I have been leading worship at church since high school. Being a PK (Pastor's Kid for you none PK's) I saw the good, bad, and the ugly of working in ministry right here in New England.
We had a lovely woman who led worship at our church growing up and she played the organ and belted out the hymns of old with everything she had. It wasn't perfect but it was sincere. She meant every word and for years that is who God used to lead the church body in worship in that little church in Pownal, Vermont.
Here are a few insights into leading worship that I try to remember every time I take the stage.
COME PREPARED | SPIRITUALLY, MENTALLY, ETC
I have done it and it's awful when it happens; you get to church and you aren't prepared. You have had a challenging week and you haven't been taking time to mediate on Jesus and read the Bible. Or you have just been everywhere except practicing the new song so you forget a melody or two... I shamefully admit that has happened to me more than once in the last 12 years. There is a state of panic that ensues...so first and foremost make sure you practice and know the songs and come prepared.
I attended a conference a few years ago and Paul Baloche was leading a workshop. His insight has helped shape my last five years of how I prepare my heart to worship and lead the church in worship. He said he would spend time every week singing through the Psalms. He would just play through some chords (perhaps a song he was leading that Sunday) and he would sing through Psalms in the Bible. The practice for him - made more prepared both spiritually and mentally.
Don't let the details of Sunday morning overshadow the meaning and most important part of worship. Every time that I feel myself getting distracted by the details of Sunday I go back to the song "The Heart of Worship". It reads, "When the music fades and all is stripped away and I simply come,"... WOW! That's it...just come before Jesus and worship Him. If we are taking time to worship with God throughout the week and we come practiced and prepared we will be of better use and actually able to effectively lead the church in worship.
CONNECT THE MUSIC WITH THE MESSAGE
As a touring worship leader there are many instances where I have not been able to connect with the pastor on what he is preaching on prior to arranging the worship set. Many times it works out great and God really brings it all together where the service flows perfectly with the message. But if you are a worship leader in a church - no matter what size - you need to be meeting up whether it's a call, Skype, face-to-face, email, etc. every week to make sure you are picking songs that flow with the message. This is so important...vital...to the weekly impact of your church to those who need to hear the Gospel or be encouraged. I put myself in the shoes of the visitor who comes for the first time to church and how they will receive the whole thing as one package. There are enough worship songs written and available resources like Worship Together that you can match a message on God's grace with songs about God's grace. Now this doesn't mean that you pick "Your Grace Is Enough", "This Is Amazing Grace" and so on just because those songs have the word "grace" in it. It means that you and I as worship leaders need to fight the idea that we just lead the music and the pastor does all the preaching. We are as big a part of the church and what God is doing in the body as the pastor. We are the vessels used by God to prepare the hearts of His church to hear the message through song. The Pastor is the vessel used by God to deliver the Gospel to His church, His people. Both are pointing the church to the Kingdom and both carry the same weight of utmost importance in my eyes. So connect with the pastor and connect the worship with the message and don't be afraid to be a worship pastor and speak into the message as you lead each and every time.
IT'S NOT ABOUT YOU (JUST JESUS)
This comes back to preparing our hearts to lead. So many times I have seen worship leaders or even been the worship leader who wants to play a song that is so cool or popular or fun and you know what? That's not our job. Our job is to prepare the church to enter into a place of reverence and worship with Jesus. It's all about Jesus. Jesus Always. Jesus. Arrange worship sets for Jesus, pointing to Jesus and the Kingdom. I just want to say it one more time...Jesus.
PROMPT THE CHURCH & BE INTENTIONAL
This is a fairly simple idea...we must prompt the church to worship and sing. "Raise your hands, voices..." If your church loves the worship band but just stands there seemingly unengaged then we as worship leaders need to put our pastoral hats on and invite them to sing louder and engage in the worship. To world a "culture of worship" we have to not only model it but we have to invite and prompt the body to do it. Now don't get me wrong...this doesn't mean you are counting hands in the air as a successful worship set. But setting the stage for people to connect with God and pray to God and receive from God is what worship is doing. Creating an authentic time of worship is something we can only do if we are preparing our hearts and it goes back to the first section...come prepared spiritually. Don't be bashful and invite your church family to richly express their affection for Jesus. Be intentional with the scripture you say to set up a song, or the story you share to draw people in and you will see a change in your church worship.