Worship Leader or Lead Worshiper?


There is a focus in Evangelicalism today concerned with the ordering of the words Worship Leader versus Lead Worshiper.  A lead worshiper does not actively lead, but rather, behaves as one of the congregation who just happens to be worshiping in front of others, hoping they will join in.  Though I understand the humility of this concept and it is an admirable thought, the concept itself is neither biblical nor leadership, and may lead to unengaged worship experiences for many congregations.

As those called to lead others in the actions of worship, worship leaders are held to a higher standard and therefore, must consider our leadership role as highly important and eternally significant.  We cannot simply stand in front of people hoping they will join in somewhere along the way.  That is poor leadership and wasteful spending of what God has entrusted to us.  Our calling as worship leaders is to guide, usher, and encourage the congregation toward a response to God's many revelations of himself.  God reveals himself to us and we respond with acts of worship (music, prayer, meditation on Scripture, baptism, communion, etc.)

Throughout the Bible we see that leading corporately requires, well, leading.  Leading by example can be a powerful action, but when leading corporately, verbal instruction is important to engage the congregation in meaningful worship experiences.  Moses did not simply model worship, he instructed the people of Israel.  David did not simply worship and hope that others would follow his lead, he appointed worship leaders to lead the people.  Jesus himself did not simply model worship, but taught his disciples how to pray and led them in worship.

Let's take a moment and compare the worship leader role to a tour guide.  Imagine hiring a tour guide to take you to see the Grand Canyon.  You arrive at the ranger station, the tour guide says, "Welcome," and then just starts walking.  You're not sure if you should follow, but you do.  Each step you take is one of hesitation because you're still not really sure if you should in fact be following or if you should have stayed behind.  As you hesitantly walk, you observe many beautiful plants and a few animals scurrying about, but you don't know their names, or even if they are safe or poisonous.  The tour guide looks back a couple of times to "check in on you," but again, says nothing.  Pretty soon, you arrive at your destination.  The tour guide is standing between you and the Grand Canyon with their back to you.  They aren't saying anything.  They are just standing there admiring the view...in your way, obstructing you from a full view of this majestic place.

I would guess that you would say that the tour guide was not a very good one.  They did not adequately fulfill their responsibilities as a guide/leader.  The same is true of worship leaders.  It is not enough to stand in front of a congregation and worship, checking in on them occasionally to see if they are doing okay.  Leading corporate worship is a time for us to be a true leader, helping the congregation ultimately arrive at the destination, all the while understanding what they are seeing and hearing along the way.

As worship leaders, the congregation's experience of worship is our primary responsibility.  We are not "successful" in our job if the congregation does not worship (I'm talking big picture here.  There will always be times when individuals in the congregation struggle to worship due to circumstances beyond our control.  We must simply provide the best opportunities for them to worship and pray that they experience God in a fresh, new way).  Of course, the goal is to get to the point where we can join the congregation in worship, even as we are leading them.  Just like the tour guide, even though we are doing a job and helping others experience the journey, we also get to enjoy the beauty and majesty along the way.

I encourage you as you lead others in worship.  Don't forget that there is a congregation out there and that it is your responsibility to lead them in experiencing God.  Leading worship is not about you and how good you or the band sound.  It is about the congregation's experience as they come before God.  Join them on the journey, as part of the Body of Christ, just don't get lost in your worship and leave them behind.  If that happens, then you have not fulfilled your responsibility to lead worship.  

God bless you as you serve him...Worship Leader!