Basic Principles of Worship Leading

Articles - Worship


by Rob Packer

This article gives some very basic but helpful principles to keep in mind when leading others in worship

1. Goals of a Worship Leader

  1. To bring people closer to God
  2. To provide an opportunity for and an atmosphere in which people can fully and freely express what is in their heart to the Lord and to minister to Him
  3. To see and bring a release of the manifestation of the presence of the Holy Spirit and His anointing
  4. To provide an environment for God to speak and to minister to His people
  5. To provide an effective platform for faith, anointing and the ministry of God's Word
  6. The job of the worship leader is to facilitate the people coming into the presence of God. He must "take the stones out of the road" - those things that would cause them to stumble as they are entering the presence of the Lord

'Prepare the way for the people; build up, build up the highway! Take out the stones, lift up a banner for the peoples.' Is. 62:10.

Stumbling blocks could be something as simple as:

  • an instrument that is out of tune
  • being unsure of the melody
  • playing a song in the wrong key or with wrong chords
  • a poor transition between songs
  • lack of unity among the musicians
  • lack of skill in the musicians
  • weak or inappropriate songs
  • lack of spiritual preparedness

2. Establish who is actually leading

It must be the worship leader, not the singers or musicians. Leadership can be shared at different times but it must be the worship leader who is providing the leadership - under the authority of the pastor of course! Also the worship leader must be at one with the leadership in the church. 1 Cor 14:40 - "...let everything be done decently and in order."

3. Be careful not to let your personality dominate the worship

It is inevitable that it will influence, but dominance is avoidable. It is other people's worship. Your task is to lead them to the Lord not yourself. You must earn the respect of those in church and be liked for your warmth of personality. We follow, or take the lead from, those we trust, respect and admire. Finally, have a personality which puts people at ease - don't let on if you're not feeling up to it. Matt 6:17 "...and whenever you fast do not put on a gloomy face, but ... anoint your head, and wash your face."

4. Greeting the congregation

This relaxes you and establishes a rapport with them.

5. Starting point

Start from where you feel the congregation are. Gauge their level and move from there.

6. Stand

Have the congregation stand at, or near the beginning of the service.

7. Lead with your voice

It's better to sing melody than harmony.

8. Don't get rattled

Don't get rattled or unduly distracted if things go wrong. Eg:- a blunder or inadequacy from the musicians; an unfortunate slip of the tongue; a stroppy man being dealt with by the ushers; a demonic manifestation or outburst by someone. Don't correct the musicians or argue publicly.

9. Don't talk too much

Don't talk if what you're going to say is not important. Keep talk to a minimum. Don't preach! Every time you say something, you are pulling people's attention away from their approach to the Lord.

Do talk - if the congregation is not at ease; if some explanation is necessary for newcomers or outsiders; if some exhortation is genuinely beneficial. Avoid saying things that may appear hollow.

10. Let the Holy Spirit have His way

Let the spirit of praise/worship/rejoicing/warfare etc emerge. Avoid trying to force or fabricate it.

11. Key songs

One or two songs may be "keys" for a particular service - don't be afraid to sing these for an extended time. Each time through may 'heighten' the expectation and sense of worship.

12. Worship focus

Place emphasis on the part of the worship service that is the focus and put the most time and energy into that. Try and avoid becoming committed or "pressing in" during preparatory or preliminary worship times. Many people find that they can press in and fully open their hearts only once.

13. Climaxes

Don't wear people out with too many climaxes. Have a sensitivity towards people. Not all of the congregation will move wholeheartedly with you. Have a real, genuine love for the people - an understanding of those who are genuinely and peaceably reticent - lead and exhort - don't drive, dictate or rebuke!

14. Understand where people are at

Understand that not everyone moves the same way or at the same speed - generally look to be just ahead of those on middle ground. Don't be pulled along by one or two who want to rush ahead. Remember! - You are leading!!

15. Focus on the Worshippers

Look constantly to those who are purposeful worshippers. Avoid looking at those who minister opposition and faithlessness. If they put you off, intercede for them! Job 29:24 "I smiled on them when they did not believe, and the light of my face they did not cast down."

16. Be alert

Avoid losing yourself in your own worship - you will isolate those you are trying to lead. Keep your eyes open most of the time and be aware of what is happening. Be alert, don't let your mind wander.

17. Be enthusiastic

There are two things which are highly contagious - enthusiasm and the lack of it! Be enthusiastic! Make sure your face has a smile on it and that you show you are entering in during the worship service. Be an expressive example of praise and worship to the people.

18. Thanksgiving and Praise

Often it can be helpful to establish thanksgiving and praise attitudes before moving on into other realms of worship. Jonah 2:8-9; Psalm 50:23; Psalm 100:4.

19. Relax

If you're not sure where to go next, the Lord may well be prompting someone else to participate. Relax! - not in apathy but in confidence in the Holy Spirit to guide, lead and anoint. We are only the vessel, the instrument in His hand - let's have the right perspective on our ministry.

20. Silence

Don't be afraid of silence - there may be waves of worship.

21. Judge of time

Be a good judge of time - know when to stop

22. Signals

Use hand signals to indicate to your musicians what you want them to do. Keep the signals discreet so that they are not a distraction to the congregation, but at the same time make sure they are clear enough to the musicians so as to avoid confusion.

Some important instructions to have signals for:-

  • Repeat or go through the song again.
  • Finish - this is the last time we are going to sing this song.
  • Bridge-point - go back to the `halfway point' in the song.
  • Last line - repeat the last line again.
  • Modulate - go up to another key, usually 1 or 2 semitones higher.
  • Quiet - play the song through in a quieter mood than before.
  • Loud - play the song through more loudly than before.
  • Faster or slower - give the timing with the beat of your hand for the tempo you want the song to go to.
  • Instruments - just the instruments to play the song through.
  • No instruments - just to have unaccompanied singing this time.
  • Next song - indicate the number of the song you want to go to.
  • Go into spontaneous worship.

23. Linking Songs Together

Use a musical bridge to join songs together

24. Continuous Flow

Try to have uninterrupted worship times. Put notices before or well after your worship time, not in the middle of it. Also establish an atmosphere of praise and worship and maintain it by linking songs or brackets of songs together. Always try to have a continuos flow of music. Even when speaking, you can have a musical background. Adding these ingredients to your worship time enhances it, keeps it flowing and doesn't allow the atmosphere to dissipate.

25. Enhancing Songs

What can worship leaders do?

What can singers do?

Repeats, no music, modulation, layering, bridging, vocal fills, talking direction, singing direction, tempo changes, musical intervals, solos, congregational participation, prayer, thanksgiving, response, spontaneous songs, musical parts, rounds.