The importance of being a worship leader

Being a worship leader

Do you sometimes feel insignificant or inadequate as a worship leader? Worship has the potential to bring people before God, and worship leaders, like doorkeepers, assist by standing at the door and welcoming people into God’s presence.

I remember being on the worship team at a retreat and feeling depressed because I didn’t possess the same gifts as the others. When I shared my insecurity, one of my friends quoted Psalm 84:10: “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.”

It made me feel worse.

Was he saying I was as insignificant as I felt? The equivalent of a doorkeeper? Undoubtedly many fine people work as doorkeepers, but the position is not, nor has it ever been, one of great prestige and influence.

Many years later, while leading worship at a conference, I received a note from one of the participants. She wrote that as she was trying to think of a way to describe my worship leading, “hospitable” is what came to mind. At first, she said, it seemed like a strange word to use for a worship leader, but then she realized that if worship is entering the throne room of God, then “hospitable” made perfect sense. We on the worship team were “standing at the doorway,” inviting others in. She went on to write, “All the things you do that make it easier for us to participate fully — from lining out words to leading us in clapping, teaching us how to pronounce non-English words, indicating when we’re repeating a chorus — all these things help us to find our way in. Wow, what a calling: welcoming worshipers into the throne room of God!”

Though she never used the word from Psalm 84, I couldn’t miss the allusion: I was a doorkeeper. God was encouraging me to reconsider my former attitude.

Opening doors

Being a doorkeeper (i.e., a worship leader) is a significant position, and here’s why: worship opens people to God. It emboldens us to believe the truth that God really is as good as, and loves us as much as, we’d hoped. In this place of belief, we are able to put our trust back in God. We see reality (about ourselves, others and the world) through God’s eyes, and we more eagerly desire to be aligned with God’s heart, will and purposes.

Of course this doesn’t happen fully for every person each time we gather to worship God, and to what degree it happens for someone is not dependent on us. However, worship has the potential to bring people before God, and worship leaders assist by standing at the door and welcoming them in. On the flip side, if worship leaders don’t take their positions seriously, they can block the doorway, making it more difficult for worshipers to enter God’s presence.

Whether we help or hinder is not primarily a matter of technique. Yes, we need to learn all we can about effective worship leading and find the right styles for us and our groups. As Richard Foster has said, however, “You’re communicating a spirit and heart in worship. If the heart is not warm toward God, if it’s a cold heart, that’s what you’re going to communicate no matter what it is you’re singing and or how well you play, you’re going to communicate a cold heart.”1

Because what we do is so important, it’s crucial that we nurture our own spiritual lives. As my first InterVarsity staff worker said to me, “The only thing you have to offer others is the growth you’re experiencing in your own relationship with God.”

The importance of remembering

One writer expressed the importance of what worship leaders do by comparing us to people who work with Alzheimer’s patients. In nursing care facilities, these helpers are called “Memory Loss Assistants,” and their role is to remind patients of the names of important people in their lives and to rehearse over and over with them significant events from their pasts in order to keep them grounded and hopeful.

This is what we’re called to do as well: “We remind the people of God who they are, whose they are, and what great things have happened in their wilderness wanderings of the past, so that they might have confidence and hope in a promised land future.”2 Where the analogy breaks down is that worship leaders are Alzheimer’s patients, too. We need the reminders just as much, and we get them, every time we lead worship. If one of the purposes of worship is to open people to God, then as the leaders, we must be the first to open up.

Though no one is entirely sure what we’ll be doing in heaven, one thing is certain: we’ll be worshiping God. What more significant role could there be, then, than helping people learn how to worship God now?

—Sundee Frazier

1Interview with Richard Foster, Worship Leader, Nov/Dec 1998, p. 34.
2From “Life as Liturgy” by Timothy L. Brown, Perspectives, Reformed Church Press, Dec. 1999, p. 3.