The Role of a Worship Leader

It can be very unnerving when things change in a Parish. A new Rector, and with her she brings a husband. Not only that, but he plays guitar and is apparently a "Worship Leader", whatever that is. People don't like change, and with good reason - churches have traditions that are important, and the potential for change is sometimes frightening. I understand all of that, and thought that it might be a good idea to dispel some of the myths, and provide some background on what a "Worship Leader" is.

To become a Worship Leader, it is necessary to attend a course called "Worship4Today". This lasts for one year and in the whole of the group who attended last year when I was there, there were only two people who played guitar. There were organists, pianists, singers, and plenty of people who had no interest in music but expressed themselves through other means such as painting, signing for the deaf, or poetry. And this is the point, really, that being a Worship Leader is not just about music - the liturgy is present in many forms, and music aids but does not replace anything.

The course provides a firm foundation in the role of worship in scripture, and to be succesful, a lot of hard work is required. However, it is also very enjoyable (so much so that I have returned this year as a mentor to the new groups, and this is just as good as my first year!). As well as the serious element, there is also much to enjoy, and certainly a great deal to learn, even for experienced church musicians such as myself. We learned about the beauty of the Psalms, of the importance of Choral music, how modern music can help to attract different types of churchgoers, how technology can be used as an aid, and how to help clergy in their liturgical roles. There are so many different facets to the Role of a Worship Leader, but I want to summarise my thoughts on what a Worship Leader means, especially in the context of the Parish of Great Snaith. So, I believe that a Worship Leader should:

  1. never actively seek to replace what is already present, but do all in his power to nurture and further develop the abilities that are already available. On a personal level, I abhor wasting the talent and effort of people who support and give to their church, and I feel that it should be recognised and supported. The ability to sing well is wonderful, but the person who sings the most beautifully does not call to God any better than the person who is tone deaf but sings their heart out anyway;
  2. encourage others to take part in the liturgy, and assist in developing their understanding. It is not difficult at all to choose appropriate readings and music for a service, but it can be daunting if people are not told how to;
  3. assist the clergy, where possible, in providing appropriate liturgy and appropriate musical resources for any given service;
  4. provide understanding when disputes arise, and always act fairly and with due recognition of the needs of others. This includes managing conflict without being judgemental, and being open to the views of others whilst still remaining decisive to react quickly to changing requirements;
  5. arrange rehearsals (where required);
  6. maintain accurate and easy-to-use records;
  7. bring together available resources in the most effective way;
  8. maintain awareness of alternative worship methods, and developments within the church;
  9. ensure that liturgical resources are appropriate for current service patterns;
  10. ensure that worship within services is appropriate, transparent, and flexible;
  11. above all - maintain a good sense of humour!

In short, then, the idea is not to come in and replace anything that is already there, but to help the hard-working people who already give up so much of their time to do their job more effectively, and with more support.

Of course, I still have a guitar, and that can be frightening, but rest assured that I will not be using it in a church setting unless requested. Do I personally like modern worship songs more than tradition organ music? Yes, I do, but I also like Eric Clapton more than Mark Knopfler, but it doesn't mean that I don't think that the latter makes fine music. I also love Mozart, but am not so keen on Bach, so consider me someone who recognises that it is necessary to be eclectic, and that praise of God takes many forms, not just musically either.