I remember the first time I led worship. I was young and nervous. In truth, I likely had no clue what I was doing and just did my best.
Fortunately for me, I had a few people in my life to lead and guide me into my first time leading worship. These guys were intentional about how they helped me and I’m grateful that I had them there to place my feet on solid ground.
You can probably remember what it felt like the first time you led worship. You’ve probably been responsible for helping new worship leaders get off the ground at some point. If not, that day is coming, because one of the goals of worship leadership is to raise up other worship leaders.
Before we get into how we can do this well, let’s assume a few things about these new worship leaders.
First, let’s assume that this person is musically prepared for the task. This is someone who you believe has the musical skills (vocal ability and instrumental competency, if necessary) needed to physically lead worship.
Second, lets assume that this person has the necessary integrity and character we should expect of worship leaders. This sort of goes without saying, but if this is a concern, even a tiny bit, then you should hold off. Trust your gut.
Finally, lets assume we’re aware of the curse of knowledge. Simply put, the curse of knowledge is that once you know something, it’s difficult to have the perspective of someone who doesn’t have that understanding. When dealing with a true rookie, it will help both of you if you can overcome this and see things from their perspective.
With that said, there are three things I believe we should do to help that person prepare to lead worship for the first time:
1. Let Them Shadow and Question
Most people don’t learn best from reading a book or listening to a lecture; they need to see how something’s done. I think that leading worship is the same. Let them hang out with you at a rehearsal, sit right next to you, and even watch you prepare during the week.
Invite them into your process of preparation. Let them see everything from building a set list to praying for your team/church to even memorizing songs. When you give them this kind of access, you paint a very clear picture, rather than just saying, “Be ready for this weekend.”
Don’t just invite them in, but encourage them to ask questions. Why do you do things the way you do them? Push them to gain understanding instead of simply knowing a process. The why of preparation is often more important than the what of preparation.
2. Set Realistic Goals
Depending on this person’s exposure to worship culture, they might have some interesting expectations. They might believe that their job is to get on stage and see people respond like that Hillsong United concert they went to or that Passion conference they attended. While this response isn’t a bad thing, we all know it isn’t likely to happen every Sunday.
It’s wise to have a conversation about some goals for this new worship leader. Goals do a few things for us. First, they provide direction in preparation. Second, they provide something to measure over time to see growth and development. Finally, they help to create healthy expectations, so there isn’t pressure to be perfect your first time on stage.
I used the word “conversation” because I believe that is the best way to create goals that are healthy and stick. Goals that are placed on people or prescribed are not usually kept or appreciated. Have a dialogue with the new worship leader about 2 or 3 goals for that specific weekend (i.e. memorize all chords/lyrics, be 10 minutes earlier than anyone else) as well as some healthy long-term goals (i.e. memorizing scripture, working on vocal technique).
3. Empower and Encourage Them
This last one might be the most important one on a relational level. No amount of preparation or goal setting will help someone if they don’t believe they can actually do it. This isn’t about inflating ego, but rather about building someone up to step into their own potential as a leader in the church.
Most of the new worship leaders I work with are people who have never even been on a stage before. Tell them you believe in them. Use Scripture to encourage them. When they screw up, be the first one to tell them you still believe in them.
As this new worship leader is going into their first experience of leading, give them a healthy dose of encouragement: texts during the week, before rehearsal, and even praying for them as a team that morning for peace and freedom. Use your words to build them up, to set them up for an amazing first experience leading worship.
A good worship leader creates an amazing atmosphere for their congregation to experience worship, but a great worship leader creates an atmosphere for new worship leaders to lead. Choose to be a great worship leader.