the specific category of “worship leader” in the New Testament struck a chord with me. I see much discussion in various contexts about the biblical justification for “worship leaders,” “youth pastors,” etc. Some seem completely unconcerned that we are multiplying leadership positions with virtually no biblical precedent. On the other hand, some argue a strict regulative principle and would abolish any leadership position not directly reflected in the New Testament.

    Perhaps in a future post you could share your thoughts about balancing the practicalities of ministering in our time and culture with the need to be sure what we do is truly derived from the Word of God.

    Looking forward greatly to the current series!

    Allan Sherer

    • Britt June 19, 2014 at 3:16 PM #

      The response to this that I would say is that Worship “leaders” is an Associate Pastor

  2. Patrick Donohue January 26, 2006 at 10:47 AM #

    You are putting voice to so many stray thoughts and lines of questioning that have been trapped in my head over the last several years. I look forward to this series.

  3. Lindsey December 13, 2007 at 12:14 PM #

    Bob,
    As a member of the congregation, many never realize all the work that is put into creating a service and executing it. For ‘worship leaders’, the songs they sing, how they sing them, what instruments to use, which verses to sing, the theological reasoning behind it, when to transition, when to pray, how to do communion/offering, and so much more has to come into play when planning a worship service. I know that it is done a lot around this world, but I think that it is too much for a minister to lead the singing and preach. There is so much preparation. Plus I firmly believe in the congregation taking part in the worship so that they will take ownership also. Good thoughts though. This stuff makes me appreciate everyone so much more!

  4. Jen McGauley December 14, 2007 at 6:54 PM #

    I think that what you are saying about worship leaders is so true, and important to note. I think that choosing a leader for worship is a difficult and very important task. I think it can make or break some congregations. The thing that stinks about this is then people are choosing their church service based on what they like when it comes to singing. I really liked your insight about Jesus being our one true worship leader.

  5. Steve April 10, 2008 at 2:30 PM #

    I believe worship leaders should have as much theological training as preachers. Think of the sermons you heard as a child. Can’t remember them? Now think of the songs you heard? Music resonates with our hearts, connects with our emotions, and unites our voices with other worshippers. If the preachers shared the same sermon three times in one month, he or she would be fired. But if a worship leader shares the same song multipe times, we begin to enjoy it more, memorize the lyrics, and sing along from our hearts (not just our mouths).

  6. Wayne July 4, 2008 at 1:21 PM #

    Dear Bob,

    I really appreciate your description of a worship leader.

    I have recently been asked to be a worship leader in a church plant this fall, and turned down the opportunity, for several reasons, many of which have to do with my pride and insecurities.

    For a long time now, I have wanted to ask your advice regarding not only my music, but the way in which my music and spirituality interact with one another.

    If this is the right forum, I can post a blog with more details and specific questions. Or I could write a letter or an email.

    I would appreciate your prayers for God’s wisdom.

    Thanks!

  7. Bob Kauflin July 5, 2008 at 4:24 PM #

    Wayne,

    Thanks for stopping by! It might be best if you started by reading my book. There may be some answers in there. But feel free to send an email to bob@worshipmatters.com. I pray God will give you clarity and grace for all he’s called you to do in the days ahead.

  8. Tim March 16, 2009 at 9:43 PM #

    That is a great definition of a worship leader. Great post.

  9. Michael Etheridge May 5, 2009 at 6:25 PM #

    I was recently asked to take part in leading worship for my youth church. I guess it was because of my experience and gift in music. Also to add the fact that I write and lead my own songs, and my involvement with other well known artist. This is not me bragging but pointing out why I turned it down. Please..read.

    I turned it down because I have noticed that we are rising into a new generation of new things (Hints our recent album “A New Day is Rising”.) and that we as a “church” some how still stick to old guide lines. Yes, we should still apply worship the same as in the Bible but style, genre, and production of worship is always in fate; subject to change as generations grow longer. Besides a church is in heart.. a congregation of people who worship the Lord. How ever the style or genre..its still worship…not just in music but also in all arts.
    I know that God is calling for this up rising only because the enemy itself is rising in numbers and our old guide lines do not work. To be honest our old has made this generation really bored with its repetitive leaders. Its almost as if it mimics our government now. Lets be creative just as the Lord has made us to be.

    Also, note that there are those that are worship leaders and music ministers. There is a difference but both apply to leading others closer to God. I am more of a music minister and my music backs that but my first steps where revolved around being a worship leader.

    As for the comment posted about preachers pointing out pop culture and congregational worship should not be mixed. This is true but does not mean they can’t be sided. We should not base our opinions or points of view on worship but face the facts that worship is expressed through preaching, prayer, music, spontaneous actions, and even arts/crafts. Saying one is doing more than the other is a point of view. As long as worship is in play and the word is pronounced, it does not matter who does more than the other. I think this only a old guide line in which I believe blinds many churches.

    Michael Etheridge

  10. Barbara Sutton July 29, 2009 at 4:40 PM #

    I’ve been selected as worship leader for Women’s Day at our church. I have never been in this position before. I’m to lead the service and do not know where to begin. I was selected as I’m good with public speaking, I can read and I’m respected in the church as a leader. All I need now is to know exactly what I am to do for this occasion. Thank you,

    Barbara Sutton

  11. Rowland August 19, 2010 at 11:00 PM #

    Do worship leaders only lead as in music or they lead the format of the service (worship) of the day as in calling out times for announcement, collection, prayer times, maybe communion, as well as what hymns to sing and calling out when and who is soloing and so forte. Please advise me as the leader of a new church coming from a denomination where we did not have these titles and now find myself in a quagmiere having to come up with a lot of things i am not used to. Good thing is nobody will fire me cos i am the founder.

    • Bob Kauflin August 20, 2010 at 2:54 PM #

      Rowland, thanks for asking. “Worship leader” is a vague term that could encompass many different responsibilities. I talked about this in my book, Worship Matters. But briefly, you should see everything you do as a means of magnifying God’s glory in Christ in people’s eyes. The songs are just one part of it. Hope that’s helpful.

  12. sha April 12, 2011 at 12:27 PM #

    Bob, just want to thank you and praise God for your life. I’m reading your book, Worship Matters, it helps and encouraged me a lot (i’m just starting reading the first part of the book) i was so desperate and struggling as a worship leader, when God directed me on this site. You’re such a blessing. The wisdom that is flowing through you creates a big help for worship leader like me. Your teachings are so simple yet so rich! Thanks again. – sha (Philippines)

  13. Sarah June 28, 2011 at 4:39 AM #

    I forget where I heard this, probably Bob. lol But it is very helpful to me… whether I happen to be singing/listening as part of the congregation, or standing on the stage, my goal is to be the “lead worshiper” not the worship leader. People respond to God and the truths from the gospel. Jesus is the true worship leader and I am there to help direct believers attention to His throne of grace. It is a great joy and privaledge!!!

  14. sudhakar Sahani August 24, 2011 at 4:26 PM #

    Please give me two questions answer.
    1.In your own words describe the role of the worship leader in church?
    2.although practical skills are vital to effectively lead worship,it is more importent still to develop who you are as aperson and a worship leader and to have atru understanding of what worship is.
    Describe how worship was used in the Bible throutgh to its’modern day application.

    • Bob Kauflin August 24, 2011 at 7:15 PM #

      Sudhakar, thanks for commenting. This series of posts answers your first question. As for Question #2, yes, who you are as a person and having a true understanding of worship is more important than simply having practical skills. Thanks for asking!

  15. edith January 10, 2012 at 4:02 PM #

    i’m a worship leader i dont know what songs to sing for the victory. if you can teach me what to sing that is appropriate for victory?

    • Bob Kauflin January 10, 2012 at 4:11 PM #

      Edith, Crown Him with Many Crowns, All Hail the Pow’r of Jesus’ Name, In Christ Alone, among others.

  16. edith January 10, 2012 at 4:23 PM #

    thank you, can you tell me more of victory praise songs. honestly just recently handle a small ministry which is music im so ashame that i know little about it, you are a big help to me more power. i want to have more knowlegde of how to handle our ministry for Gods Glory. thank you.

  17. alfredo miranda June 10, 2012 at 1:39 PM #

    I think that there si not room for one worship leader but there is a need of at least three in every service.Woship is anything from the opening prayer to the closing prayer and who ever lead the prayers and lead the singing and preaches the sermon all are worship leaders that If they are full of the Holy Spirit and live in a good relationship with God,people from church and out of church,they lead the church with enthusiasm like it really is the thing they enjoy most in their lives,they are nothin but worship leaders. The church must train qualified people to do this but I do not seethis as a paid job the only paid job is the one of the minister or ministers to work for the kingdome full time seeking ,and equiping others to come and stay with Jesus!

  18. Tranette July 12, 2012 at 3:41 AM #

    I really enjoyed the ending when it says “An effective corporate worship leader, aided and led by the Holy Spirit, skillfully combines biblical truth with music to magnify the worth of God and the redemptive work of Jesus Christ,” because to me it does means a lot to know the truth about the word and what we are singing and to know that we singing to worship Jesus christ.

  19. Vaughn August 5, 2012 at 4:11 AM #

    Brilliant!!! I’ve read the first section and already have a resounding amen in my heart…..Have to head off for a family roast yum! but look forward to reading the rest. God bless you for your honest aproach to Worship Leading.
    Actually I’m just preparing for a seminar I’m to speak at regarding worship leading and going the distance. It’s hard because when I think of worship leading the first thoughts that come to mind are compromise and Idoletry Aghhh. God as I read on let your spirit bring truth to my heart that I may bring life as I share……. Will be back. Blessings

  20. George August 30, 2012 at 9:49 PM #

    I truly believe that a worship leader has to be tuned with God.
    Meaning living his absolute life dedicated to the Bible. Have a relationship with God. And being one mind and one heart with
    the pastors vision and goals for his congregation .Being a praise and worship leader
    for ten years these basic steps i took to prepare people for the
    Word.

  21. clyde January 23, 2013 at 9:37 PM #

    It is awesome to be led by the holy spirit. My singing and playing have new life when I yield. Its getting easier over time.

    Getting back to the comment of not remembering sermons from your youth but remembering songs.

    It is a shame that we get paid so little and some not at all.
    It does take hours and days of planning/practicing etc. and I wish I could make it a full time job – it almost is already.
    We still need to eat and pay our rent.

  22. B. Becker February 15, 2013 at 6:56 PM #

    You say the Bible didn’t give any space to the position of a worship leader. Then why my I ask are you doing it and giving advice on how to do it?

    • Bob Kauflin February 16, 2013 at 1:06 AM #

      Burt, as I explain in my book, Worship Matters, I believe a “worship leader” is a combination of gifts that Scripture lists that could include pastor, teacher, administrator, leading, helps, etc. Because the term has become so much a part of the landscape I’m seeking to bring biblical thought and perspective to how a person leading songs might think about what they’re doing.

  23. Florin March 2, 2013 at 10:22 AM #

    I lead worship… and I’ve noticed that a great number of people are responding to what’s popular out there.
    Not too many have developed a deeper understanding and hunger for God.
    Thans for addressing this issue!

  24. Jamie Rohrbaugh May 6, 2013 at 8:09 AM #

    I realize this post has been out there for several years, but since people are still commenting in 2013, I’ll add my comment too. :)

    I think the most powerful worship leaders are those who are out there just worshipping, sold-out, hungry, and completely wasted for the presence of God. People follow worship leaders like that the way hunters follow a hunting dog. The worship leader points to the Object of his affection–Jesus Christ. When his “point” is authentic, God sits down on the song of his heart and everybody else follows along. They are following the “point.”

    People follow worship leaders because they follow leaders in general. But if you get a worship leader who is a great secular leader but not a worshipper, not sold-out, not hungry, and has not been with God, you’ll get nothing.

  25. Success June 19, 2013 at 7:15 PM #

    above all. Worship leaders should fear the Lord and be sensitive to hearing the voice of the Holy spirit. Worship leaders out there should have the spirit of humility and should come down, by that, the Lord will uplift e’m!

  26. Worship Leader August 7, 2013 at 10:06 AM #

    Am very encouraged and equipped, thank you so much for the data. please if possible anyone with data relating to worship leaders, kindly email me on vkapoyo@gmail.com. thank you again

  27. Avril August 24, 2013 at 12:05 PM #

    A worship leader is one who is in tune with God, hungry for the presence of God and taking the congregation into the presence of God…He or she has a very important role especially in these last days when I believe the church will arise and revival will occur through worship…we as God’s chosen vessels should prepare our spirits for the times ahead…our task is mammoth, our talents or abilities mean nothing without the annointing.

  28. R. J. Shankster November 6, 2013 at 10:04 PM #

    They who worship in Spirit & truth…
    I see an anointed worship leader as called and appointed by God. It’s a gifting, like pastor, evangelist and intercession. It doesn’t work unless God says.
    We can vote in a pastor, but God must have voted Him in first, or it will just be sweat and toil. Worship without the Spirit is just another choral practice. You have to define worship and “in the Spirit.” If you haven’t leaned how to do this in your fishing boat, in the tornado, on the job or at the bowling alley, you’ll never get close to heaven on Sunday morning. Worship is not something we do, but who we are. Yo!

  29. Elsie W.Stukes September 3, 2014 at 10:36 PM #

    Should a church have a music committee consisting of a number of people or should the music director have sole responsibility to make decisions and call meetings with the musicians?

    • Bob Kauflin September 4, 2014 at 9:51 AM #

      Elsie, thanks for the question. While Scripture doesn’t spell out the answer to your question, I think it’s most helpful when an individual bears the ultimate responsibility for decisions but involves others in making those decisions.

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