The Role of the Worship Leader

Luke Barry

December 8, 2022
5 min read

A worship leader is not just scheduled to fill a technical position. Far beyond their musical competence, they must have a heart for God and for his church.

Luke Barry

This is the fourth and final article in a series of posts that started in April of last year on the structure of a worship team. You can read the previous articles here…

The Structure of a Worship Team

The Role of the Music Director

The Role of the Vocal Director

Today’s article will focus on a familiar position in church life: the worship leader. Many churches use this language to refer to the person who oversees the music ministry at church. Here’s a breakdown of what that looks like at VOUS.

As mentioned in the posts listed above, we see the worship leader not necessarily as the one person who oversees the worship department but rather as a role people are scheduled to take on for a given moment in church life. These opportunities range from Sunday services and special events to staff meetings and prayer gatherings. Big or small, there are countless opportunities to empower people to step up and lead in this capacity. At VOUS, the scheduled worship leader (sWL) could be a staff member or a servant leader on our team.

Here are the expectations we share with our Worship Leaders:

  • Review Planning Center carefully before Sunday. Stay up to date with adjustments as the week goes on.
  • Listen through the set list. Memorize lyrics and melodies. Familiarize yourself with arrangements and dynamics.
  • Review Rehearsal Plan, Vocal Map, Mic & Pack Assignments, and Stage Plots before Sunday.
  • Run Sunday morning Leaders Huddle with Scheduled Music Director (sMD) and Scheduled Vocal Director (sVD). Come in prepared to review notes together, communicate details, and highlight specific items as necessary.
  • Oversee Worship Team for Call Time, Vocal Huddle, Sound Check, Rehearsal, Run Through, Team Rally, Platform Huddle, Pre-Service Huddle, Service, and Post-Service Huddle. Work closely with sMD, sVD, production leaders, MCs, speakers, and Location Directors.
  • Run rehearsal. Work closely with sMD and sVD.
  • Lead the Worship Team through songs, transitions, and extended worship as necessary.
  • Guard team culture.
  • Give feedback to sMD, sVD, instrumentalists, and vocalists as necessary.

1. LEAD THE LEADERS

For any given worship experience, the worship leader is in charge of the team for the day. She has a scheduled vocal director (sVD) and a scheduled music director (sMD) to work with and work through at all times. Responsibility for different facets of the experience is divided between the leaders—music directors run sound checks and give direction on instrument parts, vocal directors run vocal huddles and give direction on vocal parts, etc.—but ultimately the worship leader brings the team together and manages every part of the day.

For almost every worship experience we have, though there are occasional exceptions, we will have one of our worship staff scheduled to serve. But those staff members are not always scheduled in a leadership role. For example, our staff MD might play guitar for a service while a servant leader serves as music director. These are some of my favorite moments because they empower our staff to give clear and specific direction to our leaders after the service. By being present without being in charge, we can support and observe and coach our team through what they’re doing well and where they may need to grow.

2. STEER THE SHIP

Leading a worship team means navigating uncertain waters. While our worship leaders have a good idea of where we want to end up, they never know what obstacles they’re going to encounter on the way there. Team call outs, alarm clock debacles, technical difficulties, equipment malfunctions, changes to the service flow—we never know what might come our way as we prepare to lead our church in worship (or even in the middle of a moment). While preparation is an essential function of the role, equally important is the flexibility to endure an abrupt change of plans. Remaining flexible is a core value of our team. Flexibility requires both the willingness to stretch and the agility to pivot when necessary.

A critical component of the role of a worship leader is the ability to navigate these uncertainties. Remaining calm under pressure, maintaining a positive attitude, solving problems in real time—even when everything seems to be going wrong—these are key qualities we look for in people we are going to trust in this role. Each of our worship leaders brings something unique to the table—the gifts, talents, experiences, and insight God has given them—but anyone who serves in this capacity needs to do this well.

3. PURSUE GOD'S PRESENCE

Most importantly, a worship leader is not just scheduled to fill a technical position. Far beyond their musical competence, they must have a heart for God and for his church. More than leading people in singing a song, they are trusted to lead people into the presence of God. In reality, no one is good enough—moral enough, gifted enough, skilled enough—to do this. But God gives us grace and allows us to do it anyway. Because of Jesus, we can approach God with boldness and confidence, knowing he hears us, he loves us, and he is pleased with us. In worship, God’s presence is our priority. If our church is ever going to understand that, our worship leaders must understand it first. (For more on this theme, read Presence Over Performance.)

To adapt a phrase I once heard, God is not a piñata and worship is not a stick. We cannot approach him with the expectation that if we do all the right things he will show up in the way we expect him to. But we can go to him in reverence and humility, asking him to meet us where we are. And as we do, he is faithful to show up in ways we don’t expect, time and time again.

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