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Monday, July 26, 2010

Ten Challenges Facing Worship Leader Training

Top Ten lists are popular, perhaps because of curiosity or conciseness, but here’s one more that centers around the challenges facing the training of worship leaders. Comments and suggestions are  welcome. Despite the fact they are listed in a specific order, I’m not trying to say which is the greatest or least; it is simply a listing.

1. Need to embrace multi-generational worship –  The biblical model of worship is one of unity in diversity, not segregation based on likes and dislikes. The Body of Christ consists of many members, all with a God-called function. The foundation of the local body of believers must be deeper than collective personal tastes, it must be rooted in the common purpose of carrying out the mission of our Lord. Those involved in worship and worship training must be at the forefront of bringing the Body together, not pushing to fragment it.

2. “It’s all about me” Mentality – The Body of Christ finds itself buried in a self-absorbed culture. Virtually everything around us is designed for “our convenience” or to “have it our way.” What might have been a goal for a previous generation has become a right that they are entitled to have and demand. This sense of entitlement is seen in the challenge of multi-generational worship. Training worship leaders must address attitudes that would demand of worship what they would demand of a hamburger. The truth is, “it’s not all about me, it’s all about God.”

3. Need that overwhelms supply –
Simply put, there appears to be more churches looking for leaders in worship than the number of leaders available. The need seems great enough that churches will look for almost anyone who can do it, whether or not they have formal training. This could be rooted in many causes besides just great need. For example, there still exists a perception that formal training “ruins” someone for the local church. Some church leadership may fear that formal training makes the candidate out of touch with the average member. Such attitudes were based from those who attempted to convert the musical mission of the congregation to a music appreciation class, rather than use the training to enhance biblical worship. The “need that overwhelms supply” could also be a result of churches not willing to search for a qualified candidate and a willingness to settle for whoever comes along. Both of these issues must be addressed in formal training. Worship is worth the effort to have someone leading who truly understands, practices and helps train others in biblical worship. The central focus of training will involve studies outside the direct use in the local church, however those studies should never become the end in themselves, but the means to biblical purposes.

4. Lack of understanding of what biblical worship is – If I were to choose one among the rest as the one I would stress to be a focus in the local church as well as those leading, this would be it. Confusion reigns as to what worship is and what the Bible teaches. Classes for new converts need to include this in the material. Many times I hear students parrot back to me that they understand that “worship is not the music,” however  when it comes to applying or analyzing actual practice, the understanding is not really demonstrated.  Leadership cannot take others where they have not been, nor can they lead and train others without the clarity of the objective. As worship leaders are trained, information must become life practice; biblical worship must become more than the answers on an exam, but the essential practice of the leader.

5. Entertainment/performance  mentality – If there is a clear understanding of what worship is and who the central focus is, clarifying the difference between worship and entertainment is simplified.  Entertainment or performance is geared toward audience approval, many times preplanned with those things that manipulate the listeners for effect.  In worship, the focus is not on the “performer” or the congregation, but on God and God alone. The message should be in a format that is understandable, [not repeating the error of  the church in medieval times which had services in Latin, even though the congregation could not understanding what was going on],  but God must remain the central focus. Worship leadership must lean on the work and moving of the Holy Spirit and not on attempts to manipulate through other means.  Part of the formal training of worship leadership is training in the performance arts, since there is a need to learn how to become an effective communicator of the message through the medium given. However, if those involved shift their understanding that their true audience is God, those things “performed” become sacrifices of praise rendered to the only One who is worthy to receive them.

6. Enrollment driven curricula – Obviously schools are dependent on student enrollment for survival, so there exists a constant pressure to maintain, and even increase enrollment. Schools that only depend on reputations of past accomplishments or become careless about recruitment, may find themselves in difficult circumstances over a period of time. One way to attract new students is making available a curricula that appeals to the individual likes of prospective students. Flexibility in classes and class delivery systems is no longer a luxury, but necessity in a tight economy and a “have it your way” culture.  As important as these things are, there are some potential dangers that exist in following these ideas without restrictions. Allowing students to only take the courses they believe they need or might need might increase enrollment, but amounts to the patient taking the medicine he or she thinks will help, without consulting those who are trained to prescribe it.  How many people would choose to go to a medical doctor who took only the classes he or she wanted to take? There must be a standard developed by those who know the needs and the field.  In the world of education, accrediting agencies aid some in this way, but the school has the final say whether or not they will choose to submit to accepted standards.  There are few substitutes for hard work and discipline, and many seeking training in worship leadership seek the easiest and quickest way. Perhaps that is one reason that worship training conferences have become big business. Conferences that serve for inspiration have become the bestowers of certificates that imply “the training you need for leading worship” all in just three days, something similar. How much more effective it would be for these conferences to be the catalysts to promote further preparation, rather than pretend to be its culmination? Another danger in pushing the enrollment envelope is reflected in the recent fiasco of the Toyota car company: the drive to produce more and more without maintaining the quality and quality checks of the end product. All the boasting of being the number one car maker was converted into the humiliating spectacle apologizing for lowered standards just to keep the numbers up.
7. “If you build it, they will come” mentality – The growth of the mega-churches has spawned the blind copying of methods and strategies, many times without proper analysis whether or not such methods or strategies were appropriate or not. For every church that successfully changed and grew, there seem to be more stories of how a rush to adopt something new was the cause of division and broken ministry. What these groups seemed to be saying was, “if only we just _____, then they will come.” While there are significant factors that reflect a healthy church, there are no “quick fixes” that bypass the individual members becoming spiritual healthy believers who are actively involved in helping others become that way. Training must include how to become healthy believers that can mentor others.
8. Understanding the limits of technology– Our dependence on technology is a given. What only seemed to be a dream only a few years ago, now is commonplace. Our faith and expectation seem to follow technological trends, sometimes more than our faith in our Creator. While our training must include these technologies, it must never bypass how to survive without it. The student needs to be able to function “unplugged,” as well as online.

9. Fundamental change in the understanding of the nature of the church – House churches and cell groups are increasingly becoming part of who and what churches are, apart from the more traditional building, pews, sound equipment, etc. What adjustments and tools are needed to train leadership for a the group that may only fit in someone’s living room? Worship leader training must include how to train other leaders for situations other than just praise team or choral formats. No one knows what will happen in the future, so the best preparation must include a well-rounded balance so that the leader has the tool belt full and be as prepared as possible.

10. The desire to “lead worship” is greater than the desire “to worship” – Perhaps the second greatest danger is deceptively silent, and involves our desire to “lead worship” to slowly replace our desire “to worship.” I am not saying that those who lead worship are not worshiping; I’m saying that there is a danger when the joy of leading and the thrill of the congregational response becomes greater than our personal seeking of the Lord in private worship.  As we train worship leaders, or perhaps a better term, “lead worshipers”, the development of healthy personal spiritual disciplines is a must.


  1. Fantastic points!!

  2. Thanks! It just some things I believe we need to consider.

  3. #10 - interesting point and well said! Gonna chew on that one a while.

  4. Believe it or not, some people worship "worship," rather than the God and center of it all. Satan is so crafty, since it's 'almost' right.