Three Ways to Help Your Worship Leader

When Bible-believing Christians consider worship services, they often think of Hebrews 10:25: “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some.” When we gather together, the author of Hebrews writes, it’s for the purpose of “encouraging one another.”

And that encouragement should include your worship leader.

Over the twenty years that I have led worship for a local church, I have received thousands of post-service reactions. Sometimes the reactions have been wonderful — insightful, helpful, and encouraging. Other times, they have been . . . well, worse. People have tried to be encouraging, but for a number of reasons, their efforts have failed. Here are three ways to encourage the worship leader at your church this weekend.

“That song helped me today.”

When people talk about music, the place where the conversation usually begins (and often ends) is about preference. Did you like that song, or not? And, of course, we all have musical styles and songs that we really like. It is common to try to encourage a worship leader by saying, “Hey, I really like that new song!” But when talking about worship, our musical preferences are at least peripheral, if not irrelevant.

“Worship is not about gratifying our personal preferences, but about drawing our hearts to Jesus.”

Consider encouraging your worship leader with words like, “That song was celebratory and it helped me feel the victory that is ours because of the Lord Jesus.” Or instead of saying, “I really liked the violin” (or the pipe organ, or the reverse headstock electric guitar), consider saying, “That quieter instrumental section of that song helped me lament my sin and the brokenness of our world.” That’s following the exhortation “to stir up one another to love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24).

Worship is not about gratifying our personal preferences, but about drawing our hearts to Jesus (John 4:24). That’s what we should be on the lookout for in our services. Nevertheless, we will not always agree on what styles, songs, or sounds will do this best. Which brings me to encouragement number two.

“Can you help me understand?”

Sometimes you want to encourage your worship leader to change something in their worship ministry. But instead of saying, “I didn’t like that song,” say something more constructive to your worship leader. Consider saying, “Parts of that song confused me. Can you help me understand?”

One morning, after a worship service, a lady approached me and asked, “Do you put ketchup on your ice cream?” Confused, I shook my head, no. “Then don’t put drums on my hymns.” I thanked her for her vivid (even visceral!) metaphor, but her comment misses a very important truth.

Besides the fact that our preferences are at least peripheral, we ought not to assume that everyone (or even the majority of people at our church) shares those preferences. Consider how broad and varied the church of Jesus Christ really is: the older hymn that didn’t connect with you blessed a senior saint in your church who is trusting God as she walks through a health scare; that brand new, loud song that jarred with your contemporary disinclinations encouraged that college student who blasted it through her car speakers during the drive to church this morning. As we mature in Christ, the joy of other people in the body becomes our joy. That’s horizontal Christian hedonism.

“As we mature in Christ, the joy of other people in the body becomes our joy.”

Recently, a senior saint encouraged me after a service. We had sung a particularly raucous song that morning and as I saw him approach, I braced for criticism. Instead, he surprised me and said, “This morning was an answer to prayer. My wife and I have prayed for years that the children of this church would love the Lord Jesus and have their own relationship with God. Today, I realized that having their own faith meant having their own songs. These new songs are an answer to our prayers.”

We can encourage our worship leaders by asking them for their thoughts when elements in our services are confusing. When things don’t go well, it can be very tempting for a worship leader to become discouraged. We need to be strengthened, like Jonathan strengthened David (1 Samuel 23:16).

When someone comes to a worship leader with a thoughtful question, it is very encouraging. It shows that they consider worship leaders as thoughtful people who can answer questions and provide clarity. It also demonstrates and invites trust in the giving and receiving of feedback.

“Your example in worship helped me.”

People mean well when they tell a worship leader, “You really got into that song!” But a more thoughtful encourager might say, “You really led us by example in celebrating the riches that are ours in Christ.” Or, instead of saying, “I noticed you raised your hands a lot more than usual,” consider saying, “You lifted my attention to the Lord with your songs, your prayers, and even your gestures. Thank you!”

“The greatest joy of a worship leader is when people see more of Christ.”

In general, worship leaders work hard to forget about themselves, calling out to God to lift their eyes off themselves. They want God to make them more aware of his presence and activity. The goal of worship leaders is to be focused on the Lord and to allow their countenance and gestures to react naturally to that focus. And so comments (even comments meant to encourage) that draw their focus back on themselves are usually unhelpful.

Every leader in Christ’s church should desire to be an example to the flock (1 Peter 5:3), and it is encouraging to worship leaders (especially young worship leaders, see 1 Timothy 4:12) to know that their example has stirred up your faith.

The Worship Leader’s Greatest Joy

In closing, let me paraphrase a note I received from a longtime member of a church where I served. Encouragements like this have stirred me up many times in ministry.

Just a quick thank you for the incalculable gift of corporate worship. Recently, my life has been filled with trials, and my heart is often heavy. But when I come to worship the greatness of all that God is for us in Christ along with the saints at church, my burdens are lifted in an unusual way, and my hope for breakthroughs grows, and my joy rises. So thank you from one of your needy church attenders who finds great help worshiping once a week with you.

The greatest joy of a worship leader is when people see more of Christ, when people’s burdens are lifted by Christ, when their hope and joy in Christ begins to rise. The best way to encourage your worship leaders is to show them Christ, and often, this can be done by showing them how Christ is working through their ministry. When this happens, the congregation is fed, the pastor is encouraged, and Christ is glorified.

(@mwesterholm) serves at Bethlehem Baptist Church as a pastor for worship and music. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife and three sons.