A Volunteer Vocation: Seven Lessons to Lead Your Worship Ministry Successfully

“I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord’” (Ps. 122:1, NLT).[i]

Editor’s Note: As a pastor you are probably active in the volunteer placement process in your congregation. As your team begins to explore possible candidates for the position of worship leader, the following article may be helpful.

I will never forget how I felt one Sabbath nearly 17 years ago as I stood in church speaking with my pastor. We were having a pleasant and casual conversation when I suddenly heard these words escape from his mouth: “The Lord told me to ask you to be the minister of music.” I remember the uncertainty, insecurity, and utter shock that immediately invaded my thoughts. As if it were not daunting enough that my pastor said, “The Lord told me to ask you,” he then made sure I knew it was the top leadership position in the church’s music department. I was unprepared mentally and administratively for this incredible task. However, I knew I would have to say yes to the Lord. Worship music is my purpose and passion. So I asked my pastor for 30 days to ponder and pray over this serious decision. During that time I begged God for guidance on how to lead a music ministry department. Although I was happy to serve, I thought to myself, What am I going to do now?

Regardless of whether you are the music minister, music director, music coordinator, worship leader, or any other title that churches have developed, leading worship is a weighty responsibility. More than likely your congregation has selected you because of your spiritual leadership ability and exceptional musicianship. While these essential leadership positions garner a salary in most church denominations, in many other churches these valuable positions are filled by volunteers. Yet despite your professional or volunteer status, this vocation requires skill and purposeful planning.

There is an art and a science to crafting a meaningful worship experience. In his book The Art of Curating Worship: Reshaping the Role of the Worship Leader, pastor and artist Mark Pierson explains, “I’m beginning to understand worship and worship preparation much more as an art form than an organizational task. To see myself as a producer/preparer of worship for myself and others, as a worship curator—someone who takes the pieces provided and puts them in a particular setting and makes a particular arrangement of them, considering juxtaposition, style, light, shade, etc. A maker of context rather than a presenter of content. A provider of a frame inside of which the elements are arranged and rearranged to convey a particular message to the worshipper.”[ii] In her book Evangelism Ellen White shares, “The science of salvation is to be the burden of every sermon, the theme of every song.”[iii]  Worship, our time of engagement with God, must be seen as wholistic, intentional, purposeful, irresistible.

So this volunteer vocation is certainly one of the most worthwhile experiences that is guaranteed to change your life and impact the lives of your congregation. I accepted the position and served as a volunteer minister of music for five years out of my 13-year tenure. During this life-shaping time of volunteerism I learned some valuable lessons through personal experience, academic study, and prayerful submission that I’d gladly like to share.

Here are seven lessons you should know to lead your worship ministry successfully. 

Seven Lessons to Lead Your Worship Ministry Successfully

Lesson 1:  Know God

Worship ministry is a very rewarding yet challenging area of service in the church. While there are many highs, there are just as many, if not more, lows. To artists who are sensitive to environmental changes, these unexpected variations in congregational moods could directly affect the ability to serve. Yet like the psalmist David, we must anchor our worship, not to whims, but to the Word of God. We must have a worship methodology that is grounded in biblical theology. In his book Worship the Ultimate Priority Pastor John MacArthur writes, “Genuine worship is a response to divine truth. It is passionate because it arises out of our love for God. But to be true worship it must also arise out of a correct understanding of His law, His righteousness, His mercy and His being. Real worship acknowledges God as He has revealed Himself in His Word.”[iv] Knowing God enables our ability to share the gospel of Jesus Christ through song. Worship is lifestyle. Bible study is essential to robust worship preparation and practice.

Lesson 2: Know Yourself

I know this may sound a bit silly or obvious, but it is an invaluable lesson. Get to know yourself as a leader. Become familiar with your leadership style, and work to develop it if you have not already. Be aware of your own strengths and weaknesses. Good leaders are excellent followers. Learn to follow God’s leading in your worship planning. Learn to lead to your strengths and build teams to your weaknesses. In other words, if you are not a people person, then add someone to your team who is gregarious and able to interact positively with people. That way your weakness is minimized as you work to develop your skill and ministry in a team setting. As spiritual Levites (the priestly musicians), we are called by God to be servant leaders (Num. 3:5, 6). Servant leadership guru Robert Greenleaf states, “The servant prepares himself or herself to lead by a process of growth through experience guided by a self-image as a builder and within a conceptual framework that suggests the strengths that will emerge if allowed.”[v]

Lesson 3: Know Your Pastor

Take time to get to know your pastor so that you can learn how to relate to him or her. You should strive to create an environment in which you can collaborate continuously with your pastor to develop a worship strategy and structure based on God’s overall vision and mission for your church. Engage your pastor so that you can hear his heart and know his sermon theme for the year, quarter, month, or week. Respect and understand her vision and mission for the church and know how to interpret it through musical praise. Develop a regular working relationship with key leaders of other ministries that are impacted by your planning (e.g., greeters, media, elders, deacons, sound, etc.) so that you can be a liaison for your pastor. Learn to serve your pastor by planning worship wholistically and intentionally.

Lesson 4: Know Your Congregation

Become familiar with the people who are sitting in your pews. Be a part of the church family by participating in fellowship activities. Your members should see you in other settings beside leading out in the worship service. Identify the demographic composition of your congregation and your community (age, gender, ethnicity, nationality, dominate culture, etc.). Know how to sense your congregation’s spiritual needs, and act on them when necessary. Partner with your pastor so that you will know the general spiritual condition of the members in your congregation. Then learn to teach, guide, and pastor through encouraging spiritual words, compassionate leadership, and theologically sound, spirit-filled music.

Lesson 5:  Know Your Resources

Know how to access your resources. Identify what resources are available to you to be successful in ministry. Ask yourself, “To be successful, what do I need?” Then answer the question and prioritize your list. If you need additional people, training, coaching, music lessons, educational courses, etc., then prayerfully find a way to provide or develop these resources. This may be a painstaking exercise that is daunting and requires lots of patience. But in the end it is worth the effort. Build and retain a team of spiritual leaders who are musicians. Pray and ask God to lead you to the people who are most suited for the musical roles in your church. Outline, design, and create job descriptions of the worship tasks for each area of the worship service. Assign your music leaders to specific tasks based on the combination of spiritual calling, appropriate leadership ability, and musical skill sets. Then learn how to maximize and use your resources most effectively (Neh. 12:24).

Lesson 6: Know Your Purpose and Plan

Set clear goals, objectives, and worship expectations for each musical area in your worship service. Create a ministry mission and vision that supports the overarching church mission and vision. Make sure you have a plan with expectations and proper guidelines for the entire liturgy, including prayer, scripture reading, baptisms, congregational singing, altar calls, announcements, etc. Also develop guidelines and expectations for the praise teams, choirs, special music singers, appeal singers, response songs, musicians, etc. Communicate this information to your worship participants in advance and make sure they are clear on what is expected during the worship service. This purposeful planning will help to reduce miscommunications and misunderstandings. Smooth worship flow will be enhanced, and all participants will have a clear knowledge of their role in designing a Christ-centered worship experience.

Lesson 7: Know Your Craft

Know how to hone your craft. Constantly improve the musical skills for yourself and your ministry team members. Find ways to enhance and improve your musicianship. Seek to be skillful and always strive for godly excellence (1 Chron. 25:7; Ps. 33:3; Ps. 150:2). Continue to improve your leadership, organizational, administrative, public speaking, or other types of ministry skills that are necessary to thrive. Good leaders are constant learners.

Be certain your songs communicate the appropriate musical message through both the lyrics and the melodies. Author Calvin Johansson states, “The medium is the message. The medium (music) is not neutral. It is a dynamic force and deserves careful consideration. As a powerful element in singing, the musical medium either colors and reinforces the words or contradicts them.”[vi] Be intentional. Integrate constant discipleship, spiritual growth, and skills training as an essential part of musical worship. Prepare songs that will support the sermon and orchestrate a worship atmosphere that enhances the gospel.

Once you have implemented these valuable lessons, your corporate praise will be a visible and audible sign of devout worship and adoration to God. As you expand your ministry influence, you will learn that these lessons can be applied to diverse worship environments. As you grow in God’s grace, your volunteer vocation will become a personal and corporate testimony of God’s glory, praise, and power. When you serve the Lord with your talents and your whole heart, your reward will be certain. The impact of your purposeful praise will be undeniable and your volunteer vocation will continue in the house of the Lord and eternally in the halls of heaven.

Cheryl Wilson-Bridges, D.S.L.  serves as the pastor for worship at Sligo Seventh-day Adventist Church.

[i]Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

[ii] Mark Pierson. The Art of Curating Worship: Reshaping the Role of the Worship Leader (Minneapolis: Spark House Press, 2010), p. 7.

[iii] Ellen G. White, Evangelism (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1946), p. 502.

[iv] John MacArthur, Worship the Ultimate Priority (Chicago:  Moody Publishers, 2012), p. 37.

[v] Robert K. Greenleaf, The Servant Leader Within: A Transformative Path (Mahwah, N.J.: Paulist Press, 2003), p. 41.

[vi] Calvin Johansson, Music and Ministry: A Biblical Counterpoint (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1998), p. 57.