I’m tired, sweating, and elated. I’ve just stepped back from the microphone with my guitar, and I can hear shouts of praise through my in-ear monitors.
Though there are lights shining in my eyes, I can make out the silhouette of people jumping, lifting their hands, and praising God.
The pastor walks to the platform where I’m standing and says, “Can’t you feel God’s presence?” I can. And yet …
Servant Leadership from the Church Stage
Even in a beautiful moment like this, there’s a voice in the back of my mind that says, “Shouldn’t there be more? A bigger crowd? Better playing and singing? And, like, a merch table?”
I know. Yuck!
But I came by these anti-servant leader thoughts honestly. Plumbers, accountants, and carpenters have realistic expectations for themselves when they embark on their career.
They’ve seen dozens of others practicing their craft. It’s easy to imagine what their lives will be like.
But musicians—and those surrounding them—only know success as a musician from what they see on TV and in the movies.
Someone who is a musician and not rich and famous is just, well, sad.
Even when you’re making music for Jesus.
As someone who spent most of my life leading worship and working for a large ministry, I wondered why I was so rarely happy.
I had hoped that leading worship on one stage would lead to the next, and to the next, not because I was evil, but because that’s how I thought it was supposed to go.
I had to get happy, and I didn’t know how.
Slowly and painfully, I learned how to be both a church worship leader and a servant leader.
When I finally did, my life and work started to improve.
Here are five mindset changes that enabled me to become a happy, healthy worship leader.
1. Focus on individuals, not on crowds.
When I first started working in ministry, I thought that bigger was always better.
I saw stadiums filled with people receiving Christ. I watched, in awe, as an evangelist who spent his life in Africa inspired crowds of hundreds of thousands to cheer for Jesus.
I even traveled to Australia to be a part of a major worship conference and felt inspired by the roar of sound issuing from thousands of worshipers in a single place.
The idea of that kind of ministry is incredibly seductive to a young worship leader.
But when I would think about the most influential spiritual leaders in my life, their greatest ministry to me didn’t occur when I was merely a face in a crowd.
The most important “ministers” in my life have always been those closest to me: my wife, my parents, and my closest friends. People who were there for me when I was sick, tired, or broken-hearted.
As I realized this, I changed the focus of my ministry. Instead of focusing on “the congregation” or “the people” is a whole, I developed relationships with folks in our congregation. I made myself available to church volunteers who needed help or encouragement.
I even got to lead worship for a friend in prison and another friend at his hospital bed.
I felt more fulfilled, and it seemed my ministry was more effective.
Ministry is accomplished one person at a time. Be that sort of minister.
2. Remember where your true home is.
My jaw dropped when I heard it.
A young mom in the church, encouraged to talk to our congregation about giving, said, “Your home isn’t your true home. The church is your true home.”
My heart broke for her, and it broke for myself. I spent years believing the ministry I did for “the church” was a bigger deal than the ministry of being a husband and father.
I let my home fall into disrepair and neglected my family. I consoled myself by saying that I was busy doing God’s work.
I wish I would have woken up sooner.
If ministry is best accomplished one person at a time, start your ministry at home.
I don’t think my family would ever let me lead them in worship or preach to them, but it’s incredible how you can love your family by taking care of your home, making meals, hanging out with your kids, and being there for your spouse.
3. Do the work of a craftsperson, not a rock star.
Before I was a church music director, I had spent years as a professional musician, gigging wherever I could.
I had also gone to music school and spent as many hours as possible practicing, performing, and composing.
As far as I knew, becoming a more accomplished musician meant more practicing, performing, and composing.
That would lead to bigger crowds, more time spent in “the studio,” and of course, traveling around the world and becoming culturally relevant.
Boy was I wrong!
The work of a professional musician—especially that of a worship leader—involves the little things that “boring” people do.
I spent a lot more time in Microsoft Word and Excel than I did in ProTools. I learned how to use databases and manage volunteers.
When I let go of the idea that being an effective worship leader meant being a bigger rock star, I fell into a rhythm of effective leadership.
This was no longer about me, but about building and growing a team of musicians who could—week in and week out—create an excellent worship moment for their congregation.
It’s hard work, but it can be done with very little drama, and that’s a good thing.
Don’t get caught in the rock star trap. Do the job with the humility and rhythm of a craftsperson.
4. Create a happy team environment.
For a long time, my greatest desire was to accomplish something great as a worship leader and musician.
Often, I felt the members of the worship band were working against what I was doing.
They wouldn’t learn their parts or take my advice. The drummer would rush, guitarists would forget to tune, and singers would forget the words.
And so, I raged. I reminded the team of how vital worship was. When we’d pray together, I would whip myself and everyone else into a frenzy, monologuing on the importance of church services.
Over time though, band morale was getting lower, and I was becoming less effective.
At some point, I decided on two things. First, that music is fun to play (duh!), and really not that important in the scheme of things. My favorite phrase, modified from Elizabeth Gilbert, became, “There’s no such thing as a music emergency.”
Second, I decided that since I really liked the people I worked with, I might as well enjoy their company.
During prayer times, we started goofing off and having side conversations. On stage, I complimented the players with smiles and a nod of my head. They took the cue and did the same.
I had thought this sort of goofing off would destroy “the anointing,” a precious commodity that I believed was always in short supply.
But as soon as we started becoming less serious about what we did, we started playing and singing better.
The band got happier and started enjoying my company more.
And the kicker is this: We got more reports from our pastor about how “anointed” worship was. It was a total turnaround for us.
5. Remember who you’re serving.
I know. It’s Jesus. But take a second to think about who the Christ is and all He represents.
Jesus is the head, but Christ has a body—the church! Think about all of those people in your church, including all the people you do and do not like, and remember: This is how Christ is deciding to reveal Himself on earth. Through His people.
With that in mind, look with compassion on the congregation you serve.
Think about the stories, wisdom, and depth present there. You’re not a minister to a crowd of people, merely bringing your gift to them, whipping them into a state of worship.
Quite the opposite. You lead the singing. But if you let them, the congregation will lead you in worship. As members of His body, they will minister to you.
As musicians, you and I get to use the tools of words and music to kneel down and wash their feet.
Tell us your stories! In what ways have you learned to become a servant leader in your congregation?
About the author:
Cory Edwards is a copywriter, content writer, and communications consultant. He spent twenty years working as a worship leader, music director, and technical director. He’s also worked as a producer, artist, session musician, and songwriter with over forty cuts across several genres. You can learn more about Cory at coryedwardswriter.com.