Worship Leaders: Change your Perspective

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One of my favorite conversation starters with fellow worship leaders goes something like this:
“Tell me about your congregation.”

More often than not, the response usually begins with a description of the church’s style of worship:
“Well, our services are contemporary. We don’t use hymnals or anything…”

Often, I hear about the group that’s typically leading the church’s worship service:
“Pastor Bob is a really gifted preacher. And we have three incredibly talented piano players. They can play anything I throw at them!”

Sometimes, I even get details about where particular groups of people sit in certain services—specific demographic groups who can be identified at particular worship hours or in precise areas of the worship space:
“Our Senior Adults almost all attend first service and our youth all sit in the first three pews during the later service.”

After asking this of worship leaders for a number of years, I noticed something: when you lead your congregation from the front, week in and week out, your perspective on the church, congregation, and worship experiences usually reflects only that perspective.

Which makes sense. If you only engage your congregation and congregational worship from an up-front, leadership perspective, you become limited in how you’re able to understand and describe your context. For many worship leaders, we can’t imagine NOT being up front and serving in a leadership role. What value would I be to my congregation if I weren’t the leader?

The problem with this mentality (aside from the obvious) is that it prevents us from understanding that in order to effectively facilitate the conversation of worship between God and his children, we must know God and his people from more than one perspective. We have to be able to not only lead, but also follow. We have to be able to know and describe our congregations, not only as organizations, but also as individuals who connect with God in varying ways during various seasons of life and their journeys of discipleship. We have to be a part of the congregation and put ourselves in the role of worshipper from time to time, instead of always being the leader.

To this end, I find the following challenges helpful to me in my role as worship leader and encourage other worship leaders to consider these practices as well:

  • Regularly worship with your congregation. I don’t mean be the “lead worshipper.” Rather, tap someone else to lead once every few months and sit amongst your congregation. Have the experience of your church’s worship environment from a different perspective than the lead and make note of what you perceive differently with this new perspective. (In so doing, you’ll also have the opportunity to empower someone else in your congregation to lead, entrusting them with a great responsibility and seeing how well you’re doing at teaching someone else how to lead!)
  • Spend time each week with people in your congregation before and after the worship service – not just the worship team or your pastoral staff; instead be intentional about talking to those you’re leading. Listen to them talk about what they’re experiencing, both in the worship experience and in life in general. This will only heighten your awareness of where your congregation is at and how they enter the corporate worship gathering each week. It’s an invaluable perspective you just can’t get when you’re limited to leading from the front of the sanctuary (or hiding out with the band or staff team between services).
  • Be intentional about visiting other churches and heartily participating as a worshipper. So often, when we grow accustomed to leading each week, we forget that we too need to be led into the presence of God by others. We need this for our own spiritual development and growth, of course, but also to help us remain connected to the perspectives of those we lead each week who are visitors in our midst and desiring to feel connected to God and his people in an unfamiliar environment. It’s never easy to get away from your home church and ministry post, but intentionally and regularly (even once every several months) find opportunities where you can participate in a worship service you are not leading.

What are other ways you might increase your perspective as a worship leader and better understand and relate to those you lead each week?

Image attribution: phototechno / Thinkstock

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Emily Vermilya is the Executive Pastor at College Wesleyan Church in Marion, Indiana. Having previously served as a Worship Pastor in multiple churches, one of Emily’s passions is empowering and inspiring other worship leaders to lead worship that is biblically, historically, and theologically rooted in the Story of God. Emily also serves as an Adjunct Professor of Worship at Indiana Wesleyan University and as a Regular Faculty member at the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies. Emily resides in Marion, with her husband Jim and her children, Silas and Aynsley.

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