Why You Shouldn't Be Leading Worship: Aaron Slaten

This week, Aaron Slaten discusses how our hearts as worship leaders might be rendering the work we do ineffective before it even begins: 

I want to throw this out there. Can the competitive heart of a worship leader show a lack of trust and confidence in the God who gave you gifts to lead people? I believe some worship leaders should not be leading people in musical worship. This isn’t suggesting that worship leaders should be without sin, because that can only be asked of Jesus, who completely and utterly delivers. What I am saying is that some guys and gals can sing some and then someone asked them to lead songs at church, which resulted in that person getting better at singing and playing. It seems intuitive that those people would be given more and more opportunities to lead worship, especially when they make up a significant portion of the talent within their congregation, but does the ability to sing and play necessarily permit those with the talent to lead people in musical worship? I believe the heart of a worship leader can and does outweigh their talent when they attempt to pastor people through song.

Here are four reasons you shouldn’t lead musical worship. (Note: I am only speaking about the main worship leader. We certainly would prefer that the whole band would be congruent in these areas, but the hard truth is that the main worship leader will have the most responsibility, and rightly feel the most scrutiny.)

1. You are not worshipping the God you’re singing about.

2. You care more about how your music sounds than you do about pastoring people with music.

3. You do not prepare

4. When you walk off the stage you are a different person.

These four root issues are indicative of a deep-rooted need to find identity somewhere other than in who God is. 

When you do not worship the God you are singing about, it is impossible to lead people into a genuine time of worship.  I am not saying perfection is required or even desired. I am saying that if YOU do not feel like Jesus is YOUR great rescuer then your attempts to play the part of a worshipper will ultimately fall short. 

When you care more about the music than pastoring people, your standard is someone on a recording or at a conference. The majority of worship leaders you know work really hard. We all know who Chris Tomlin is, but writing a few good songs would never result in the kind of success he’s been privileged to experience if it isn’t coupled with an equal amount of hard work. We should all strive to work hard and to be excellent in the creation of the art of music, but when you start focusing your efforts around sounding like someone else, or “as good” as someone else, you no longer point people to the hero of your songs, because your music becomes more about whether or not your skills are sufficient and less about the hope and peace we find in Jesus’ eternal sufficiency as savior, priest, and king.  

When you do not prepare, you can be perceived as lazy and artificial. Again, we tend compare ourselves to people that hustle, because hustle really is admirable. However, when we become frustrated with the effort involved in working hard, we can fall into the trap of venting our legitimate frustration by illegitimately hating on hard workers, when those same frustrations should remind us that our work is valuable. You prepare to honor God, honor the music you are playing and to honor the people you are leading. Our “spontaneity” is often no more than laziness, and our criticism of successful worship musicians is often a ill-formed way to express how our pride can sometimes be hurt when we realize how many people are out there that are better than we are at our job.

When you walk off the stage, and you are a different person, it is a clear indicator that you are a performer and not a lead worshiper. Now, I get that introverts can exist on a stage differently than they are in groups or interpersonally, which is completely understandable. What I am referring to is the person who looks like a “super Christian” on stage and acts like a jerk off stage. A great example is our relationship with sound techs. Often, musicians tend to be overly expectant and critical of sound guys, because we falsely attribute the times when we don’t sound the way we want to a deficiency on their part and not our own. Most sound guys have experienced some pretty abusive relationships with musicians, so it’s important for us to be polite, patient, and incredibly grateful, thankful, and understanding. Otherwise, we’re simply hypocrites, singing about grace, mercy, and love and practicing impatience, harshness, and pride.

Our hearts become competitive when the “win” in our leading becomes something other than making Jesus un-ignorable. We strive to be creative, and we want to push ourselves, but the real win is singing songs that help us see more of Jesus. The only thing that will allow you to celebrate with other leaders is when you are not the hero of the story. It is impossible to celebrate Jesus as the hero of all of our stories when in your heart, the only hero is yourself.