The Purpose of a Worship Leader

My church already has a pastor. Why would they need a worship leader? Why would I want to take on such a role?

The purpose of the worship leader is to lead people into a more intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. Human beings were not created to function in isolation; we were built for relationship.

When I teach the “Total Immersion Workshop” for worship leaders, the main focus is on 3 key relationships every worship musician needs to nurture:

  1. Relationship with Jesus Christ

  2. Relationships with other people

  3. Relationship with music

On Friday evening, we repeatedly stress the need for an ongoing, increasingly intimate rapport with the Holy Spirit. Music is like manna; it becomes stale in an instant, if we fail to daily seek a deeper union with God.

On Saturday morning, we focus on the 3 human relationships which are essential for all worship musicians:

  1. The first is the connection we have to other members of the music team. If Christian musicians do not form a tight-knit team, the music suffers and worship does not flourish. A band is like a basketball team; it’s the “passing game” which wins the match.

  2. The second is our relationship to the congregation. They trust us to be invitational. If we are cliquish or stand-offish, we are setting a cold tone for the entire church.

  3. The third is our outreach to the community. Every member of the church is an evangelist, and those in leadership are more visible in that role.

On Saturday afternoon, we focus on developing a relationship with music. Your “relationship” with your music has 3 components:

  1. First, you need a relationship with your instrument. This means individual practice time. Psalm 33:3 says “play skillfully.”

  2. Second, your connection with the other musicians must be musical as well as personal. This means listening to each player and singer.

  3. Third, you form a bond with each song you play. As a worship leader introducing a new song, my first task is not to teach the song but to transfer a sense of “ownership” to each member of the team. The team member’s job is to embrace the song.

A last comment about the “Total Immersion Workshop” is that throughout the weekend, we reiterate the doctrine of “RLC”, or “realistic level of commitment.” Since 95% of worship musicians are non-professional volunteers, they must realistically fit their worship team commitment within the framework of their other priorities (marriage, family, profession, etc.)

Now, what about the Sunday morning worship service? As a worship leader, when I design a worship set, it will contain three phases:

  1. INVITATIONAL – People come to church with the baggage of the week. Some arrive late, some are at odds with family members, some have health issues or financial worries, some want to visit with or avoid certain people. I use a chorus such as “Come, Now is the Time” or a hymn like “All Hail the Power” as the first song in order to get people in the door and help them turn their focus toward God.

  2. THEOLOGICAL EDUCATION – In the days before universal literacy and mass-produced (pardon the pun) Bibles, many folks learned their theology from hymns. They memorized the songs through repetition and sang them at the plow during the week. This is still a most effective way to teach the tenants of the faith. Worship leaders should screen all lyrics for faithfulness to Scripture, regardless of how beautiful the melody may be. All of my original worship songs use lyrics taken from Scripture. This is how I memorize Bible passages.

  3. INTIMACY – When I was Worship Director at Seattle Vineyard, the Vineyard sages used to say: “What set John Wimber’s music apart was that it talked TO Jesus, not simply ABOUT Him.” We now have scores of beautiful choruses which help us grow in intimacy with the Holy Spirit. Any one of these can be employed to help launch a renewed hunger for God during the service.

The final and most essential word on leading worship is that the worship leader leads by example. As I enter into worship at a deeper level, I set an example for the congregation to follow. As they observe the musicians on the platform humbly submitting to the will of God, parishioners begin to follow suit and worship Jesus as well. This is the alpha & omega of our ministry as worship leaders.

6 thoughts on “The Purpose of a Worship Leader

  1. Dear Craig:

    You state that in your training session for worship leaders “we repeatedly stress the need for an ongoing, increasingly intimate rapport with the Holy Spirit. Music is like manna; it becomes stale in an instant, if we fail to daily seek a deeper union with God.” I believe that the connection (between music and the Holy Spirit) is even stronger than you imply — namely, that music IS rapport with the Holy Spirit.

    Viewed thus, the role of the worship leader (as contradistinct from the pastor) is clear: first, the worship leader (and the other musicians involved) reconnect themselves to the Holy Spirit, and then the others present (through listening and, better, singing) “piggyback” on that connection. (Of course, this is done with the pastor’s consent and participation, but not as the “leader” — unless the pastor also happens to be a musician.)

    Consequently, it is essential that the worship leader (and all of the other musicians as well) be skilled in allowing the Holy Spirit to express through the music. The musicians are the “channel,” the intermediary, the messenger — the music is the message. A quotation from an advertisement for a new Steven Halpern CD makes the point: “As soon as I sat down at the piano, I was instantly aware that my fingers were being moved across the keyboard by an unseen force. It was as if the music had a life of its own.”

    How to do this? At a risk of injecting an idea that may shock some readers, I will cite the words of a shaman — my dictionary defines “shaman” as a person who functions (simultaneously) as both a priest and a doctor — namely, don Juan Matus, the teacher of Carlos Castaneda. He says (repeatedly) that the greatest impediment to becoming a shaman (who also serves as a channel for “spirit”) is “self-importance.” Another way to say this is “inflated or overactive ego.” So, paradoxically, the worship leader has to lead by getting his/her ego out of the way. If he/she is caught up in how great a musician (or person) he/she is, the worship and the worshippers will never get to “How Great Thou (God) Art.”

    How to lead without excessive ego? The books (numbering about 15) on “servant leadership” by the late Robert K. Greenleaf (1904-1990) are a good place to start. (One of them is even entitled “The Servant as Religious Leader.”) You can find out more at the Greenleaf Center for Servant-Leadership (, where his work is being carried on.

    BTW, getting one’s ego under control is also essential in jazz improvisation. That’s the connection between jazz and spirit (yes, the Holy Spirit). You can get a glimpse of that by reading the autobiographies of jazz greats, although it’s often like finding needles in the proverbial haystacks as they describe their personal struggles in connecting with the Holy Spirit. (Some of them looked in rather strange places, including drugs, sex, etc., but various spiritual leaders and practices have sometimes done the same.)


  2. Craig,

    I found your website while searching for remedies for a sticking low C# on a Keilworth pro tenor. It is refreshing and encouraging to learn of other sax players who use their musical giftings in worship. It is my observation that contemporary improvisation during worship is really another way of saying that we are minstrels.

    In addition to playing in worship for many years, I have also played professionally in secular venues. I am convinced that while the listeners in secular jazz venues enjoyed listening to me play, what they were really attracted to (without their being aware of it) was the anointing of the Lord on my playing. That said, I believe we must continually play skillfully and seek to “speak” through our instruments. As musicians, we must allow the Holy Spirit to play through us.


    Derek Hudson,
    Inspired Jazz


  3. Thank you for this article. It is refreshing to hear worship leaders that operate with such a spirit of excellence. i love when you said about setting an example to follow so that the congregation worship as well. I share the same principles with praise and worship dancers that i meet and teach, so it’s nice to hear this from a minister of music. sometimes i feel as though many singers, dancers and musicians that are in leadership positions forget everything that you mentioned above.

    Keep teaching these things and may God increase your platform that you can continue to go forth and spread this message, and where you can not go, i pray that the seeds you have already sown increase and produce more fruits that this message of excellence may spread throughout the body of Christ.


  4. Today, I went to the beach front with my children. I found a sea shell and
    gave it to my 4 year old daughter and said “You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear.” She placed the shell to her ear and
    screamed. There was a hermit crab inside and it pinched her ear.

    She never wants to go back! LoL I know this is entirely off
    topic but I had to tell someone!


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