Leading Worship: Leaders Listen

Think of great leaders in business, politics, or sports, and you usually think about inspirational speeches. The first quality that comes to mind about great leaders is what they say. In all of the great speeches in history or the greatest sports movies, you see a leader already leading those who follow. But what comes before that? What influences them to follow the leader in the first place?

In ministry, the model we have for leadership given by Jesus is “pastoring”, which draws from the image of a shepherd leading his sheep. A shepherd should always keep an eye on all of his sheep, but in ministry, we can’t see where anyone is spiritually, we can only see evidence, such as if a person visibly praying. We have to know where people are in order to direct them where to go, and the only way that we can know where people are is by listening: listening to God, and listening to them. This is why listening is one of the most important tools for any leader, especially in ministry.

Listen to God

I am the good shepherd, and I know mine and mine know me.
— John 10:14

How can we truly know where people are in their relationship with God? Only God knows our hearts, which is why it’s vital to listen to God, the Good Shepherd Himself. As worship leaders, yes, it’s important for people to follow us so we can sing and praise together, but ultimately the goal is to direct our hearts to the presence of God and to a deeper relationship with Him. In order for us to direct others to God, we need to ask God two things:

  1. Where are the people I’m leading in their relationship with God in this very moment?

  2. How can I lead them closer to God?

If we don’t ask these questions before we lead (in prayer while planning), while we lead (between and even during songs), and after we lead (spending time in prayer), we’re not following God and we’re definitely not leading anyone. We’re only serving ourselves at that point.

Don’t Play Songs, Lead Prayer

While on the surface, it may look like we can just pick some songs and play them through, but if that’s all we do, then we’re missing an opportunity for something so much deeper. While you lead through the songs, constantly be asking God those two questions above. Even take moments in the songs for “listening” time, where you can repeat a chord progression or even stay on one chord, and spend a moment to listen to God in your heart. When I have a band, I’ll usually build in a few “instrumental breaks”, which can also be a powerful moment of soaking in God’s presence. I’ll usually cue it up by saying something like “let’s take a moment and open our hearts to God’s presence” or “let’s take a moment to allow God to speak His love into our hearts.” Sometimes God will give me something to share, like an image, an encouraging word, or a scripture. Other times the moment of quiet will serve its own purpose, maybe God will speak directly into everyone’s hearts. If we desire praise and worship to deepen our relationship with God, it has to be a balance of speaking/praise and listening, since that’s how relationships are built. We need to give God the space to lead us into His heart.

Listen to Others

Afterwards, take time to talk to those who were praising with you and see how God moved in their hearts. Find out what songs or moments were fruitful for them. This will help you not only adjust how you lead the next time, but allow you to see where you listened to God, which will help you grow in knowing God’s voice. As you grow deeper in relationship with God, you’ll be able to hear his voice more clearly, and checking with others affirms that growth within yourself.

More importantly, simply talk to people about how they’re doing in life. Relational ministry, which is listening to another where they are in life and serving them in that, goes hand in hand with leading praise and worship. It helps you to see with even more clarity how God may be moving in a particular moment. Also, there’s a saying that “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Growing in relationship with someone allows each of you to open your heart to what the other has to say, because you begin to see each other not in a ministerial role, but simply as a human person. Taking time to grow in relationship with others affects the way that they will respond to when you lead praise and worship.

Know God’s Voice

We need to learn his voice. We need to spend the time listening to him in our private prayer life. Prayer life is critical for worship leaders. Carve out time for prayer, let’s allow God to lead us in everything we do.