I remember the first time I led worship.
I spent hours practicing the songs, working on hitting the right notes, playing the right chords, and making sure I knew all the different instrument parts to help direct my band. I didn’t want to mess up and wanted to do a good job. In the early years, I continued to hone these skills. The band got better, my voice got better, and things moved forward.
What I didn’t realize at the time was the huge opportunity I was missing to lead the congregation, which was cheapening the musical worship portion of our services. I wasn’t connecting the dots, for the congregation or myself. Our job as worship leaders is to connect the songs we sing to the gospel. Every time. We can’t assume our people get it.
Leading with the gospel
Paul says the gospel is of first importance: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3–4). He tells Timothy to remember the gospel: “Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel” (2 Tim. 2:8).
Lastly, if we don’t present the gospel clearly, how else will people hear it: “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Rom. 10:14). Our job as worship leaders is not just that of a singer or musician but that of a shepherd. Our job is to lead, not just sing.
Our job as worship leaders is to connect the songs we sing to the gospel.
I had to learn to push myself to speak from the stage. My nature was to just play the songs back to back, without tying in any Scripture or giving people a context for a song. I used to worry about what I would say from the stage.
What I’ve learned over the years is, if I am spending time reading and studying the Bible during the week like I need to, I can’t help but speak the gospel clearly. It just pours out of me. If we aren’t standing in the grace and power of Jesus during the week, there’s no way we can lead a congregation well on a weekend. We can’t lead where we haven’t been. We will just be the singing guy, the entertainer, or worse—the church “rock star.”
Leading people to see Jesus
Ultimately, what I wish I would have known about leading worship when I started out is that it’s much less about playing music and much more about helping our people see Jesus clearly. That takes intentionality on our part. It means the truth of the gospel must impact our hearts and move us into action. It’s not the icing on the cake. It’s everything. It’s foundational.
We can’t lead where we haven’t been.
Music gives us a huge platform from which to shout Jesus’ glory. Songs stick with people. Whether we realize it or not, our people will be singing the songs from Sunday throughout the rest of the week. We need to make sure those songs count and are worth singing. We don’t have time for vague words and misdirected leading. We need to be clear and lead our people to the cross of Jesus every time.
Prepare during the week. Read great theologians and commentaries. Talk about the songs and tie them into the sermon with your band at rehearsal. Pray together as a band. Know what Scripture a song is based out of (especially if you wrote it). Pray for the Holy Spirit to give you wisdom as you lead. Don’t be afraid to challenge your congregation. Show them Jesus.
Whatever you do, don’t just be the singing guy.