A week ago I began a discussion on what makes a good song leader and promptly got distracted by the case for “song leaders” rather than worship leaders. (You can read it here: Why I prefer Song leader to Worship Leader.) Whether or not you are happy with my choice of terminology please come with me to consider 12 things that make an effective song leader.
Allow me to preface this list with a few comments. I’ve been working with song leaders and church bands (and serving as a song leader) for about 25 years now. I’ve seen the best and worst examples of what song leading can look like, and I’ve worked through plenty of issues. From what I’ve observed (in myself and others) I know that song leading can lead to all kinds of flattery, self-deceit and bad attitudes about your own importance and Christian life. (These must be confronted as soon as they raise their ugly heads, so be honest with someone you trust.)
To be an effective song leader requires discipline of both the mind and voice. It takes a balancing act of several important elements – especially humility, a desire to serve, vocal ability and confidence. And this does not just apply to when you are on stage! Song leaders must be genuine Christians who see their role as one of service, teaching and encouragement. They must think things through and prepare well. One of the most helpful and guiding pieces of advice I have found for song leaders was given by Charles Spurgeon! Though originally aimed at preachers, he said the challenge was to “draw back the curtains on Christ and get lost in the folds.” What a brilliant reminder that we are not up front for self-glorification, but for Christ!
Bob Kauflin defines the role of the song (‘corporate worship’) leader in a single sentence, like this:
“An effective corporate worship leader, aided and led by the Holy Spirit, skillfully combines biblical truth with music to magnify the worth of God and the redemptive work of Jesus Christ,
thereby motivating the gathered church to join him in proclaiming and cherishing the truth about God and seeking to live all of life for the glory of God.” (http://www.worshipmatters.com/2006/03/01/what-does-a-worship-leader-do-part-16/)
That’s a pretty good definition, so I’m not going to tamper with it!
But for those wanting a longer list of things that make for effective song leading, here are my 12 points regarding the PERSPECTIVE, PRESENCE and PRACTICAL matters that can help song leaders serve more effectively:
1. See yourself as a “servant leader” who is doing a job to help others, to enable the gathered body of Christ to sing together, to praise God and encourage each other. You are serving the congregation with your voice, with clear and well-tuned singing that is easy to follow (just as you might serve with your hands in vacuuming the auditorium).
2. Keep serving in other ways. Don’t think song leading should be the full extent of your service to God. Be willing to take a break from it if it becomes all-consuming, or totally taking you from other gospel opportunities. (Vacuum the auditorium now and then! And speak the gospel to a friend!)
3. Don’t see yourself as the star of the show, and don’t take your musicians or sound crew for granted. Talk to them and express genuine appreciation! (On the other hand, don’t be blasé about your role. It is important to serve people in this role! And it is important for people to sing together to God and to encourage one another.)
4. Your body language and facial expressions are pretty important, because they will be reflected to you by the congregation. If you are looking awkward or nervous or disinterested, they will feel that way too. A smile, particularly with your eyes, while you sing is something you can practice. Mirrors provide useful feedback. Stand evenly on your balls of feet, relax your knees, one foot slightly in front of the other. Keep your shoulders down and relaxed. Be a good example of an engaged and joyful participant in corporate praise to our great God!
5. Clothing choice is a question of not drawing attention to yourself and modesty. (Do I need to elaborate here? Is what your wearing causing some to focus their eyes on the shape of some particular part of you? Or not? Are you trying to show off your good taste and style, your brand names, or get attention? Consider modesty of dress and being less conspicuous than you might otherwise choose.)
6. Be well practiced, so that you arent missing cues, or stuffing up words and doing things that will draw attention to yourself.
7. Be realistic about your abilities and keep tuning your instrument – get vocal lessons to help iron out any issues. Breathing technique is all important. Learn good technique! If you know you are forcing your voice to sound the way you do, seek some help or you could do damage!
8. Learn basic music theory so you can follow a melody and sing the right rhythms, or hold on to notes for the appropriate length. Learn how to follow repeats, first time endings, 2nd time endings, what ‘D.S al Coda means’ – and more.
9. Sing in a way that is easy to follow – avoiding “opera voice” or solo performer voice, with lots of trills and grace notes and vibrato. This makes it difficult for groups to follow. Use harmonies sparingly as these can get people off track when they are following you. Make sure the dominant voice is not the one doing the harmonies, and keep the harmony under the melody. (Descant lines can be especially distracting, unless it is a known part that many in the church know too – or one you want them to learn.)
10. Hold the microphone close enough so that the sound technician can get good levels (about 2 inches/5cm). It’s easy to turn you down if too loud, but no way to boost a weak/distant signal. Pull it further away on high notes so you don’t blast the congregation! If microphones are really new to you, get some time along in your church auditorium and sing, with foldback, to get used to sound of your own voice – because sometimes it can frighten you into singing more quietly (not great for a song leader to do!)
11. Give clear instructions if you are leading the band (both during practice and in the service). Use cues to keep everyone together. Make sure the structure of the song is clear for everyone. Listen to the members of the band, what they are saying in practice, as well as what they are playing.
12. Be on time for band practices – and organise them well ahead of time if that is something you as the singer has to do. Sing the song enough times on your own so that the melody is fully entrenched in your mind. Know the structure of the song as it will be sung at church, which may differ from the recorded version. Be willing to pray for your team and with your team, for their role as musicians in the gathering.
Being a song leader is a great privilege and it can be a great blessing to others as you help Christ’s visible body gather together in songs of praise to our great God. If you are a song leader, keep working at it! I hope these points have been helpful!
You may also like these earlier posts on similar topics:
Sharing the rich, indwelling word (Colossians 3:16)
How to encourage your music team even when you’re not the leader
Working for those moments of Joy
You are a Theologian