By Chuck Dennie
It was a beautiful spring day when I pulled into the long driveway of a church that had a large property. The pastor had asked me to spend time with the church’s worship leader. As I approached the building, I saw beautiful landscaping, a well-manicured pond, and someone mowing the grass. I was about an hour early, and the pastor greeted me at the offices. I asked if we could get started early and if he would introduce me to his worship leader. He pointed outside to the guy mowing the grass and said, “There is my worship pastor.” In that moment I realized something in my thinking needed to change in my assessment of worship leaders.
We live in a world that loves to measure success. As church leaders, we can measure the health of our church in many ways—baptisms, attendance, small groups—but how do we measure a worship leader? This question has frustrated church leaders for as long as I can remember. We all have different genres and styles of worship we appreciate. Some prefer hymns led by one person accompanied by a piano. Others prefer the stadium worship pioneered in the late 1990s by bands like Delirious and Sonic Flood. Today, worship styles by the likes of Hillsong, Bethel, and Chris Tomlin have been adopted by many of our churches. No matter what the style or genre of worship in your church, we can measure the success of a worship leader three ways.
We all want to connect in today’s world, where so much is artificial. We compare other people’s social media highlight reels with our day-to-day existence, and our lives seem mundane. This compels us to strive to be something we are not. I see this happening with modern worship music as well. We go to a big conference and experience the sounds, lights, and videos of worship in a 10,000-seat arena and try to copy and paste that into our 150-seat sanctuary. But maybe an acoustic guitar, a cajón, and a couple of singers are a better fit in your home church setting. Leading worship authentically means knowing your audience and finding your voice as a leader. My point is, be you. God created us in his image (Genesis 1:27); he doesn’t intend for any of us to be a carbon copy of another worship artist. Find your voice, know your audience, and lead authentically.
Leadership greatness is measured by how well a leader serves, not how well he or she sings. Please understand, I don’t mean our worship leaders shouldn’t sing well. I just wonder if we place too much emphasis on one area—the stage. When I saw the young worship leader out mowing the grass, it inspired me. It reminded me of when David tended sheep and served Saul long before he became king. “Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:26-28, New Living Translation).
If you want to know if a worship leader is great, stop watching the stage and start watching the congregation. I am confident that every decision we make as worship leaders either connects or keeps people from connecting with God in worship. For instance, technological advances save us time, yet worship leaders who look only at their iPads during the service do little to engage with the congregation. In the same way, when worship leaders close their eyes the entire time, they disconnect themselves from their role in the church. Our mandate is to lead people into the presence of God, not to be lost in our own world. Imagine meeting someone for lunch who never makes eye contact with you, or who spends the entire time on his phone—how uncomfortable would that be? As worship leaders, we must realize that every decision we make connects or fails to connect people to God in worship. Experiment with removing tablets, music stands, and anything else that distracts people from engaging in worship.
I know how difficult it can be to do all of these things well. In which area do you struggle most? What can you do today to take a step toward improving? I encourage you to write down your frustrations and formulate a plan. Everyone ends up somewhere, but few people end up there on purpose.
Chuck Dennie is an award-winning musician, producer, and director. He was a founding member of By The Tree and worship leader and campus pastor for Life.Church. He serves as creative director with The Crossing, Quincy, Illinois and lives in Franklin, Tennessee. Chuck can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Connect with him at instagram.com/ChuckDennie, twitter.com/@ChuckDennie, and facebook.com/Chuck-Dennie.