This is a guest post from Dave Foster, a worship leader and part of our 3DM Hub in the San Francisco Bay Area. He and Cameron Walker will be leading a Worship Workshop in Pawleys Island August 11-13, 2014, focusing on how to integrate discipleship and mission into the context of worship ministry.

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Have you heard of unconscious competence? It’s having the practiced skill at something so you don’t have to even think about it when you do it. I’ve had the opportunity to lead worship many times in many settings for many years. Along the way, I’ve gained unconscious competence as a worship leader. The problem with unconscious competence is that it’s just there and since you don’t think about it, you don’t think about explaining it and sharing it. In this blogpost I’ll  share some things I’ve learned as I attempt to make conscious those competencies that have been mostly unconscious. 
Some of our local worship leaders joined together to be the worship band for an area wide Easter Week worship celebration.

We connect with God and with His people in worship. These are a few of the practical things I’ve figured out along the way.

  1. Love your people by singing songs in a singable key. In most cases it will be a little lower than you’re used to, but you’ll have more people engaging if they aren’t pulling a throat muscle trying to sing along.
  2. Enjoy what you’re doing (and make sure your face knows it!) Open your eyes and smile once in awhile. Be genuine. Be yourself. God loves you and He’s really, really proud of you.
  3. Don’t be afraid of repeating songs. If a certain song is moving people’s hearts, and you sense the Spirit moving among you, why would you be afraid to sing it a few weeks in a row? Some songs seem to have a season of anointing or power. Singing heartfelt, familiar songs to Jesus, where they are so familiar people can sing them without looking at the screen; joyful, weeping, kneeling……… Songs like Break Every Chain, Revelation Song and Wonderful make their way into our hearts. Our kids sing them while they’re outside on the swing set. Why would we not encourage them by keeping it going?
  4. Pay attention to how people are responding. Dynamics are important. You need to be aware of what’s going on. Sometimes, I’ll bring a loud song down to just the people’s voices, with very little instrumentation and repeat a section several times. It’s a matter of being sensitive to the Holy Spirit and our hearts. It’s not mystical and mysterious, but it is Spirit led. I can see faces of people connecting, engaging and embracing worship. I just see it on their faces and in their actions. It’s prophetic, but it is learned by observing and listening. Just about every week, we end up doing a song differently than we did in practice, because there is a nudge from the Spirit and we respond. It works.
  5. If you’re given a time parameter (or a song suggestion), honor it! If you’re given 15 minutes for worship songs, ask the Father to lead you through it, and He’ll do it in 14:59. If you’re asked to do Shout to the Lord (‘really? you really want to do STTL?’) as your closing song, do it. Laying down your preferences to bless the folks you’ve been asked to lead builds their confidence in you. You’re there to serve.
  6. Be compassionate towards yourself when you make a mistake. Most people won’t notice you played a wrong note if you don’t point it out. I have a piano player friend who would quietly say “no” every time she hit a wrong note. She didn’t realize she was doing it, and was grateful when we pointed it out to her. It’s a good idea to gently, privately, positively point out these kinds of things to team members. They’ll be grateful and feel loved.
  7. Your physical posture and presence matter. You’re not simply the worship leader but also the lead worshipper! If your denomination and congregation are open to it, invite the people to stand, raise their hands or show some other outward form of connection or surrender in worship. As you lead, you are also teaching by example. Be conscious of your own physicality that speaks and teaches your people as you lead.
  8. No worship leader is an island – build community! Be the one who becomes friends with other worship leaders in your area. Pull them together. Do it to bless and encourage each other. Worship with each other. The fruit will be amazing!


photo credit: kevin dooley via photopin cc

Join the Conversation


  1. Thank you for this. Having found myself leading a support group and trying to learn how to lead worship, this is very encouraging and has given me a better perspective of what leading by example really means. Blessings, your fellow servant in Christ Jesus. Jim

  2. Dave: I was interested in your comment under #5 where you said: (‘really? you really want to do STTL?’)
    Did I miss your point or are you putting down those of us who use STTL in worship? It seems like each church has their own “list” of worship songs. Some from the hymnal & some not published yet. Some presently on the radio & some that were written in the 1980’s (or whatever year). Are you saying there is something wrong or weird with a church singing Shout to the Lord? Please answer as I have seen your 8 practical suggestions on several web sites and also it was just sent to me today. Thank you.

    1. I appreciate Tom’s question. For those churches that have a multi-generational demographic, a robust blend of new and old songs fosters robust participation. STTL is well-known and has been a go-to song for us several times.

  3. I like the suggestion about smiling while leading the worship. I think smiles are contagious, and I agree that God loves happy people. I like singing the upbeat hymns to help me smile. I’ll be sure to tell my spouse to show her happiness and gratitude as well.

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