Graham Kendrick on worship leading

Graham Kendrick on worship leading

Interview with Graham Kendrick

I spent an afternoon with Graham Kendrick recently interviewing him for a series of podcasts for the website here. Graham has spent many decades ruminating over the craft of the song writer and worship leader and I wanted to bring some of those thoughts to the wider church. It’s well worth listening to the full podcasts as the notes below are a summary only. Note that Graham is quite soft spoken and, depending on your computer, you may need a good pair of headphones to pick up the audio. Click the arrow below to listen or simply read through my notes on the interview below that.

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What are your thoughts on leading worship?

Our role as leaders is to equip God’s people for works of service as set out in Ephesians 4:11-13. As we prepare to lead worship, we need to be thinking about how are we going to equip Gods people for works of service. Whilst for some this might seem at odds with the worship leaders’ role in bringing people into an experience of worship, Graham sees this as a way of helping people live lives for Christ.

Scripture (1 Corinthians 14:26) tells us that all things should be done for the edification (the building up) of the house of God. This means building people into community of mature believers as well as building numbers. We should hold these things in the back of our minds as we are planning how to lead worship.

As a worship leader seeking to pastor people through sung worship Graham sees three principles:

  • Being
  • Doing
  • Explaining

The first priority of being is to be a worshipper – not just in the moment but in all of our lives. Who we are as followers of Jesus will reproduce fruit – apple trees reproduce apples. Being honest about our struggles is important. People recognise authenticity and are more likely to follow and emulate when they can see that you are the real thing.

In relation to doing, whatever our theology of worship might be, people take their cue from the doing of it. If we consider culture as “the way we do things around here”, it is helpful for us to step back and examine what our expectations are in relation to worship, to articulate what we are trying to achieve. Do some of our expectations need to be reviewed? For instance, if we adopt the “pop star” approach unthinkingly from the entertainment model, as if we are putting on a show with the worship leader as an entertainer, the result will be a spectator mindset. Unfortunately the tide of culture is flowing towards watching rather than participating. The difference of course, is that rather than perform something in front of people, we as worship leaders are trying to bring everyone in – to help everyone bring their worship.

Graham is keen to foster a culture of participation. As a worship leader he will try early on to establish a tone that we are here to do this together. For instance, he might even have a congregation run through some vocal warm-ups together. This clearly indicates that we are about to sing. This is also where explaining comes in – Graham will often put his expectations of participation into words “Welcome everybody, we’ve got a great bunch of musicians here but we’re just here to help you give your worship to God – so let’s do that shall we?” In the process of leading itself he is keen to communicate an understanding of what the scriptures teach in relation to worship.

Everyone should bring something

Exodus 23:15 includes the commandment that “nobody should enter my presence empty handed”. The New Testament talks about everyone bringing a psalm or a prayer. As well as bringing our worship to God, Graham sees corporate worship as being outwardly focussed, an opportunity for the congregation to bless each other. When there is an expectation that people “bring something” it means that worship becomes more outward looking – possibly at odds with many of the more intimate worship lyrics of so many songs. If we assume that intimacy with God is a private internal feeling and that becomes the whole aim, then very subtly we end up being there for what we can get out of it. If someone says “I didn’t get much out of the worship today”, they have it all wrong – the point is not to get something out of it for ourselves, but instead to bring something to God. We shouldn’t be coming to worship for the experience, we are coming to love God for His own sake.

Actually asking people “What have you brought today?” awakens them to the possibility that they have something to bring which blesses God and blesses someone else. He put it into the line of the song Building a House “What have I got to bring today? What have I brought to give away?”. See below for the full set of lyrics – the song rather beautifully sums up much of this discussion.

What is brought may not necessarily be a public “word”, it maybe that you pray for someone or to speak to someone, give an encouragement after the service or later in the week. The point is to actively engage and think beyond ourselves to how by the help of the Holy Spirit we can each do our part in building up the whole community of faith.

Building a house [Isn’t it good]

Isn’t it good to be with friends
Isn’t it good to speak their names
And be a friend of Jesus
Isn’t it good to all belong
Different voices in one song
Singing our love for Jesus
When everyone has a psalm, a prayer
And everyone comes to give, to share

God’s building a house
God’s building a home
Come fill it with glory
You’re building us strong
You’re making us one
To shine out Your glory

Isn’t it good that we can bring
Every good gift and offering
And lay it at the feet of Jesus
Meeting him here in every face
Multiplying acts of grace
Sharing the love of Jesus
Isn’t this the true bread and wine
The other’s needs not me and mine

God’s building a house etc


And isn’t it true we’re joined in one
Chosen and precious cornerstone
Upon the Rock of Ages

God’s building a house etc


So what have I got to give today?
What have I brought to give away?
All for the love of Jesus 

Retelling the “story”

Authentic Christian worship is about retelling God’s story and in the act of retelling the story, power is released afresh into the body of Christ. Good worship songs take aspects of the story (the gospel) and retell them in a fresh way. And of course there are many other ways to retell the story than purely through song.

Revelation and response

Graham sees worship as being a dynamic of revelation and response. (In a similar vein, Matt Redman talks about breathing in and breathing out.) As we receive the revelation of the gospel, and see a fresh aspect then a response is drawn out of us that can be lifted back to God. A good worship song has both those elements – it provides a reason to worship God. He sees a worship song that, for instance, just asks us to worship without giving us a reason to worship, as inadequate.

How do you pastor the worship team?

To this question Graham talks about living out the principles of worship and secondly to be prayerful. He says his team become familiar with his frequent requests to stop and pray. The prayer should start at home before the team meets. It means that he can give his team insights that, reasons why particular songs have been chosen.

Does Graham also struggle to prepare for a service?

It may come as a surprise to hear that Graham often struggles to prepare for a service. On exploring this topic he feels that in the act of preparatory prayer we engage with the spiritual dynamics within a congregation, the longings and promptings of the Holy Spirit, and sometimes with the spiritual powers in opposition.

He also feels that sometimes the struggle is more personal simply because as worship leaders we can become stuck in a rut, perhaps bored with the same patterns, processes and songs. He will look through books searching for songs that aren’t in his immediate consciousness and perhaps for an old hymn that can be reintroduced. He will also look for songs via a subject index.


Other posts you might like:

Interview with Graham Kendrick – on not feeling like much of a musician and the topic of female autograph hunters (introduction to this series of podcasts)