Advice For Church Music Leaders

I recently had the honor of answering a few questions for a music student doing a class project. I guess it was one of those “a-day-in-the-life” kinds of projects on so-called “worship leaders.” I don’t personally appreciate the implications associated with calling the music leader a worship leader, unless that’s what you want to call all of the elders in your church; reducing worship to simply music and singing is tantamount to neutering a word which represents the primary concept for which humanity was created. Maybe someday I’ll write about this and other words that the church has high-jacked and derailed in the last century… but I do digress!

I happily obliged to answer my friend’s questions, nonetheless. (To be honest, I was quite flattered to have been asked.) one of the questions was:

What would your advice be for a new worship pastor/leader?

I suppose I’ve read enough books and failed enough times to have some insight in this area; so I thought about it and gave him the following responses. I hope that my experiences can be applied by a few more souls working out similar callings as I’m offering my thoughts in this format. If you have more advice to give, please say so in the comments–we’re all in this together!

Here was my response:

  • Read, memorize, meditate on, and study your Bible… a lot.
  • Know the Psalms – they’re the originals, and if the content of our music doesn’t look like the Psalms, we’ve made a desperate departure from orthodoxy in our profession.
  • Practice.
  • Practice.
  • Practice.  (If we can’t play an instrument, sing, lead a band, lead the congregation, and keep a constant gaze on the majesty of Christ, then we have no business doing any of the first 4 things in that list. The only way to become more skilled at our craft is to practice, and the only way to skillfully and properly lead our congregation in singing praises to God together is to be so musically equipped that we can play and sing almost automatically while we simultaneously praise God inwardly and petition Him for grace on behalf of our congregation.)
  • Follow Matt Papa on Twitter.
  • Choose songs based, primarily, on these criteria:
    • Content – the people of God want to sing songs that say something true about Him.  If our songs are shallow, our people will be, too.
    • Singability – choose arrangements that are simple in meter and range so that the vast majority of the congregation will be able to sing along with you.  If they can’t sing the songs with you, you’re not leading, you’re preforming.
  • Be a Christian first, a Husband second, a Father third, a Pastor fourth, and an Artist fifth.
    • On the bit about being an artist, if your arrangements and compositions are crap, what does that say about how you value the God the art is supposedly about, to, or for?  Seriously, if you’re going to do something, do it well, or don’t do it at all! (Col. 3:23, 1 Cor. 10:31) God takes no pleasure in our half-hearted attempts.  A good artist marvels at his reality and invites others to join him; so don’t ever be distracting in your artistic expressions–don’t let your drummer or lead guitarist be distracting, either–but do, by all means, reject the status quo in order to call people to a higher experience of the reality of the truth of God.
    • Get outside of common ways of doing songs, and come up with artistic arrangements that your congregation will connect with.  Don’t ever break content or singability to do this.
  • Don’t just listen to music labeled as “Christian.” Most of it could be easily described in ways that would get me in trouble–suffice it to say that most of it is terrible, just plain bad.  Besides that, there’s no such thing as “Christian music.”  Anytime someone uses the word “Christian” to describe something other than a person, they’re just trying to sell you something.  People can be “Christians” because Christ was a person.  T-shirts, peppermints, records, and movies can’t be “Christian,” because they don’t have eternal souls, and they can’t be sanctified–made “like Christ.” Christ isn’t going to marry a bunch of bad art on the Last Day; He’s going to marry the Church! He didn’t come to save language or tradition or an over-marketed brand of watered-down-gospel & cheese-ridden music; He came to save sinners!  There’s a bunch of great art out there that will never get played on any radio station, much less one that’s “safe for the whole family.”  Take your cues as to what good, quality music is like from people who are better at music than you, rather than from what people who are worse at music than you are willing to buy.
  • Pay attention!  The Holy Spirit is at work all around us, in us, and even through us!  Learning to recognize His activity and respond/join in is what will ultimately make your ministry the most fulfilling and God-honoring; it’s what will make you the most satisfied minister you’ll ever know.

Here are a few more I thought you might enjoy.

23. What books have you read that might be good for worship leaders?

“George Müller of Bristol” by AT Pierson, “Worship Matters” by Bob Kauflin, “Valley of Vision” by Arthur G Bennet, “Men of Whom the World Was Not Worthy” by John Piper, “The Confessions” by Augustine of Hippo, and “Life In The Spirit” by AW Tozer

27. How would you describe a normal set for worship?

Ideally: God-honoring, Christ-exalting, Spirit-empowered, gospel-centered, deep, true, moving, exciting, folk-y, and at the top of everyone’s lungs!

Thanks for tuning in!


Since posting, I’ve already received some excellent feedback!  Check out these videos of some guys I greatly respect talking about this subject.


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