Creative Leadership

What Katy Perry and Taylor Swift Can Teach Church Worship Leaders

The truth is, the vast majority of church “worship leaders” aren’t worship leaders at all. They’re simply musicians playing what are called “worship songs” from popular artists who write that sort of thing. The music is fine, and I have no argument with that, but a real worship service should be a lot more than simply a concert. Watch for yourself:  If your church still has both a “traditional” service and a “contemporary” service, I encourage you to attend each and watch the audience.

You may not care for traditional hymns, but guess what – the congregation in a traditional service sings along. They know the words and are participating. But in most contemporary services, it’s simply a concert. The audience isn’t really participating and is just watching a performer on the stage.

Worse yet – the supposed worship leader isn’t “leading” anything. He or she isn’t encouraging, and hardly says anything to the congregation between songs.

So what do artists like Katy Perry and Taylor Swift know that your worship leader doesn’t?

They know how to engage the audience. They encourage the audience to join in, and they have a constant conversation with the people. In between songs, they’re talking and setting up the next song. They’re creating a mood that allows the audience to participate and enjoy, whether they know how to sing or not.

Bottom line? Everyone has fun. They leave pumped up and excited. They’ve had a powerful emotional experience.

Obviously, Christian worship isn’t about shallow emotion or getting anyone pumped up. But the truth is, most people walking into your church could use a little encouragement and inspiration. They want to participate, but chances are, your worship leader isn’t making it happen.

Leading worship is about bringing people into the presence of God. It’s about creating an atmosphere where they can be open and vulnerable. It’s about encouragement. It’s about preparing people’s hearts and minds to hear from the God of the universe.

This Sunday, forget the concert.  Invite people in.  Create a way for them to participate, and bring them into an experience with God they’ll never forget.

What are your thoughts about worship, and the people who lead it?

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  1. This is so true Phil. As a worship leader I have gone to so many conferences at larger churches and they just flow from song to song. People forget it is about leading people to connect with the presence of God, to prepare their hearts and I have even seen people get healed during worship. I so encourage our congregation to be a part of each and every song, to be involved in the process of entering God’s presence. Anyone can sing a song, but there is a calling that a true worship leader has to “lead” a song and to “lead” the people into His presence. I could go on and on in agreement with you on this because it is such a great passion of mine. So glad you wrote this piece. I am going to share it with my team and the pastoral staff. Keep up the great work you are doing for the kingdom of God.

  2. There’s very little reflection on God here and what he desires and/or requires in worship. That’s the real problem.

  3. This is further evidence of the “American Idolization” of the church. And your article is flat out encouraging it. You are actually telling worship leaders to learn from the world and be like the world. I encourage you to rethink everything you know about “worship.”

    1. How can you think that? It’s pretty clear what Phil is saying. Katy and Taylor engage their audience. To many worship leaders don’t. Imagine how many lives would be touched if all worship leaders engaged the congregation and lead with anointing, instead of simply singing songs. He is not glorifying the worlds ways. If we can’t learn from those who aren’t “followers” of Christ than shame on us, that’s pride. Some methods are the same but the message should never change.

      1. There are plenty of things the church should learn from the world. That’s why God created it. I’m assuming you’d rather have worship leaders detached from the congregation, not leading us into the presence of God, and not engaging with the people?

          1. Yes I read it, so what worldly knowledge is proffered to engage people in worship?
            Did you read read the article?
            Here’s a clue, what does it mean to worship?

          2. I think Phil hit the nail on the head. There are a lot things the world does better then the church. Christian media could use a real facelift. I think it is time our media quality surpassed MTV. But until then, maybe matching MTV quality of media production might be a good goal.

          3. I agree with Phil’s post, but I fundamentally disagree with yours. There should be no such thing as “Christian Media.” The reason “the world” is better at media is because the most talented people go into it. Rather than segmenting ourselves off, believers should be learning from those talented people and working among them. We should be doing the same, instead of attempting to create an alternative sub-class for consumption. There are legitimate expressions of “Christian” art or communication; those used directly for the purposes of ministry (missionary videos, worship music, etc.) but the vast majority of Christian artists/producers/media personalities need to offer their gifts to the world so that salt and light can be everywhere, and not just on Air One Radio. If they can’t compete because they find they can’t compete in the field, perhaps ingenuity and original works/projects/businesses are in order…but not ones that are “separate” from the world.

      2. … IMO 80% of pastors in US & Canada don’t even understand the concept of “American Idolization”, of the remaining 20% that do understand, 10% are afraid to speak out and the remainder know they are promoting idolatry and love doing it.

        There are very few Church leaders today that are willing to deal with this problem head on.

  4. That’s what I hate about contemporary services–you sit there watching while others sing! “Stricken, Smitten and Afflicted” and “Beautiful Savior” are two of my fav hymns and I LUUUV contemporary music as well, but we’re not there to be at a concert, we’re there to honor God. Martin Luther said music was one of the top ways to beat depression, and it lifts you to the throne room of God, so I don’t get churches that do it like a concert, rather than worship service. Don’t they get that people want to SING to God, not watch others sing to Him? But God knows our hearts….

    1. Agree about “Stricken, Smitten and Afflicted!” Here’s our church’s recording from Good Friday this year if you’d like to hear our version.

  5. In one sense I agree. It is great to have everyone participate and getting into worship, but we are not there for what we get out of it. We are there to focus on God and praise God. As Marva Dawn says, worship is “being immersed in the splendor of God.” I do think if there is going to be a worship leader they should try to get people in a reverent and worshipful frame of mind between songs. But there is also nothing wrong with the worshipers just closing their eyes and listening—really listening—to the song and focusing on God and God’s glory and God’s love.

  6. Love the post, but I’ll chime in on “It’s about preparing people’s hearts and minds to hear from the God of the universe” – and say that it shouldn’t be preparation, but a time where they can hear just as much (if not more) from God than the sermon. Like you’ve said, worship is bringing people into the presence of God, and if we’re in His presence we should hear from him just as clearly (or even more clearly!) than through a sermon

  7. You cannot do corporately what you are not doing privately. Are you worshiping God when you are alone? If not, then 90 minutes on Sunday you probably won’t either.

  8. Thankful for our worship leaders at Redemption World Outreach Center in Greenville, SC who are engaging the congregation to worship with them. Well written commentary.

  9. My husband and I had to leave a church because it is always a Very Loud “concert”. Kind of contradictory to be offered earplugs to “listen?” and worship God. Sadly, this seems to be a trend in north Denver/Boulder, to only cater to 18 – 35 year year olds.
    I’m pretty sure Jesus didn’t have to use special lighting or a tech manager when he delivered the Sermon on the Mount. And he got the message across just fine.
    I’m very much enjoying our new church where music is not programmed to precise timing, decibels aren’t an issue and glitches are overlooked with a sense of humor.

  10. This somehow seems almost sacrilegious but it makes sense. I know churches that shy away from a band (even when they have the talent and the resources) or even a dynamic worship leader in fear that the music or the person will get in the way. It’s a legitimate fear but a robotic, monotonous time of worship does as much damage. I’m glad you got to the point of worship (“It’s about preparing people’s hearts and minds to hear from the God of the universe.”) in the end. On a side note, William Booth and the Salvation Army’s relationship and use of music is worth a look. Despite Booth’s initial aversion to organized bands and organized music, a lot of hymns we sing today are Salvation Army versions of old English bar songs. As Booth put it, ‘Why should the devil have all the good tunes?’

  11. I’d love to know the ages of the commenters to this point. The comments seem strangely one-sided. Perhaps it’s your demographic Phil.

    Anyhow, I prefer the louder, concert-style worship. I don’t want to hear myself sing you see. 🙂

    But really my worship experience is just as intense doing hymns at the Methodist church or rocking out at my home church. That’s because my worship is not based on “the music” but rather it’s an acknowledgement of all Christ has done for me.

    So to say (as one person did) that they left a church because the music was too loud tells me more about their “worship” or lack thereof than the church they were attending.

  12. Worship is a communication, there is no style. There is no point of great music when a person can’t communicate with God through it.

  13. I think this is good insight. I read some comments below and I know that as a follower of Christ worship is based on our hearts drawing close to the Father, but it makes it a whole easier (less distracting) and more enjoyable to know you can relax in a worship service and open your heart before the Father because everyone is there to communally usher in God’s presence. If it was all based on us, then we wouldn’t try so hard to choose worship leaders who actually know how to sing or play an instrument (though I suppose some churches still choose people who can’t). Hopefully every church is trying hard to reach those who don’t know God and have never been to church before so we need to speak their language in a heavenly dialect. We were made for relationship, so when a worship leader is so focused on his personal worship with God that He is shutting out the people He is supposed to be “leading,” then those people feel like spectators and outsiders because their hearts may not know what to cling to. Sorry that this comment is excessive. I just thought I would share with other readers and Phil my translation of this. Thanks Phil! Very true blog, so long as worship leaders don’t go to the extremes where the babble on and on and forget to actually worship. 🙂

  14. The responses to this are interesting, from all sides. I agree with this article 100%. The worship leaders need to engage the congregation to make it a true worship experience, not a concert. Some of the postings condemn any influence from the “world,” while others condemn the worship experience from the traditional standpoint. It’s important to note though, that some people’s idea of the perfect worship experience may not be the same for others. Some prefer the loudness, while others prefer the more quiet experience. Who are we to judge what’s right and what’s wrong? As long as it’s about giving praise to God does it matter to us as individuals? If you think others are not as connected as they should be, let that be between them and God, and don’t condemn entire churches for the type of worship they deliver on Sunday. That’s why people have plenty of choices in what church they want to attend. Personally, I love being able to raise my hands and shout to the Lord, but that doesn’t mean that others who prefer a more quiet, subdued time with God are any less saved and engaged with God. As long as they are hearing and believing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and not some contradictory message, does it matter what style of worship it is?

    1. That’s it! God made different kinds of people so different conditions or atmosphere would encourage expression…worship is definately more than music

  15. The first thing that worship leaders should learn from Katy Perry and Taylor Swift is that in order to deeply engage the audience they must first create good art. Worship music has always been behind the curve on that.

    1. Isn’t God’s job to draw in the hearts of believers? A worship leader is (or should be) merely a vessel of the Holy Spirit. I believe we should as followers of Christ bring excellence to our craft or art. But if you have issues with certain worship leaders not being as talented as Katy Perry or you’re critiquing more than worshiping – that should tell you more about your inability to worship than their ability to lead.

    2. Meh, I would say that Katy Perry and Taylor Swift are right in the same category of art as most mainstream worship music….palatable mainstream pop fluff.

  16. This is a great subject to raise. I think there’s a fine
    line when walking on the rock-star performance based worship and worship that
    doesn’t include the over stimulus of cool multi-screen motion graphics, shooting
    beams of multi-colored lighting and designs moving in sync to a cranked up
    audio system. Then there are the vocalists lined up on stage… some drawing
    attention to themselves in various ways as to entertain us church-goers. In
    these worship settings it’s easy to get distracted and let your eyes and mind
    focus on all these visuals…. even critiquing it! By the end of worship, you’ve
    realized you let the praise team and lead singers do the worship for you. The purpose of worship was defeated by entertainment. I
    find that I have to be very intentional during worship by closing my eyes and
    focusing my words of worship towards God so nothing will distract me. Of course anyone
    can be distracted by anything during worship, but hey, with all this going on,
    it’s easy to forget what you’re really there for! I think worship leaders need
    to be mindful HOW their leading corporate worship. Talking personally to church
    members between songs is a way to help them connect the spiritual dots, I do agree.
    Church worship “concerts” have the tendency
    to become “shows”, displaying the capabilities of the churches talent and
    production ability. That’s fine, as long as it’s all about God. It’s a fine
    line to navigate for both the church and the church-goers.

  17. Engage the audience? Wouldn’t that be God? While I favor active, overt participation on the part of each and every person present, I can’t be sure people aren’t worshipping God, “The Audience” from their hearts. I have worshipped at a few concerts without knowing or singing the words . . .

  18. I guess we are pretty blessed here in Africa then huh. It don’t work very well for a worship leader who does the performing thing. Everyone has to be in it 100% when its praise and worship time. God dwells in the praises of His people. So we value that like everybody’s life depended on it. Good article.

  19. I think most “contemporary” services try to force a format, without understanding the medium. You properly challenge us that lead worship to be more than just people who mimic what we see at a conference. Thanks for the wisdom to creative–even us worship leaders.

  20. My problem is that worship leaders who talk in between songs? Nobody knows what they’re saying half the time. They talk fast and incoherently–non-communicatively.

  21. Wow. That is the most ignorant perspective based entirely on an assumption that you made based on your little, narrow experience with a handful of churches out of thousands in this world and nation. Expressing an opinion doesn’t make you credible when you have no facts or figures to back it up with. Making a claim that you as one person cannot possibly validate (unless you’ve personally visited “most churches”) just makes you sound like a complete fool and idiot. Go do your research instead of just ranting. You are no more honoring God than the “fake worship leaders.” in fact, I am prett sure, based on thus book they call THE BIBLE, that God is hurt and disappointed by your judgment. Fail.

    1. Ouch. But since I work with churches for a living, and have visited more than a thousand personally, and studied probably a thousand more, plus have a Ph.D. in Theology, I imagine I’m a bit more qualified than you might think…

      1. That’s a pretty arrogant response, Phil. Do you honestly think that people are so impressed with your Ph.D. in Theology? Does that make you an expert on all Christian matters? I’ve met many people with Theology degrees who are just as uninformed about spiritual matters as your average non-Christian. (Some of them are just as carnal as your average non-Christian, too.) God does not care about your education; He cares about your HEART. This isn’t the first time that I’ve seen a response of yours that basically said, “I know more than you so don’t question me.” Please don’t forget that pride goes before a fall.

        For the record, I completely disagree that Katy Perry and Taylor Swift should be held up as examples to worship leaders. Copying the world makes you nothing more than a second-rate version of it. We should be looking to God for guidance on how to solve problems in the church. Looking to the world for answers is part of the reason why the church is lacking the impact and influence that it should have.

        True worship has very little to do with the worship leader. It is each person’s responsibility to be self-engaged during worship. After all, worship is really between the individual and God. The problem is that true worship is something that we have lost sight of in America. This has been caused by the mediocrity and carnality that has pervaded the church. The church is very much in need of a revival.

        1. I don’t believe for even one second that Phil is trying to brag about his PhD. I think he is smart and mature enough to know how foolish that would be. Reed between lines, please.

          1. I was reading between the lines. That’s how I was able to sense the arrogance behind Phil’s statement. As I said in my previous response, this isn’t the first time that I’ve seen Phil respond with an I-know-more-than-you attitude. This was actually one of his milder responses. I’ve seen him be flat-out rude to some of the people who “dared” to disagree with him.

          2. AR789, I think you misread the lines and between the lines as well. Phil responded to SB saying he had “the most ignorant perspective” claiming it was “based entirely on an assumption that you
            made based on your little, narrow experience with a handful of churches
            out of thousands in this world and nation. Expressing an opinion doesn’t
            make you credible when you have no facts or figures to back it up with.
            Making a claim that you as one person cannot possibly validate (unless
            you’ve personally visited “most churches”) just makes you sound like a
            complete fool and idiot.”

            Phil responded with saying that his experience isn’t so narrow, he has in fact visited many many congregations and studied many more and therefore this claim is false.

            SB also said, “Go do your research instead of just ranting” to which Phil responding that not only does he work with churches professionally, but he has a relevant field of background study (the aforementioned PHD in theology) which while not necessarily making his opinion valid, certainly lends some credibility to it at least as not being entirely ignorant of he realm of which he is speaking. Its entirely relevant for Phil to mention his experience and field of study in response to claims that he doesn’t have relevant experience or knowledge.

            Thus your response of “Do you honestly think that people are so impressed with your Ph.D. in Theology?” misses the point. Phil isn’t trying to impress, he is addressing a claim that he lacks relevant bona fides. You claim that Phil’s response is arrogant (that he has an exaggerated sense of his own importance) and that you were “able to sense the arrogance behind Phil’s statement” by reading between the lines. The problem with this is that you didn’t read the lines properly so the accuracy of your reading between the lines is really going astray. Your conclusion that Phil is saying or even implying “I know more than you so don’t question me” is flat out a bad reading. hermeneutics isn’t just for the Bible, its generally applicable to understanding any written texts. I commend to you Adler and Van Doren’s ”

            How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading” which is an excellent tool to help with reading the lines and between them.

        2. This is a typical postmodern response. If God cares about our formation, then He certainly cares about our education. True education is the forming of our heart toward knowledge of Him and ourselves. While there are certainly many who have degrees that are not forming their hearts, there are many uneducated who are confused in their pursuit of Him by statements like “God cares more about the heart than education.” Why would He not want us to know as much about Him as possible? And if no one undertook the rigors of academic education, the church would be in a very very bad place. Fortunately there are those who’ve committed themselves to it and do the work that God has for the church in stopping the tide of falsehood and naturalism that she would have succumbed to without informed and trained people of God to combat it.

          1. First of all, it was very ignorant of you to assume that I was uneducated. I have a college degree and I believe that education is important. Please understand that I am not knocking education itself at all. I take issue with the fact that Phil sometimes brings up his Ph.d. in Theology in an attempt to validate his points.

            If you honestly think that God cares more about your education than the condition of your heart, then it is you who are confused. It is ironic that you call me “postmodern” because so many people today care more about education than character development. A person does not need a formal education in order to be informed about spiritual matters. Look at Jesus’ disciples and many of the early Christians! Even today, there are powerful men and women of God who do not have a college education. Joyce Meyer has said that God put her through the “school of the Holy Spirit”. She received her training by studying God’s Word on her own, going through trials and passing many spiritual “tests”. She has said on many occasions that some Christians looked down upon her because she didn’t go to a traditional Bible school. I sincerely hope that you are not among those people.

          2. Interesting comments about Joyce. She loves Phil. Here’s her quote about his book, “Jolt!”:

            “Jolt! offers unique and inspiring solutions to problems that arise in the busy and chaotic times we live in. It will equip you with the tools to move forward in life with new passion and determination.”
            – Joyce Meyer

            And here’s what Joyce’s son and CEO thinks about Phil in his endorsement for his book “Branding Faith:”

            “Phil Cooke’s ideas about branding helped us to completely rethink our global media outreach at Joyce Meyer Ministries. Rebranding this ministry has completely transformed the way we connect with our audience. Whatever you think you know about using the media will change when you read Branding Faith.”
            – Dan Meyer
            CEO, Joyce Meyer Ministries

          3. You’ve completely missed the point of my response. The issue at hand is that formal education has absolutely nothing to do with one’s spiritual maturity. I already know that Phil has worked with Joyce. The fact that she and her son admire his book is totally irrelevant to the topic. It’s nice that Joyce likes him, but I suspect that she would not be so complimentary of him if she had seen some of the rude, undeserved comments that he has made to some of the readers who disagree with him.

          4. OK “AR789” (Interesting you don’t use your real name, but online critics rarely do.) You don’t like Phil. Fine. We get it. There are a billion other blogs out there, so go knock yourself out. Stop the preening. Looking at your thread, it appears that it’s YOU who are rude and arrogant. Phil’s remarkably gracious not to delete your comments. Go start your own blog. Best of luck.

          5. I felt it was necessary to speak up about an issue on this blog, so I did. There’s no preening going on. All I’ve done since my original comment is defend myself against Phil’s minions. If you call me arrogant and fail to see Phil’s arrogance, then there’s nothing more to be said. Have fun worshipping at Phil’s shrine.

            By the way, AR789 is the screen name for my Disqus account, which I’ve used on many different sites. I have a right to use a screen name when I’m writing online just like “Concerned Reader” and everyone else. Even people who give a name like “Samuel A. Fairchild” aren’t necessarily using their real name.

            I have one more thing to say before I end this conversation for good. Phil loves to question why Christian media is subpar. As his devoted follower, you should ask him why this is still the case. After all, he’s been an influential part of Christian media for a long time and there has still not been any real change.

  22. I love this. @philcooke:disqus I totally agree with you. I’m a worship leader and will say it’s hard work. People mirror me on stage. If I raise my hands, they raise their hands. If I jump, they jump. People are untapped as worshippers, they need some encouragement. Some even need to learn how to worship, and what’s ok. Matt Redman would say “I often define good worship leaders as those who lead strongly enough so that people follow, but not so strongly that they themselves become the focus.” There is a healthy way to lead a congregation, and I agree with Phil that we can learn a thing or two from those who get an entire stadium to sing along without trying, not to mention to songs that don’t even bring God glory. Imagine if our worship was as ecstatic.

  23. “And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.” -Lk 16:8

    “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” -Matt. 10:16

    These verses came to my mind when I read your post. I thought what you said was pretty spot on. Though, your title was provocative, which makes sense why some people responded w/ such hostility. That said, I agree. Most churches I see today have high production value and spiritually dead.

    There’s issues of idolatry that I see, when caught up in a concert-like emotional experience, versus actually ushering in the spirit of God into the place of worship, bringing conviction and a true connection that brings awe, something that, sadly, is a rare experience for me. I don’t know if that says something about my attention span or not, but all I know is, I have yet to see a regular occurrence of true, communal worship happen in churches today.

  24. I mulled this over for a time and I think Phil’s right. I don’t want to turn a worship service into a concert, I don’t want it to be about performance. I don’t want churches to confuse an act of service to God with making it about my emotional experience. But a certain amount of worship “leading” and interaction is appropriate. Here’s why.

    God emphasizes His relationship with us as our Heavenly Father. We are His kids coming to worship him. Imagine a scenario in which a church or school pageant presents your small children singing a song on Mother’s Day or Father’s Day that proclaims their appreciation of their parents. Do you want your kid stumbling through the song, coaxed by a choir director, singing halfheartedly because the song isn’t about them? Or because they find no pleasure in the experience? Surely not. You’d prefer that leader down in the front to keep your kids engaged in this musical experience so they can find joy in this proclamation.

    There is more to worship than mere entertainment, but entertainment is rightfully part of this act of service. I believe our Heavenly Father is entertained when He witnesses us singing unto Him joyfully. He is pleased when we sing to Him with pleasure. (2 Cor 9:7)

  25. This is a huge topic of interest for me. I won’t give my credits because credits are not what are important. What is important is what the Bible says and models. I will say, for context, that I am a published writer of worship songs for both contemporary and traditional worship, for children and for adults. I have also served as a “music leader” (I am not using other terms on purpose) in churches for over 30 years… began during the Jesus Movement all the way through the current trends in worship – been there, done that. What I have landed on is that “entertainment” can certainly be a draw and a lure and even a source of encouragement – but it can also be an idol when the focus is on the music and/or the musical presentation. What we see in scripture is that music was led by The Holy Spirit who inspired people skilled in the area of musical leadership. It was not about performance. It was about The Spirit. In one of my books, I draw the comparison between the HOW of worship and the WHO of worship. Far too many churches have relied on the mechanics and performance of music rather than on the actual leading of the Holy Spirit. And that is the REAL leader of worship.

  26. *sigh* ok….here goes….
    It frustrates me as a worship leader that somehow the responsibility is all on me to ‘lead people in worship’. I’m not a pastor in the paid staff sense of the word. Why is it all on me? And even for the paid staff – why is it all on them? What about the responsibility of us all as Christians to engage for ourselves, to be actual disciples?
    It feels like worship leaders generally have aim at the lowest common denominator. Yep, people need encouragement, but some people need confrontation too, others need discipline. The role of worship in a believer’s life isn’t really their ‘encouragement’…it’s the glory of God. There are ways to encourage themselves but I don’t think corporate worship is the context for it. For the regular attendees at church – which is the majority of most churches – congregational worship is not a new idea, or a new setting. It’s an established context which they are familiar with. And this idea that worship is to prepare people for the word is rubbish. It devalues worship for what it is – putting Jesus in the right place.
    Perhaps the Australian context is a bit different, but the worship leader isn’t the preacher. Sure, encourage people with scripture and exhort them to worship and engage in an uplifting way, but between the songs isn’t the worship leader;s therapy time. I’ve heard it used like such and normally it doesn’t do much to glorify God.
    I get what you’re saying, Phil. But you’ve gotten the message lost in translation. Yes, many worship leaders could improve in what they do. But even more Christians could help their fellow family members – including the worship leader – by actively participating in the spiritual practices of the community of faith they profess to be part of – one body, remember? And approaching the issue like you have actually works to promote the ‘them and us’ division between ‘professional’ worshippers and the congregation.

    1. I want to visit your church Michael. It must be located in a perfect alternative universe… 🙂
      Actually, I think what you’re saying is right on – in a perfect world, where everyone in the congregation is a Christian, all are on the same page spiritually, and at the same place on the Christian journey. But in the vast majority of churches I visit, there are some non-believers in the audience who know nothing about worship, other people who have been beaten down by their circumstances, and still others who have experienced a real block or obstacle in their worship and spiritual lives. For those people – what an incredible opportunity for a worship leader to unite them, uplift them, lead them, and educate them in how to worship and what it means. I’m just afraid too many miss that amazing opportunity to help people draw deeper into what worship really is, and perhaps eventually experience exactly what you’re talking about.

  27. While I agree that worship should be upbeat, relevant, and exciting, I disagree with the fact that the worship leader should be speaking between songs. The reason TSwift and Perry talk with the audience is because the audience came to see THEM. The point of leading people in worship is to engage the audience with God, and not you. Speaking to the audience during songs tends to disengage people. Worship is about people connecting with God, so if anything is said it should be from the worship leader to God. In huge audiences such as Hillsong, Elevation and many more, the worship leader rarely talks directly to the audience, but rather to God. This seems to be very effective and helps promote at worshipful atmosphere between the worshipper and the Worshipped.

  28. Great article! I recently had the simple realization that being a worship leader has two important elements:
    1. Worship

    2. Leader

    If you are a skilled musician and love worshiping God; but don’t have any ability to lead people into God’s presence, your effectiveness as a worship leader will be minimal.

  29. I think appearances are deceptive and that one’s conclusion can be subjective based on appearances.

    In my experience, the traditional congregations do have a greater level of participation. However, these churches have been, generally speaking, dead. It is congregational singing but not praise and worship. It is religious ritual. And the person doing the leading is doing just that–leading singing–but was not doing much to exhort the congregation nor were they crying out to God.

    Thankfully, most of the modern services I have attended have had leaders whose attempts to edify and truly lead strike me as sincere.

    That said, I have also been in a number of modern services that were absolutely concerts. The team on the platform struck me as more interested in being polished and in performing while the congregation seemed more interested in rocking out to “good” music but not really directing praise to God.

    So I do not believe it is an either-or proposition. Moreover, I think individual Christians have to get past the awkwardness of praising God directly and directly even while doing so in the midst of hundreds of other people. In other words, we ought not rely on a worship leader to lead us into praise but rather ought to boldly enter the throne room.

  30. After Katy Perry’s Grammy performance, my guess is the author of this post is rethinking his proposed model for engagement. Godly worship is not of the world. We need to be careful who we hold up as examples. It sends the wrong message.

    We should never promote people as models who hold secular satanic services. Go look at Ms. Perry’s Grammy performance and her videos. As Christians, we should hold up appropriate examples…even if the example is just on technique.

    Degrees do not equate to spiritual discernment.

    1. Why would I change the post? Apparently you didn’t read it. I’m not encouraging anyone to emulate her content. i’m asking worship leaders to understand the connection they make with the audience. Too many worship leaders today are simply performing a concert. They’re not engaging the audience, inspiring them, or teaching them how to worship.

  31. Sweeping statements like the first sentence, and the opening paragraph, tell me that nuance is about to be lacking, and halt me from reading the rest of the post.

    Sure, there’s much to suggest is problematic out there, but neither you nor I know “all” or “most” or the “majority” of the hearts of those leading to be able to speak about this with such definitive statements. And as for “most contemporary services,” my guess is that neither you nor I have been in “most.”


    Your Words:

    “The truth is, the vast majority of church “worship leaders” aren’t worship leaders at all. They’re simply musicians playing what are called “worship songs” from popular artists who write that sort of thing. The music is fine, and I have no argument with that, but a real worship service should be a lot more than simply a concert. Watch for yourself: If your church still has both a “traditional” service and a “contemporary” service, I encourage you to attend each and watch the audience. You may not care for traditional hymns, but guess what – the congregation in a traditional service sings along. They know the words and are participating. But in most contemporary services, it’s simply a concert. The audience isn’t really participating and is just watching a performer on the stage.”


    Yes, there’s a problem today, but I’d like to think you would approach it with a sense of “us” rather than “them,” telling “them,” which is “us,” the remedy.

    As for “forget the concert,” what exactly do you mean? Play our instrument just a little more poorly so people can enter in, or posture ourselves like Katy or Taylor and “invite them in” like… um… a concert?

    And as for leaving them with “powerful emotional experience,” you’ve just minimized the worship leader’s role to that of the concert leader you originally eschewed. You just want them/us to be a “better,” “more engaging” performer, it seems.

    Apologies if I’ve read you wrong, but your first sentence is what colored my lens.

    You objectified us as worship leaders – the “vast majority” of us – in the first paragraph. Then you aim for a subtle truth, which is for us to be more inviting (agreed) and encouraging (agreed).

    But it’s hard to hear the sweet melody of your post for the initial banging.

    It’s an honest Friday, it seems.

  32. While I feel the heart behind this article is well intended, I would disagree that we should look to the world on how to lead people in worship. There are plenty of GREAT worship leaders out there, very affective ones, who are accomplishing exactly what this article is speaking of. And yet the author goes to Katy Perry and Taylor Swift? That’s where you lost me. If you’re going to go with an example of someone (or multiple people) to make your point about how to affectively lead in worship, then why not point to examples of those who are actually leading in worship effectively?

    1. Worshiper wrote: “While I feel the heart behind this article is well intended, I would disagree that we should look to the world on how to lead people in worship.”

      Worshiper missed Phil’s point. Last time I checked, there only is one world– the world that is both beautiful and ugly.

      Only One World

      So Beautiful or So What

      Paul Simon – So beautiful or so what – VIDEO

      1. David, you obviously missed my point. Why look to secular artists, who have no interest in accomplishing what the author is speaking of, as he rightly stated, “Leading worship is about bringing people into the presence of God.” So why not point to effective worship leaders who are doing just that as your examples? THAT was my point, which was communicated rather clearly, but unfortunately was not addressed.

        1. Actually “Worshipper” I think you missed MY point. I wasn’t suggesting that secular performers can teach worship leaders how to worship. I was making the point that even SECULAR performers get the importance of how to engage audiences when so many CHRISTIAN worship leaders don’t. For too many worship leaders, it’s simply a performance, and they make no real connection at all with the congregation or audience. I wanted to make the point that if secular performers understand this, we should understand it even more.

          1. “For too many worship leaders, it’s simply a performance, and they make no real connection at all with the congregation or audience. I wanted to make the point that if secular performers understand this, we should understand it even more.”

            Then perhaps its the premise I take issue with. While I would agree that many worship leaders make it more of a performance, secular artists make a “connection” for an entirely different reason and for an entirely different purpose, often times with an entirely different message which, in that context, has no real connection to “worship” whatsoever. It becomes apples and oranges at that point, especially in light of scripture. (1 John 2:15-17 comes to mind when it comes to pointing people to pay attention to secular artists, whether intentionally or unintentionally.)

            So again I ask… why not point people to those who ARE leading in worship effectively? I have yet to get a response to this question. Are you contending that there are NO worship leaders accomplishing what you are advocating for? Therefor we are forced to turn to the secular arena to learn from?

  33. Worshipper – I’ve told you my reason, and you disagree with my point. That’s fine. And nowhere in the post do I indicate there are no worship leaders doing it well. Ask Darlene Zschech – she loved the post…
    Thanks for your comments!

  34. I never disagreed with your overall “point,” it’s using Katy Perry and Taylor Swift to make that point that I disagreed with; ultimately pointing people to secular artists (who often lead questionable lifestyles) and declaring that worship leaders can be taught by them is where my issue lies. As if these are who worship leaders should turn to. If you have a scriptural basis for this, please do share. I also never said you indicated that there are no worship leaders doing it well, I simply posed the question to you. I guess if Darlene Zschech loved your post, then case closed… 😛 People agreeing with you does not invalidate the position I am putting forward. I feel I posed a rather simple question. Here’s a new title for an article, “What Satanists Can Teach Christians About Zeal & Passion for Their Beliefs.” One could argue from the same position you are within this article. What would be your response? And more importantly, would Darlene Zschech agree with you… 🙂

    1. There’s plenty to learn from “secular” sources, and there are plenty of scriptural examples of it. My friend Dr. Robert Johnston in his book “God’s Wider Presence” says:
      “Can God speak through an unreliable source? Surely the answer is yes as King Josiah learned the hard way when he rejected King Neco’s words about God in 2 Chronicles 35 and was killed as a result. And what about King Abimelek who was not a believer in Abraham’s God but nevertheless heard God speak to him and reported that honestly to Abraham (see Genesis 20)? Or what of the four true oracles from the false prophet Balaam in Numbers? And do you recall the story of Jonah? Who had a better handle on God’s revelation, God’s prophet Jonah or the “pagan” sailors in Jonah’s boat?” “The reality is that the Spirit of God can and does speak to humans through creation, conscience, and human creativity — we call this general revelation. Such revelation is not sufficient to know God’s saving grace, but neither is it absent of significance or power. How sad and mistaken that many Christians ignore or discount such transcendent experiences.”

      1. Thank you for the quote by Robert Johnston, which included some scriptural references. I’d like to take a look at each one. Josiah disobeyed God after Neco communicated what God had commanded Neco. Does scripture teach that Josiah sought the Lord concerning this? No. Did he turn to “secular” sources in order to be “taught” what to do? No. Scripture reveals that Neco communicated something directly from God (an important point to consider – it was FROM God), and Josiah was disobedient to the Lord, nothing more. In Genesis 20, we find again that God spoke to Abimelech in a dream (it was FROM God, He was directly involved), and again we find another (Abraham) being unfaithful to the Lord (ie. his faith in the Lord wavered about revealing Sarah as his wife). Interestingly, Abimelech DID have the fear of the Lord and he listened to God. (Do Katy Perry and Taylor Swift?) What exactly did Abraham “learn” from Abimelech? As far as we know, nothing. Scripture does not say. And where scripture is silent, we cannot eisegete the text. Balaam in Numbers? Again, God was directly involved in the circumstance (even using a talking donkey). Balaam repented. In what way did Balaam “learn” from “secular” sources? He did not. He learned from God Himself. Scripture does not teach anything else. And lastly, Dr. Johnston asks, “Who had a better handle on God’s revelation, God’s prophet Jonah or the ‘pagan’ sailors in Jonah’s boat?” Is Dr. Johnston insinuating that Jonah did not understand God’s revelation? Scripture reveals that Jonah was being disobedient, not that he didn’t have a “handle” on God’s revelation. The sailors were concerned with dying in the storm. Jonah actually DID have a handle on the situation, and instructed the men to throw him into the sea to calm the storm. Here again we see another biblical figure being disobedient to the Lord. And again, in this case, Jonah knew it! He wasn’t “taught” anything from “secular” sources that he didn’t already know from the Lord Himself. Therefor, I would contend that Dr. Johnston’s arguments do not line up with scripture, and do not support the case made in this article. God spoke directly to these men (not through “conscience” or “human creativity”). Is God speaking directly to Katy Perry or Taylor Swift in such a way that worship leaders should turn to them in order to learn how to better lead people in worship? This is the crux of the issue. Point to one scripture in which we are taught to turn to “secular” sources in order to improve our relationship with God. Eisegesis of the scriptures to validate a personal viewpoint does not count. Scripture must clearly teach that this is okay to be doing and is pleasing to the Lord. Otherwise we’re making things up outside the bounds of what the scriptures teach us.

        1. We’ll just have to agree to disagree. From my perspective, to cut yourself off from what you can learn from secular sources as well as scriptural ones would be a tragic thing.

          I write a lot on this blog about learning from secular sources, so this is probably not a place you’ll enjoy frequenting. In fact, if you don’t like this post, you’ll REALLY hate this one:

          1. I’ve really enjoyed the conversation (though I can’t help but feel my points weren’t really addressed :-). If I can encourage you to think about your comment, “from my perspective…” Shouldn’t it be God’s perspective we seek to honor? It’s about Him, not about us and our proclivities that make us feel good, cool, hip, accepted by the world, etc. I want to end this conversation by saying that I mostly agreed with this article and its over-arching message. However, it would have been nice to replace Katy and Taylor with a couple of excellent worship leaders to bolster your point, not to mention lead people to those who are seeking the Lord. God bless.

  35. I believe both Katy Perry and Taylor Swift are called to lead people into the worship of God. It’s sad to see their gift and talent miss their mark. I believe many of our potential best worship leaders end up disillusioned with the Church and making a living at the top of the Charts.But yes, some of them are great at engaging with the people, and we can learn from that…

  36. I hate worship leaders talking between songs, just when I am pressing into a place of intimacy in God, they interrupt it and stop the flow! Less is more to me!

  37. I think you have a valid point there Phil. However, I’d go further to say worship is music and music is not worship. It’s a popular a valid means of expression in worship of our Lord but we’ve still missed the mark.

    Worship is not for us while even the we do benefit from it at time. It is rather the act of making a response to who God is. It should be our life and it’s not just an emotional transaction even though it can be.

    It frustrates me the church has pigeon holed what worship is, how and where it happens and even how we detained if it was good!

    ‘Praise Concerts’ or performances could have their place but not in place or under the false understanding that ‘we’ve worshipped’.

  38. “We are commanded to worship God in spirit and truth. If you can’t worship at your current church, perhaps we need to find one where you can. If you can’t find one, perhaps you have an issue of the heart. If you are older and are attending a church that is changing to meet the needs of a younger generation and you’re bitter about that, you have an issue of the heart, not volume. You can either choose to support the efforts to reach the next generation for Christ or get pissed off that your personal needs aren’t being met. “

  39. Why is there such an assumption by some commenters that “worship” is only about music?
    If your ability to focus on God is so feeble that a few encouraging words from the guy with the microphone can take it away from you – don’t blame anyone but yourself.
    Much of worship in days long gone by was in a style we know as “call and response” – a bit like what many traditional churches still do in speech (not musical) form ie; the “minister” will say something and the congregation will respond by returning the line or returning a complentary line. A short example might be where we sing “Spirit of the living God fall on me”, they might say Leader; “May the blessing of the Lord be upon you” – congregation “and upon you also”.
    Very basic example but the point is that we can get way too caught up in what our personal idea of worship is – and on the personal side, there wil be many many differences. But on the corporate side lets not say that “my way is the only way”.
    Also, Jesus said “feed my sheep” – He didn’t say “tell them where the food is and let them just participate uninterupted”. A song leader has no need to lead anything but the song, but a Worship Leader has a responsibility to lead others into a place where they can open their heart to God – this often takes more than simply singing a song.
    Personally – I miss the days where the worship leader actually took responsibility for leading the people and not just leading the musicians to get the song right.
    Oh yeah – we learn to put bricks together to make a church building from secular experts – we learn to use sound equipment from secular people who invent them – we learn to use a guitar made by secular people and so many of our great preachers and teachers have studied secular speakers to learn techniques that will help them to get the mesage accross better. Why on earth are we so precious about saying that somebody famous does something well and we could learn from it?

  40. I personally despise the church praise and worship concert. As a pastor, I have seen both sides of the “worship experience” – that being small church and mega-church services. If churches would spend more time seeking the presence of God instead of the approval of man, there would be MUCH greater levels of intimacy.

    I know that Ecclesiastes says there is a time and a season for everything, but the church in general has lost its relevancy to many demographics. I long for the days when the church truly made worship services all about Him instead of a light show with smoke and lasers and marginal vocals that look more like a concert than a hungering and thirsting for righteousness.

    The lights and cameras make for great productions and television, but rarely produce the intimate environments that usher people into the presence of Jesus. Operate in excellence YES, but leave the production to special services. No, I’m not saying abandon all technology, just don’t make it the focal point of services.

    Give me an acoustic set and a group of people desiring to touch the heart of God and I’ll show you cloves of fire dancing on the heads on His people.

    1. I probably wouldn’t go as far as you regarding lights and sound, but I totally get the point and agree. Excellent thoughts, and thanks for posting them… 🙂

    2. I am sorrow to say I can understand why you’d choose the word “despise”. To my heart much of what goes in a congregational setting (whether 5 or 50,000) it is much a performance, approval and money making generated shows. Makes me want to spiritually throw up. I’m sure many “mean well” or are “sincere” however all the glamor and pageant of the shows and displays or the mute and somber give no opening or have no inkling of The sense or reason for why people gather in a congregation. There are no opportunities for individuals to give praise, pray, thanks or release any of God’s Loving Power amoungst us. And too many times one person will spend an hour or so talking or telling stories and jokes rather than get to The Point of The Word of God.

      YES, please let us together pray asking Jesus to “shake off the windfall fruit” and
      “wake up The Church” for certainly The Lord by His Spirit is willing to lead us fully into His Way, Truth and Life. We must be willing to be real before Himself and witl one another and, share His Words, Love and our faith with one another too. How else can we live as a people to His Glory abd Praise?

  41. I have watched great worship leaders like Paul Baloche and Matt Redman and Chris Tomlin and I love how they engage the congregation, especially in between songs, but I just have no idea how to do it like that. I don’t know how to talk without interrupting the flow. I can ramble on about what the song means, but these guys do something that I just can’t explain. Can anyone pinpoint what it is?

  42. Thanks for sharing. I agree that one of the worship leader’s job is to encourage and help the worshippers focus on God. Have you ever encountered a worship leader who imitates other worship leaders from CDs or videos they have hear or seen and their prompting and encouragement do not seem natural but more of a mechanical action? Why is that so?

    1. Peter, I know exactly what your talking about. I am apart of a worship band and I have seen my share of forced prompting. I think it’s the person seeing the success of the person they are imitating and wanting the same reaction, so they try to mimic that person. Interaction and encouragement within the service should be lead from two places. The heart, and more importantly, the Spirit.

    2. I think it’s important to see what other people are doing and learn. However, God made us all unique, and we need to bring our personal gifts and talents to the table. There’s a big difference between “learning from” and “copying.”

      1. YES, YES,YES! Let us learn and grown and move and have our being together united-one in our One-Absolute and One-United Kinsman Redeeming God Yeshua! Let us each be that Christian in every moment that God has brought us in and is continually crafting us to be through His master artistry as our Father, Brother and Holy Spirit. We should not be afraid to be ourselves nor should we allow fear to overcome and dominant us when it comes to sharing Yeshua with one another – as long as our hearts are clean and we are expressing ourselves and The Love of Our God Yeshua in the things we desire to share with our siblings and co-heirs. O LORD GOD, just consider if we each were to “REVEAL JESUS” AND EXPRESS THE MILK OF HUMAN KINDNESS TO ONE ANOTHER FIRST how different things would be. WOW!!!!!!!!!

    3. I have witnessed many try to imitate the styles and manners of other ministers. This is really “stupid” or just plain ignorance or lacking confidence on the part of those of us who will do that. It is a crying shame because those who do these thing are denying The Living God Who desires to make Himself known through us – the fallible and inflammable (THANKS BE TO GOD’s Blood applied inside and over-covering us constantly!!!!) made complete and being made perfect/mature through His words of Legalities, Instruction and Love.

      Why is it so? Because even as Christians we are still just normal human beings who are more easily turn to following without thinking and lean to our natural human manner, nature and way of the world.

  43. Since when is “worship leader” even a New Testament church concept? We are all priests unto God and each one can and should contribute to our corporate gatherings – whether it be a song, a psalm, a hymn, a prayer…

    No wonder people don’t participate or engage in meetings. The entire “model” we are implementing is prohibitive of true community and ministering one to another.

    We sure have exalted our beloved church traditions over the commandment of God. The last thing we need is to borrow more “techniques” for “success” from the world

    1. By the way I don’t mean my comment in a rude manner, it just saddens me that the privilege and right that each saint has of participating in the leading of worship songs is literally robbed of them (us) through this way of conducting church meetings. I am sure that the early church knew nothing of being an audience – to use your word – led to sing pre-selected and well-rehearsed songs.

      1. God bless your insight. I am grieved at what seems to be the incessant pandering of the present religious system to what the world does. We have become religious consumers rather than the disciples and servants of Christ. I am persuaded that we do not understand what true worship is: just try silence in the congregation instead of the latest pop tune performances and see what happens. Pray the Lord will reveal to us what it means to truly worship.

      2. In our services our ministry to Yeshua and our congregations are just part of these times we live in. There is also no real interactive prayers with and for one another and there is no real sharing of our education, talents & gifts. God has prescribed, set and made for us to be vessels of The Expressions of His Great Faith and Abundant Love that we should firstly use to help support, admonish and encourage one another! If each of us would simply regard one another as equals in our God and look to Him and His Holy Name Yeshua or Jesus (whatever language you might speak yourself as He Knows who you are and His Name Is) then we each would truly seek after Him and His Righteousness First, receive our hearts desires and be entrenched in the confidence of our salvation as “one redeemed and saved from His Vengence and Justice which is soon to come upon all who live and died rejecting His Atonement of sin and sinning.

  44. I find the disturbing trend (all across the denominational board of The
    Church) is that what passes for ” Worship and Praise and Prayer” is is
    simply “A NOISOME PESTILENCE”. This is a nationwide (in the USA at
    least) movement of the unholy spirit at large amoung all mankind. I’ve
    gone into congregations and the volume and amplified sound is so loud
    that I quite literally have “my bones furiously shaken” and my mind
    “rattled”! Try and reason with the sound crew or the so called ministry
    leader and am met with excuses and many times outright violence. This
    is not The Way of Yeshua our God and Lord and certainly is not a display
    of Christian consideration nor The Love of God which He has told us is
    what we are to share with one another that are The Sign of HIs Life
    living in our hearts (to one another and as a stark witness to the world
    of lost or straying souls outside our Kingdom family.

  45. Blessings!
    I believe the issue we are seeing in worship today, is that there is a difference between a worship leader and a christian artist/entertainer. Both should be anointed and appointed by God, but they should know their calling and function in it.

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