Worship Leader Make-over: Laying the Foundation

To this day I believe I was set up!  Those who know the truth, may one day come forward and acknowledge what they did.  Until then, I will never know for certain.

I was a young Christian, and had just arrived at my second visit to what we  called “Mini-church.”  It was a home-group, but back in those days, they were very uncommon and this one had 40 people in it. 

During my first visit, someone found out I played guitar.   Ten minutes before the start of this second meeting, one of my new-found friends approached me with the con:  “Jim, our normal guitar player is not going to be here on time, would you mind playing guitar during worship tonight?”  Yeah, I would mind , I thought.  I don’t know any of the songs, and I don’t have a guitar.   Practically reading my mind, he told me that the regular guitar player had “just happened” to leave his guitar at the house we were meeting in and I could use his.  Without waiting for my answer, Mike handed me the guitar and pointed me to the back room where the singers and the flute player were running through the songs.   I was trapped with no means of escape.

How did it go?  In my opinion, it was a horrible train wreck.  I did not know any of the songs, and the charts were absolutely no help!  So I winged it.  Everybody could tell!  When the meeting was over, Cathy (the flute player) asked me if I would like to be the regular guitar player.   Now I ask, does that seem like a set up to you?

For some reason, I still don’t know why,  I said yes!   That is how I got started leading worship.   Twenty-four years later I have led worship all over the world… in large and small settings and even performed for President George W. Bush (though that was country music, not worship music, but some people might argue that is the same thing!)  I have trained dozens of worship leaders and have built worship teams all over California and Colorado. 

I’d like to think that I have learned a thing or two along the way.  The purpose of this new, regular column called “Worship Leader Make-over”, is to pass that information on to others who are leading worship.  Perhaps you have a similar story.  I hope what I offer will make you better at what God has called you to do.  Ultimately, my goal is that we would bring Him glory as we help others learn to faithfully follow Him.

Where do we start?  The title of this post is “Laying the Foundation!”  So let’s start with some foundational building advice.

If there is one thing I have learned over the years it is that I didn’t know anything about leading worship. Oh, I thought I did, that is without question. Mainly because I was discipled in a church that was on the cutting edge of the worship scene. Because of this, I was convinced that I knew what to do, why we did it that way, and how God had ordained it to be done.   I knew that for about 10 years.  Then I realized that I didn’t know ANYTHING!   Chances are, if you have just started leading worship that you are in the same place and you just don’t know it.

Before you leave this post in anger, allow me to clarify what I mean.  Essentially, I understood worship from the limited view of my own experience.  The church I came to Christ in had a heavy influence on that understanding.  So did the Bible College I went to.  I got comfortable in that genre and expression of corporate worship, never realizing that the Church had been worshipping Him for ages before I came onto the scene!  (You mean that people worshipped God without guitars?)

All of us are influenced by how our local church does things.  My advice to you is to look beyond your current situation for answers and models.   If you start from a place of admitted ignorance, you will save your self a good ten years.  So say it out loud:  “I really don’t know that much about leading worship, and I need to start learning!”

Where should you start?  My advice would be to to start reading!   I have included four very helpful books on the subject.  They are from a wide range of worship traditions.   If you read these four books, you will save yourself years, building a strong foundation in the process.   Here they are with descriptions and reviews.

“Worship By the Book”  By D.A.Carson

A how-to book on corporate worship for the twenty-first century: how to be authentic and contemporary without being glitzy or faddish.

“Worship Matters: Leading Others to Encounter the Greatness of God  by Bob Kauflin.

“Bob loves God, values theology, and cares about people. This mix is found throughout this wonderful and helpful book. Worship Matters will inspire you as a worshiper and spur you on as a leader of worship.”

Matt Redman, Recording Artist, Song-writer, Worship Leader”

Bob Kauflin is teaching a new generation to take corporate worship seriously in a fashion that is simultaneously biblically faithful and addressing today’s culture.”
D. A. Carson, Research Professor of New Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

“This book is thoroughly biblical, comprehensive, balanced, clear, and engaging. Worship leaders must read it, and it will be a great help to anyone interested in finding out what biblical worship is about and how to worship from the heart.”
John M. Frame, Professor of Systematic Theology and Philosophy, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando

“Bob’s approach is humble, yet authoritative; comprehensive, yet inspirational. And if you take his gentle but clear teaching onboard, it will help make you fully equipped in mind, heart, and spirit to lead others in worship. I wholeheartedly recommend it.”
Stuart Townend, Christian Song-writer

“An outstanding book both for those who lead worship and also for every Christian who wants to worship God more fully. The book is biblical, practical, interesting, wise, and thorough in its treatment of the topic. The next time I teach on worship, I plan to make this the required text.”
Wayne Grudem, Research Professor of Bible and Theology, Phoenix Seminary, Phoenix, Arizona

“Humility. Self-deprecating humor. Practical wisdom. And not just for music leaders. What a refreshing read! I’ve gained from Bob Kauflin, and if you read this, you will too.”
Mark Dever, Pastor, Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington DC; President, 9Marks

“Bob is a pastor, a teacher, and a skilled musician. And this book captures his heart, his zealous pursuit of God, and his many years of real-life experience leading worship. That’s why his book deserves the careful study of pastors and worship leaders alike.”
Joshua Harris, Senior Pastor, Covenant Life Church, Gaithersburg, Maryland

“Engaging with God”  by David Peterson

Worship is of immense concern in the church and ironically the source of controversy and dispute. Can we get beyond the question of what style of worship we should engage in to understand the bedrock foundation for God’s people–honoring him as he desires? Is the dissatisfaction with worship voiced by so many perhaps a result of our having wandered from biblical teaching on the subject?

Through careful exegesis in both Old and New Testaments, David Peterson unveils the total life-orientation of worship that is found in Scripture. Rather than determining for ourselves how we should worship, we, his people, are called to engage with God on the terms he proposes and in the way he alone makes possible.

This book calls for a radical rethinking of the meaning and practice of worship, especially by those responsible for leading congregations. Here is the starting place for recovering the richness of biblical worship.

“The author cuts back through the undergrowth of our inherited traditions to the clarity and straightforwardness of the biblical teaching. . . . Despite the scholarship behind it, all this is done with a beautiful simplicity and clarity that makes the book readily available to a wide circle of readers.” I. Howard Marshall

“Give Praise to God”  Edited by Phillip Ryken, Derek Thomas and J. Ligon Duncan III

James Montgomery Boice had a passion for worship. His life and ministry reflected his desire to honor God in the form and content of worship. Here 18 contributors, including Hughes Oliphant Old, Edmund P. Clowney, W. Robert Godfrey, and Michael S. Horton, advance Dr. Boice’s vision for Reformed worship. They examine the biblical foundations for worship, the elements of corporate worship, worship in the home and in all of life, and worship throughout the ages.

About Jim

Not For Itching Ears is a blog dedicated to discussing the American Evangelical church. It is a place for people to share their thoughts on a host of issues relating to this subject. Jim is available to speak at weekend services, and retreats at no cost to churches in Florida. Contact us for more information.

Posted on January 9, 2011, in Christianity, Theology, Worship and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Great article…sounds too familiar…funny thing since we led worship for 20 years we decided to take a long sabbatical. Then when we moved to Seattle we agreed not to tell anyone at churches we visited that we were worship leaders or even musicians. We finally found a small foursquare church near our home. We knew it was the one. We did not tell anyone at all we were musicians. Funny how God has a way of revealing things. After tending a few times the pastor asked if we were musicians. Well we couldn’t lie…so almost six years later Paul is the head worship leader. We were told we were prayed in. God has His way…not us. Another good book we used for our teams is called “Exploring Worship” by Bob Sorge


  2. Ha ha, Jess; did you guys really think God would let you sit on your talent? Three major things I learned from Paul are, 1. sing in a key everyone can sing in; 2. lot’s of quarter notes -be “followable”, 3. allow the Spirit to lead, you follow the Spirit.


  1. Pingback: Worship Leader Make-Over: Defining the Goal of a Worship Leader | Not For Itching Ears

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