5 Disciplines of a Good Worship Leader



First, a word of apology for getting this post out late. I spent most of yesterday prepping for and playing as part of a worship night, featuring original songs. Feel free to take a listen. Lyrics and chord charts are available if you hear anything you like.

I’m realizing the older I get that discipline is something that’s easier to start when you’re young (hence the picture). This is true as a worship leader as well. However, I think the most important disciplines are the ones that happen while you’re off stage, and apply whether or not you lead a worship team, though it’s better to have things formed as habits before you have to lead others. I don’t believe you have to be perfect to lead others, but I do believe Jesus was very serious when he said we need to be more righteous than the Pharisees. I believe that starts with simply being honest about our own spiritual poverty, so please know that these disciplines are not things I think I’m very good at. So without further delay:

1. Learn how to handle money in a mature way

This may seem like a strange one to start with, but I’ve been a musician long enough and have been around enough of them to know that the stereotype of the musician who’s bad with money isn’t entirely unfair. I think part of being a good musician is having great sensitivity. I find this usually means I’m good at feeling things and I value my ability to experience pleasure and pain in intense ways very highly. Often this means that I give those feelings so much space in my life that satisfying my emotional needs becomes all important, kind of like an idol. I believe it’s important to worship with your money, and learning to give, save and spend your money in a way that Jesus would want you to is how this is lived out. About five years ago, I ran across Dave Ramsey, and life hasn’t been the same since. At that time, we were pretty deeply in debt (about $68,000, not including mortgage) and were constantly overspending, and not giving regularly at all. If you’re in a  similar spot, his book, The Total Money Makeover (affiliate link) is a great place to start, or for a more thorough treatment, and a built-in support group, find a Financial Peace University class. For the record, we still have about $17,000 left in debt. I would’ve hoped to be done by now, especially since we paid off the first $50,000 or so in the first 2 years, but we’ve had other circumstances to deal with and haven’t gotten the rest done yet. On the other hand, we do give regularly, and we’re doing a better job setting our financial priorities in order.

2. Learn to love other people

This is something I’m still not very good at, but I do aspire to be better. I’ve always known deep down that people are way more important than almost anything else in life. In fact, Jesus did say they’re #2 on the list of important commandments. This means people are more important than me sounding good on Sunday. This means I need to go out of my way to encourage band members and sound men. This does not mean that I’m patronizing or dishonest with them. Love includes confrontation, especially when you’re a leader, but it always means that you come from a place of valuing their needs first. As I heard John Maxwell put it, people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

3. Learn to love yourself

This is, in fact, a precursor to #2, otherwise, Jesus couldn’t command us to “love your neighbor as you love yourself.” Same rules apply. Be lovingly honest with yourself and go out of your way to make sure you’re addressing what you really need. When in doubt, ask Jesus and ask others who you know love you. In fact, it’s good to ask yourself regularly what you think Jesus really thinks of you. If you don’t think it resembles the father in the story of the prodigal son, and if it doesn’t involve a certain level of passionate expression on Jesus’ part, than it’s inaccurate. Again, this is an area that’s pretty new to me. I tend to confuse conviction with shame, so I hide my faults from myself and others (as if that ever really worked). As a subcategory, I would list regular confession time with someone you trust as extremely important. It will help keep you from indulging in guilt and shame and self-hatred.

4. Be biblically literate

This is one I think my parents really helped with. The Christmas right before my 12th birthday my parents bought me a one year bible and expected me to read it, which I did. They also did a good job of drawing me into the process, not force feeding the Bible to me, so I learned to love it very early on. I have to admit that my adult life has not been as characterized by as regular a reading of the Bible as when I was younger, but I still do retain most of what I read in my youth. As a subcategory, I think it also helps to learn to be a thorough reader. By that I do not mean to dissect and over-analyze everything you read, to the point that you miss what’s actually being said, but pay attention to what you’re reading and learn to listen. I think I would put that ahead of learning Greek or Hebrew, though I think that’s a good idea too (full disclosure: I do not have any direct knowledge of Greek or Hebrew). Even there, though, don’t get so wrapped up in each individual word that you miss the message as a whole. If you find you have trouble doing this well, I highly recommend the Tolkien Professor podcast, particularly his first episode: How to Read Tolkien and Why.

5. Make regular time to be quiet with Jesus.

I think this is probably the most important one on the list, and the one I do the worst at, and feel the most deeply. I’ve read Dallas Willard’s Spirit of the Disciplines several times, and greatly value what he has to say about the discipline of solitude. I have had times in my life where I’ve done much worse at this though. In fact, I remember taking a vacation in 2005 with my wife. We went to Edisto Island, South Carolina, and within a day of arriving on that quiet piece of ground, I was in tears. I didn’t know what to do with myself without constant media stimulation or pressure from my job. I would break down in tears and panic because of the flood of every issue I’d been avoiding coming at me all at once. At least now I know when I really need some peace and quiet and know that I absolutely need to sit down and just be with my Abba. There’s nothing like it.

I know this isn’t an exhaustive list and I know these may not all be the best, but I hope they help.

What do you think? What else should be on this list?