From Average Musician to Great Worship Leader

Jimi Williams —  September 6, 2013

From Average Musician to Great Worship Leader

I read an article recently about a study that was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study showed participants video clips from classical performances and were asked to pick the best performers. The catch was some of the participants were given video clips with sound, while others were given video clips without sound. A third group was given audio only clips. In other words, some volunteers could only hear the music. Some could see the musicians and hear the music. And some could only see the musicians — they heard nothing.

The results were quite surprising. Only the group that had video clips without sound were able to successfully pick the actual winning performances.

This says something about the study participants and about the real judges who rated the performances. For the actual judges, watching the performers influenced what they heard. So much so, that the study participants were able to pick the same winners without ever having heard a note played.

This speaks to part of our human nature. God created us to be both aural and visual creatures. And according to this study, the visual trumps the aural. The study was quick to point out that the participants decisions were not based on looks or image, but on the passion of the performers as they created their art.

As worship leaders, we spend a great deal of time focusing on making ourselves and our bands sound better. For sure, this is important. However, it’s equally or more important to make sure that we are leading in such a way that inspires people to worship. This does not mean we have to “perform” better. It does mean that what’s happening in our hearts during worship should have some manifestation on the outside for others to see.

Simply put, our passion and fervency to worship God is contagious. Maybe that’s what Kind David learned when he danced before the Lord in sight of all the people. Becoming a better worship leader may have less to do with practice and more to do with stoking the fire inside.

There’s always a lot of discussion on worship versus performance. How do you find the balance between letting people witness your passionate worship while not putting on a show?

Jimi Williams

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Jimi is VP of Worship Resources for Capitol CMG Publishing, overseeing all Worship Together initiatives and resources. He also leads worship at his home church and at various events and conferences.

7 responses to From Average Musician to Great Worship Leader

  1. *Update* since my original comment.
    This past weekend performance got in the way of worship with my church’s worship team. I tend to be slightly reserved when playing at our church (much more than at our rehearsals). I don’t want to draw too much attention and distract others. Well, this weekend, our teaching pastor encouraged me to “let loose” and not hold back. So I decided to do it. The reaction after the set was great… if it were a concert, but from my perspective, performance just impeded on worship. We lost the balance of playing (performing) the songs well and being a vessel for worship.

    I don’t think I’ll be “letting loose” again anytime soon.

  2. As the director of worship at our community, I tell my fellow leaders that effective leading is all about authentic worship and not showmanship. I tend to do the taboo… according to some I’ve read on the subject…I close my eyes and focus solely on God. Yes I’m surrounded by the congregation… but at that moment it is the God of the universe and this wretched man. That encounter is not something I can fake or attempt to perform. It is not rehearsed. It is pure and makes others desire to have that same encounter. I don’t consider myself even the best singer in our ministry, but that’s ok with me. :)

  3. Christopher Seale September 14, 2013 at 10:39 am

    Whether soloist or worship team, it is indeed preparation that sets the table for freedom to worship in spirit and truth. Prepare the songs, the sound, etc. but most importantly prepare the heart and submit to the leadership of the Holy Spirit. God knows what it takes, He has provided the gifts. Seek the balance between preparation and performance freedom. Be transparent, be pure and then let go!

  4. Frances O’Neill September 12, 2013 at 6:35 pm

    How true this is. I have been to worship sessions where the music has been so great it was a distraction to worshipping. It must undergird the worship experience without being impressively good or distractingly bad. A team that is obviously worshipping is more inspiring than a clever arrangement of songs. I had a vision once of the worship team simply being in front of a long procession of people all worshipping. If the people are not following we are neither leading nor ministering.

  5. Amen! A great reminder, for we often get confined to being the “Worship Leader” and forget that in fact we are simply the “Lead Worshiper”! <3

  6. I believe the term “performance” is loaded with negative connotations in a worship setting. So much so that I choose yet another loaded term, yet one without as much baggage for the average worship leader. That is the term “ministering”. In leading worship, I realize that my first priority is to minister to the people who have gathered together for worship. Worship in prayer, worship in music and worship in the WORD are not about me, the minister. Rather, it is about ministering to others. Therefore, my visual presentation should not detract from, in fact needs to augment, my musical presentation. I tie Visual, Vocal and Instrumental presentations together to try to share what’s going on in my heart and spirit with those who have come together.

  7. I would agree that the most important part of being a worship leader is to be a true worshipper first. Having said that, performance is a very important part of being a worship leader. Expanding your musical vocabulary and ability to execute that vocabulary will translate into a more accurate translation of your worship into song. Our ability to perform as musicians should be strong enough that we are able to worship God freely while we perform. In terms of performance as entertainment, worship leaders are not entertainers. Entertainment should never be the goal of the worship leader.
    Just my 2 cents worth. :)