7 Worship Leading Skills No One Ever Taught You

David Santistevan —  December 6, 2012 — 38 Comments

2785464915 b730c26048 bWhen it comes to leading worship, you need more than just passion, the ability to sing, and a guitar in your hands.

If worship were simply a musical experience, that would suffice. But it’s not. It’s an experience with God. It’s pastoral. It’s people skills.

When fans attend a concert, they are there to watch and sing and give the artist their full attention.

When worshipers attend a worship service, they are looking for Jesus. The problem is, we often distract people from seeing Him.

I have nothing against rock concerts. Matter of fact, I love them. But when it comes to worship, I want to get out of the way and watch God light up the room.

Oftentimes when it comes to finding a worship leader, we look for the individual with the most musical talent. Sure, that doesn’t hurt. But it’s so, so much more.

As a worship leader, how do you get there? What are the skills you should be focusing on?

7 Uncommon Worship Leading Skills

I’ve pinpointed at least 7 skills you can start working on today:

1. Public Speaking – I’ve talked about public speaking before, but I want to reiterate that leading worship is about developing trust. If people are going to follow you into the presence of God, they need to trust you. In order for them to trust you, it’s helpful if they like you. You need to develop the “The Likeability Factor” as Tim Sanders calls it. Practice your public speaking so you’re clear, controlled, making sense, and connecting with people.

2. Knowing Scripture – Listening to Jesus Culture isn’t enough. Memorizing worship songs isn’t enough. If your life isn’t saturated in Scripture, you’ll dry up and your worship leadership won’t progress.

Don’t get too intimidated. Start with a simple passage of Scripture a day. Or a Bible promise book. Come up with a plan and stick to it. You want to become so saturated in God’s word that you recall it when you lead worship – it just oozes out of you.

3. Flow – Think of your worship set as a great major motion picture. Sure, there are individual scenes, but they all flow together to create a film. No commercial breaks, no awkward pauses, no random scenes. As a worship leader, you need to develop the skill of flow.

Don’t think of your setlist in terms of individual songs, but as a whole experience. Think about transitions, medleys, prayers, and Scriptures. Take people on a journey.

4. Overcoming Nerves – You may not think this is a skill, but it is. How does a worship leader overcome nerves? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Hang out with your congregation before service – don’t allow yourself to sit in a room and stress out.
  • Visualize yourself as a worshiper, wanting to meet with God. You’re not simply performing for people.
  • Smile – trust me, it helps.
  • Be fully prepared
  • Take deep breaths

5. Energizing People (Vision) – Andy Stanley says the greatest value you bring to your team is your energy – your ability to energize and inspire people. I think he’s right. As a leader, you’re not the best at everything. But what you need to be the best at is casting vision and getting your team fired up about the mission.

6. Losing Yourself – You need to worship while you lead worship. You’d think this would happen naturally but it doesn’t. People will overlook musical mistakes if they see a heart that is on fire for Jesus.

How do you get your heart on fire for Jesus? There’s many ways. But start with this: find someone who is and hang out with them. Tell them you want to love Jesus like they do. Ask them how they do it. Allow their DNA to rub off on you. Trust me, this will take your worship leading to a whole new level.

7. Your Turn – I’ve left #7 blank because I want to hear from you. Seriously. I believe this is an important discussion to have and I want your input.

So please, take a minute and leave a comment in the comments section below.

What is an important worship leading skill you’ve developed that no one ever taught you?

Thanks for taking the time to share!

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38 responses to 7 Worship Leading Skills No One Ever Taught You

  1. Time Management! I know you’ve outlined some of that in previous posts, but managing time with rehearsals, people, music prep, planning ahead with services, and events!

  2. Hey David…this may not fit into this list, but I am trying to learn when NOT to play. As a musician, it seems to be in our nature to overwhelm songs with too much. The part we play may be minor, but so very important. You don’t have to be on instrument at every moment of a song. Let the song breathe more so that the parts we do play add to and don’t distract or take away. Good stuff and the new album sounds great! Rock on!!

    • Very true, Jeff. I think this may fit into a teaching on the simplicity of worship. Sometimes we can be so musically overwhelming to the point where it’s distracting.

      Glad you like the album! Thanks for your support.

  3. Point 6

    wholly agree with the text and point, but disagree with ‘losing yourself’. As WLs we are in part responsible for the worship and need to be awake and aware to the Holy Spirit’s movement. Worshipping whilst leading worship is important but that is different from losing yourself or being lost in God’s presence. I see WL having a ‘middle management’ type role that means they have to be aware of what is going on and be able to discern and take direction from above. I know it’s a pedantic and semantic argument, but think distinction is important. It’s also why WLs need personal worship and to be led by other WLs so that can succumb to God’s overwhelming love.

    • Hey David, thanks for your comment! I don’t disagree with you. Worship leaders aren’t supposed to just worship and forget about the congregation; however, there’s something to be said about a worship leader who is lost in love for Jesus. It’s inspiring. It draws people in. I’ll take that over someone who performs worship sets really well and is technically excellent. So I suppose it’s a balance of both worlds but I’m challenging young worship leaders these days to start with their passion for Jesus. Get on fire for God. Great worship leadership will flow from that.

      • “start with (your) passion for Jesus. Get on fire for God. Great worship leadership will flow from that.” Love it! I think that worship leading is viewed as being so close to professional musicians that we lose the fact that a worship leader is a pastor first. He’s “singing the gospel.” Good words- enjoying reading this discussion.

  4. Yes, it’s vital that you know your people and they know you. But I’ve found it equally vital that they know each other. That means I have initiate the development.of community in the team. We get together as a team outside ministry, not a lot, but we shoot for every other month. This Sunday is purely social. Other times it’s highly focused. I let The Lord lead. It’s slow going, but it’s making a difference in many ways.
    By the way, I’m not a worship leader. I’m the Prayer Coordinator. But I have implemented your leadership ideas into our team and shared some of them with the worship team. Both ministries benefit from your insights.

  5. #6 is a an amazing piece of advice that works 100%, great list!

    for #7, I’d like to say ‘relationship’ – with the team, the people and obviously God.

  6. You have mentioned some important points which I have noted. I am zooming in on public speaking. God has been helping me with worship leading these while. I also want to add a sincere and a honest heart. David asked for a broken and a contrite heart. These the Bible says the Lord will not despise.

    I want to say I have been truly blessed by this blog.

  7. Alice Marchesani December 7, 2012 at 10:49 am

    Thanks again, David, for sharing your wisdom and experience. Yes and amen to all of these! I find that it has been helpful for us to worship as a team together at rehearsals and pre-service sound checks. I just call out 2 chords and we just vamp on those until we’re all in His presence and united in Spirit. The musicians begin to flow freely on their instruments and as I begin to worship the Lord by speaking or singing scripture, the choir and singers begin to sing and worship spontaneously as well. All music ministry members are encouraged to speak or sing what God puts on their hearts and musicians are encouraged to “speak” on their instruments. We pray that when we can worship together as a team freely in a safe setting, God will enable us with the power of His Holy Spirit to project our sincere adoration for the Lord with freedom and abandonment during our worship service. Nothing compares to sensing His amazing presence when we just worship with just a few simple chords. I guess to condense it all — lead your team into His presence on a regular basis and let ‘em loose!

    • Alice, I love this – simple, practical, and effective. I have a question – how did you get your team to a place where they were comfortable singing out spontaneously? I’ve found that to be incredibly intimidating for a lot of people. Would love to hear your thoughts (or anyone else’s)!

  8. David, the first bullet on number four is great. You are more connected to the people when you start. I have seen Christian groups where everyone who sang or played was out in the audience talking to people and greeting them as they came in. You have a room full of friends. You know their specific needs that day.
    The fourth bullet on number four is sound advice. Some people are more comfortable than others on stage, it’s just that way. But, a famous musician once said this about stage fright. “It is the sudden overwhelming realization that you are woefully unprepared.”
    Number seven, all of your points are great. I believe the congregation mirrors and amplifies what you send out. If you are sending out love, compassion, sincerity, etc. They send it back to you and it grows. You have presented some great ways to do that.

  9. #7. Be the advocate. When your team sees you remembering them in prayer, members of the congregation, community,etc, it pulls them together for a common purpose. It’s sounds a little silly, but uniting behind a purpose, each day, makes a team. We typically focus on being the conduit thru which we ask the Holy Spirit to flow, other times its praying for someone. When we see ourselves as advocates for the suffering, we are more apt to ACT.

  10. I’ve learn to multitask while leading. Leading worship, doing hand signals while building momentum for the songs, playing the guitar, but still worshipping & connecting with God. I think that’s a skill I developed for almost a year of leading worship at our local church.

  11. #7 don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you need to do anything more profound or more spiritual than simply proclaiming the gospel. Over and over. In song, prayer, and speech. All Christians, old and new, are filled with love toward Christ upon hearing that our sins have been atoned for.
    Rejoice. The gospel will never become cliche.

  12. I take no credit for the idea below…. it was shared with me, I think it is fantastic, so I’m sharing:

    #7 – Develop ‘congregational praise team members’. As WLs, we’ve all seen people in our congregation that are ‘all in’ during our worship time. But when approached about being on a PT, they quickly backtrack… “I can’t sing”, “I could never get up there”, “No one wants to look at me”, etc. What if our response was:

    “Ok, that’s great and we understand. But would you pray about something for us? If we provide you with a CD and the lyrics to upcoming songs, would you be willing to learn them and help us our by leading worship from your seat? All you have to do is listen to and learn the songs. Would you pray about that for us?”

    No one, I repeat NO ONE, has said no to this. They’re excited! They feel like part of the team. The big plus is that we now have someone IN the congregation singing a brand new song at the top of their lungs. Others in the congregation look at them and you can tell they’re thinking, “Hey, this is a new song. How does she know it?” Maybe, just maybe they’ll ask how they know it. If so, our ‘congregational PT member’ starts recruiting others for their team! We’ve given them free reign to recruit, especially if someone asks. Tell them, “I’m working with the Worship Pastor, learning the songs we’re doing each week. Maybe you could pray about doing it with us. We could get you a CD of the songs and the lyrics….”.

    Again, this wasn’t my idea, but God is using it. How cool it is it to see members of the congregation singing, praising and worshiping without their eyes glued to the lyrics on the screen? How incredible is it to be able to back away from the microphone and just listen as the Body of Christ raises their voices in praise? I thank God for leading the person with this idea to me. I’m excited to see where our ‘CPT’ takes us!!

  13. Wow! Congregational Praise Team Leaders! That’s amazing! I’m trying it this week! We have a lot of people who are very visibly leading in worship from our congregation and we know others are watching!

    David, that smiling one has been huge to our team. We have a worship team of choir and band, and I’ve been emphasizing smiling to them more and more lately and, not to overdue a movement of some facial muscles, it has revolutionized our energy in leading worship. Even though I know many of them thoroughly enjoy leading worship and singing to and about our Savior, it’s as if smiling helps us amplify our hearts!

    I don’t know if it’s a “skill” but something my interns and I do is take time to worship to these songs specifically throughout the week. Not for practice sake, but to just enjoy them without worrying about drums speeding up or people being off key or anything! It has really trained my heart to enjoy these truths and these songs and have experience going to the throne room singing these songs this week.

    You have to be careful not to overdue singing those songs that week, it can make you too “used” (only because WE are sinful, not because the truths are lacking) to the songs and exhaust your heart and conviction for them. But we try to never “just practice a song” and I’m constantly reminding our choir and band to worship (and smile!) even during rehearsals and sound checks!

    Thanks so much to all of you and especially you David! You’re leading me in worship through all these posts!

  14. Pick songs that bring the presence of God and not necessarily show off your talent. Don’t pick a popular Christian song that has a part that you can show off range over a true worship song. It should all lead back Jesus. You should pray that God decrease you so much that it is as if you are not there but all they see is Jesus.

  15. This is wonderful! Toby Mac’s new song “Steal My Show” captures this thought well. We get in the way, but in our heart of hearts, we want to be invisible so people can see Jesus and not us! I must decrease and He must increase!

  16. Each day intentionally take time get before God. I imagine myself lying in the arms of God to hear everything My God has to say. I listen! Very little talking on my part until the end. My worship and praise of God is so much better.

  17. Thanks so much for all this comments. It is a such a blessing, as a water glass. I found this blog today!
    Thanks for be sensitive to the God´s voice that make all of you share the wisdom from God’s heart.
    I agreed with all the points and for the number #7, I think it could be: be always humble and never forget the wonderful grace from God to gave us the undeserved honor and the privilege to lead their loved sons to his presence. The center of everything is God.
    Thanks again for this article. Just love it. Regards from México :-)

  18. Darleen Marie Anel May 1, 2013 at 7:27 am

    short and sharp:) thanks for this,
    i think the last would be living your worship life, that would certainly put everything into its place. humility is a key too.

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