The Ideal Worship Leader (and other myths you should stop believing)

The Ideal Worship Leader (and other myths you should stop believing)

The Complete Package Myth

Let’s make a list of a great worship leader:

Strong musical ability to carry the band…
…and vocally gifted to inspire the congregation each time his/her mouth opens…
…but also the spiritual depth to truly lead a congregation in worship…
…with a mix of theological and musical training coupled with the creativity to plan and execute biblically sound, yet emotionally-charged worship experiences…
…and the interpersonal skills to develop, encourage, and exhort a team to musical excellence and relational health…
…but also has the administrative skills to coordinate schedules, services, and special events.
Oh, and I almost forgot: a gifted songwriter.

If you can’t afford to hire him or her, just recruit this person as a volunteer from your congregation. And while you’re at it, find a unicorn for this worship leader to ride in on each Sunday.

Even if we had the money to spend on a “complete package” person, we’d be hard pressed to find him (or more likely, her). When we find “rock stars” (in the good sense) they are usually only rock stars in a few areas. And what makes them rock stars at leading a congregation in worship will likely make them absolutely reek when it comes to administration.

So, should we look for a well-rounded worship leader? Absolutely not. Well-rounded is just code for “average at everything.”

Mixed-Bag Worship Leadership

Every team needs a solid leader driving the bus. But that leader needs to develop a core team with diverse gifts, skills and strengths.

Let’s look at four main “roles” for a worship pastor or director:

1. Upfront Leader.
This is what most people think of when they hear “worship leader.” She’s got quantifiable skills and ability that enables her to stand in front of a congregation and lead. She’s also got some non-quantifiable stuff like charisma, presence, and intuition.

2. Music Director.
This is the role of leading the instrumentalists. Not only is he a solid musician in his own right, he can lead other musicians. He’s fluent in band-speak, and is even able to translate English into Drummer. Much of the time he’s the lead/driving instrument (like keyboard or acoustic guitar), but not always.

3. Worship Planner/Designer.
This is the role of planning the worship service. The worship designer considers themes, chooses songs, and plans segues and other worship elements to create a flow in worship. All the while keeping a finger on the pulse of what the teaching pastor wants, the culture of the church, and the time constraints on any given Sunday.

4. Shepherd/Administrator.
This is the two-sided pastoral role that combines caring for the team while also guiding the team. It involves scheduling, communication, coordinating, discipling, confronting, exhorting, encouraging, etc. It’s probably unfair to lump these all together, since they often require different gift/skill sets. But let’s go with it for now.

If you serve as a worship pastor (leader/director/paid/volunteer, whatever…), you’re a mixed bag of abilities, gifts, passions, skills, experiences and hard-wired personality. That mixed-bag enables you to be great at one role, good at another, and maybe passable on the other two. Or may not.

How Do You Rate?

Go ahead. Analyze yourself to see where you’re at. Rate yourself on a scale from 1 – 10 for each role. “10” is “very well-gifted” for this role at this church.  And 1 is “not suitable” for this role at this church.*

Upfront Leader____

Music Director____

Worship Designer/Planner____


*(In other words, I could be a “10” at Heartland Church in Ohio and a “1” in the same role at Holy Trinity Brompton.)

Here’s how I’d rate myself in the context of my local church:

Upfront leader – 6
Music director – 8
Worship Design – 9.5
Shepherd/Administrator – 4.5 (on the shepherd side, it’d be a 6. On the admin side – a 3 on a good day. So 4.5 is an average)

One of the reasons my “upfront leader” role is lower is because I’m always the music director as well. If the band behind me is solid, my upfront number goes up a few points. If I’m trying to hold a less-than-stellar band together, my upfront leadership probably drops below 5.

So how do I make up for my cruddy scores?

For one, I’m blessed to have an admin assistant to pick up my slack in communications, details, etc. And I also involve multiple worship leaders, so I don’t have to be the upfront guy all the time. But enough about me. Let’s get back to you:

How did you “score”?

Don’t Try Too Hard

It seems noble and good to try to improve your low scoring areas. But don’t try too hard. That is, if your low score is something your personality/strengths/gifting just doesn’t jive with. Like me and details.

Instead of trying harder, try someone else. Look for someone that can co-lead with you who IS good at what you’re not.

Let’s say your top scores are service design and administration. As an upfront leader, you’re OK. And leading the band is a real weak point.

So who’s around you that has the potential to be a better upfront leader than you? And who can lead the band? Don’t have anyone? Start “praying in” that person.

And don’t overlook the green and immature. If you see potential in someone, invest in him. Mentor and develop him. Send him to conferences. Buy him Musicademy videos for his birthday, Christmas and Boxing Day. (I have no idea what Boxing Day is, but since I’m writing for a UK-based site, I thought I’d throw in one of your holidays.)

The bottom line: Stop doing this by yourself. Build a team that covers your weaknesses and enhances your strengths.

For more on this, you can read “Try Tri-Leadership,” a brief, but practical guide to developing a co-leadership model that works.

Also, if you’re a smaller church worship leader, don’t miss out on chance to dig deep into growing your ministry and developing a leadership team. Check out the Small Church/Big Worship Coaching Group.


Jon Nicol is a worship leader, blogger, teacher in Lexington, OH, USA. He loves helping churches and leaders build remarkable teams & ministries.


Thanks to Jon for such an excellent article. How do you score on the scale? What are you doing to address the weaker areas? Please share in the comments box below.


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