I am a person with virtually no musical training, yet I am a worship leader in a local congregation. I am able to effectively lead people in worship, but sometimes it is difficult for me to make up for my lack of knowledge in music. Others on our worship team have more talent and training than I, but have been unable to lead effectively. Any advice?
Musical training is not the foremost criteria for being a worship leader. It is only one of several major considerations. Other serious factors would include clarifying your calling, being recognized and appointed by your local church leadership to the position of worship leader, having organizational and planning skills and even interpersonal relational skills. Proficiency with your voice and instrument are also important. Let me expand on each of these.
There is a tremendous difference between having musical abilities or talents and having been “called” by God. There is no doubt that the Lord can use natural and learned skills. These are important and should be developed. But the real issue is that God calls certain people to tasks even before their natural abilities are equal to the task. Jeremiah was a youth when God called him to be a prophet. Moses was tending sheep when the Lord instructed him to rescue Israel. Peter was an unlearned fisherman that God used to bring thousands to the saving knowledge of Jesus. These are just a few examples of this truth.
Discerning whether you are called can include many factors. The desire in your heart and confirmation from those close to you as well as the local church leadership, can all be important criteria for determining if you are indeed called to a particular area of service.
Keep in mind that even though something may not be your life-long calling, sometimes God may have you serve in a particular capacity for a season. The reasons for this can be varied. Perhaps you may help the church through a transitional period. Maybe it will help you determine (or prepare you for) the real calling on your life. Whatever the reason, always maintain a servant attitude.
Recognition and Appointment
You should also realize that it is within your church leadership’s scriptural authority to recognize and appoint the people deemed spiritually qualified for leadership roles. Without this recognition from a local church you may declare yourself to be a worship leader but you have no real authority for leading.
Ultimately, if the church leadership does recognize the gift and calling and sets you in place, you may not be as musically qualified as some of the other musicians and singers, but the leadership is comfortable with your abilities to fulfill this role. You need to attend to this position as a good steward of a godly opportunity, serving to the best of your ability.
Many deficiencies can be compensated for if you excel in this area. Those who excel as musicians or singers but lack leadership skills have a different position within the music team.
Allow those with gifts in your areas of deficiency to help you. For example, a gifted instrumentalist on your team may be able to suggest the best key range and specific chords for a given song. One of your singers may be able to give input regarding the individual parts the singers should be working on. You may be able to utilize these people in your rehearsals to more effectively communicate in their area of expertise. Good leaders are always looking for ways to utilize the skills of their people.
By planning ahead and communicating well, you will be able to overcome your limitations. First seek God and inquire with leadership about the direction and theme of the upcoming meeting/service, then choose songs that seem appropriate for that setting. Then meet with your main instrumentalist to work out key ranges and modulations ahead of time so that the flow is not hindered.
Interpersonal Relational Skills
This area is at least partly included in the leadership skills mentioned above, but it also goes beyond this. Interacting with those in the music ministry on a personal basis, showing care and concern for their lives will go a long way toward encouraging them to follow you as a leader.
In essence what I am really saying here is that you pastor those involved in the music ministry. Please understand that I am not saying that you officially become a pastor in the church nor even that you be given the title “pastor.” The important thing is that you care for the people. Let them know that you are really interested in them as individuals.
This even goes beyond just those involved in the music ministry. When the people in the congregation sense a genuine care and concern from you, they are much more willing to follow your leadership.
I would highly recommend that you begin improving your musical ability and knowledge. You should pursue individualized instruction (vocal and/or instrumental). Find a teacher who is able to instruct you in what you want to know (i.e. someone geared totally to classical music will not be of significant help if you want to learn a more contemporary style of music). Take a praise and worship recording of the musical style you want to learn and ask the instructor if he/she can teach you that style of music. (Please note that I am aware that there are lots of online options for learning, but most people need the discipline of a teacher who is not only asking if you practiced, but also seeing what you’re doing and correcting mistakes along the way. Those are much more difficult to do online.)
Also consider going back to school to learn some of the basics of music theory. This can be done at a local junior college or university. You can usually apply to audit the classes for a small registration fee.
Understanding each of these various aspects of being a worship leader should help you overcome your lack of musical expertise.