The title “worship leader” can mean something different in each church context. When we hear the term we thing song selector, lead singer, band administrator, musical arranger, and the list goes on. And those terms most likely apply to many worship leaders across the board. Though a word that doesn’t necessarily come to mind is shepherd. At least not as often it does when we think of our lead pastors, executive pastors, youth pastors, and associate pastors. Whether the worship leader is a part of the pastoral staff or not, having shepherding qualities is essential to worship leading. Three qualities of a shepherd are: caring, leading, and feeding. Let’s take a look at those three qualities through the lens of congregational worship.
A good shepherd cares for the flock. As worship leaders we need to understand the general needs of our congregation. We need to understand their joys, and their hurts. And though we can’t always speak to all of them through the words we both say and sing from the platform we can try to minister to as many of them as we can. Theodore Roosevelt said, “nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” We can be well read in theology (which is always good). We can be well versed in music theory (which is also good). We could be creative geniuses (which I am not). But if our people don’t know that we care for them then we’re doing nothing more than putting on a theologically sound show. As we meet and mingle with the people in our churches we will become increasingly aware of their needs, and that knowledge will impact what songs we sing, when we sing them, how we introduce them, etc. And that’s the beauty of keep the gospel at the center of our sets. Because the gospel speaks to most our pain and sorrow and the gospel reaffirms and fuels joy.
Then there’s caring for the band too. I’m at a smaller church with bandmates who are on often. There was a time when almost everyone was on every week. Showing the band you care for them can be as simple as giving someone a week off even if it may hurt the vision for your set. A good shepherd puts the needs of the sheep first.
A shepherd leads the sheep where they need to go. A shepherd establishes the direction for where we’re going, and guides the flock along the way to get there. Each week (or whatever your rotation may be) you’re leading and guiding your fellow bandmates and congregation from point A to point B. Point A being the circumstances of life and point B being the beholding of God’s goodness and glory, and remembering the hope of the gospel. When we create our set lists each week we should be thinking through, how do I lead the people of my congregation to the wellspring of life they need? How will I show both our need for the gospel, and glory of God in the gospel through the songs we’re singing. People are showing up thirsty, we need to lead them to the water. Formulating a set is more than just picking out our favorite tunes, we’re creating a complete trip itinerary. We have our starting point, and our ending point and all the important landmarks in between and we’re leading the way. There may be some detours, but hopefully we’ll have gotten everyone from point A to point B.
When we lead our sheep we want to take them to a pasture of abundance. A place with rich and flavorful grass that will leave the sheep satisfied. How does that translate to music? We need to ever conscious of the message of each and every song we sing. Just as we hope the teaching pastor takes the time to preach bible filled and gospel saturated messages, our song sets should be the same. The words of our songs should echo the truths of scripture. The words of our songs should teach us about the many various aspects of theology. The words of our songs should call our people to action. When corporate worship comes to its conclusion our hearts and minds should be stuffed with the things of God. Like any diet, it should be well balanced. Maybe our set has a song with some repetition, and song with heavy theological concepts, and some songs that are little of both, you get the idea. We do 6 songs on Sunday, if I do nothing but songs with deep theology and wordy lyrics I’m going to over stuff my people and their heads will hurt. If I do 6 songs worth of fluff and general worshipy sounding words with no content my people will be missing out and will leave hungry. Want to to provide a well balanced meal of songs that will fill us but will also leaves us wanting to return for more.
And here’s the really good news. There is a shepherd far greater than we’ll ever be who cares for us, leads us, and feeds us, his name is Jesus. The more we cling to him and seek him, the better we will be at caring, leading, and feeding our people. And the really, really good news is that even when we may think we have a doozy of set, the Holy Spirt can use our efforts to minister in ways we would never have imagined.