Anyone Can Make Fun of the Worship Leader

For some reason, worship leaders have a bit of a bad reputation. Whether it be in classes, on blogs, or just in conversations, I hear all the time about how most worship leaders just try to look cool without really knowing anything about leading a corporate gathering of worship. The rock genre of most worship music being written today probably doesn’t help, nor does many churches hiring young men who they won’t give enough training or support.

Recently I read a post put up by a fairly well-known and well-read blog titled “How to Tell If a Worship Leader is a Superstar Wanna-Be.” Oh joy, another post tearing a part worship leaders. It was everything I had hoped for. Here’s a couple of my “favorite” lines from the post about superstar worship leaders…

  • You changed your Church 7 times in the last 3 years as your “God-given” ministry of becoming the hottest worship leader / songwriter did not find the best of support.
  • You can’t understand why your Pastor is not willing to give a makeover for your Church to look and sound like Hillsong.
  • You believe worship is not complete without young ‘worshipers’ in front of the stage with clenched fists up in the air, moshing and cheering.
  • You don’t believe there’s any real difference between ‘worship’ and ‘music.’
  • You spend more time sending demo recordings to recording labels than in personal prayer/Bible reading/worship team rehearsals/planning.

At first I read this and thought there must be some sort of sarcastic element to it. I thought that because I’ve never met any worship leader who is even moderately close to this sort of behavior and attitude. But no, it wasn’t sarcastic. I don’t know the author personally, but I’ve read some of what else he has written and he has a lot of great things to say.

A post like this does nothing but fuel the anti-worship leader mentality that so many in church have. This mentality is nothing more than a me-first attitude about getting what we want out of our times of worship as the body of Christ.

I’ve always thought that perception is reality. And while this post paints worship leaders in a completely unrealistic and unfair light, the more people post about worship leaders being like this, the more people will believe it actually to be true.

What we really need is more people who are willing to extend a hand and word of encouragement to their worship leader/pastor. By no means am I a perfect worship leader and often I am my harshest critic and I never take criticism lightly. There are many people who say thank you or good job after a worship set and I am grateful for those people. Instead of taking time to complain about what didn’t go right, take some time to give specific encouragement, I promise it will mean so much to the worship leader.

Here’s what I know to be true of most worship leaders I’ve met and know well:

  • They would shudder at the idea of someone thinking of them as a superstar before being a leader of worshipers.
  • They are constantly trying to be creative with how their church can worship together beyond just singing.
  • They spend hours in thought and prayer for how to be lead their people on a weekly basis.
  • They understand the importance of them being servants to their church and worship team in order to lead well.

Anyone can make fun of the worship leader.

Doesn’t mean you should.

  • Jesse Rice

    Well said, Tyler. Thanks for posting a thoughtful response on behalf of us music-as-worship-leader types.

  • dk

    One of my regrets of leaving Portland was that I never heard you and Rose lead worship. A lot of my patients who attended Sunset would tell me how talented and gifted you guys are. Perhaps one day.

    Keep running the race, brother.

    • Tyler

      Well at least we sang a few hymns in class together 🙂

    • kathyk

      dk, it’s definitely a treat when Tyler & Rose lead together! We’re so blessed to have amazing worship leaders like Tyler who are truly after God’s heart. Their humility, grace and passion (not to mention skill!) definitely shine through.

  • Chad Estes

    Some of my best friends are worship leaders. Needless to say they are ripe for picking on as their fruit is front and center for everyone to see. Some of the ribbing can be good natured fun (who doesn’t laugh at a Letterman-styled Top Ten list about worship leaders) but then some of it is simply pathetic and mean.

    I tired of sitting through staff meetings where there was a constant battle between the Sr. Pastor and the Worship leader over content, time, volume, and stage presence (appearance) of the worship team. Usually it was pretty one-sided with the worship leader being TOLD how or what to change. I think this staff position in the church is the most micro-managed.

    In one church I served the worship pastor was so beat up by the pastors that he left the ministry to become an undertaker.

    • Tyler

      Probably depends on each situation but I don’t think you’ve exaggerated some of what I’ve seen.

  • Luke Baumgartner

    Great post. I’ve met both ‘types’ of worship leaders. But, a distinction I think worth while is to say that the leaders your are describing are “Worship Leaders/Pastors” and the stereotypical punching bag leaders are “Music Leaders/Directors”.

    I have actually seen some ‘music leaders’ but I will wholeheartedly agree with you in that the vast majority of people that I know and work with are true “worship leaders”.

    Thanks for your post.


  • Melinda

    I think that stereotypes exist and can undermine the health and productivity of most job types. Church service not immune to this.

    As an intercessor, I run into the notion of prayer groups being mostly made up of blue haired women who sit around and gossip about those in their church community, in order to instill a need to pray over these people. The notion prayer teams being mad up of men, as well as women, young and old, finding revelation, prophecy, discernment, healing and seismically supernatural intervention is rarely mentioned…unless of course the team is from Bethel.

  • Melinda

    I really need to proof-read better before sending. Change that to ‘The notion that prayer teams are made up of men…’
    My apologies.

    • Tyler

      Fixed 🙂

  • Nathan Smith

    Having moved from an evangelical church to a church in the Anglican tradition, I’d suggest that many of the risks which bring about these over-the-top criticisms of worship leaders come from having an up-front individual leading worship as the center of attention. I do not think that Christians truly need a “worship leader.” That being said, corporate musical worship does benefit greatly from having a music leader to handle the logistics of it all. That person does not really need to be visible in my experience.

  • Paul Ramey

    Tyler, thanks for the post.

    I agree with a previous commenter in that there is definitely a wide spectrum when it comes to “types” of worship leaders. I know worship leaders that, unfortunately, fit the “I’m trying to make it big in the worship world” (as much of an oxymoron that is) and they are desperately attempting to cash in on an incredibly popular genre in music today. No one can deny the fact that the marketability of worship music has had negative effects and some positive effects on worship leaders as well as the church today.

    But I think both parties (these worship leaders as well as the Church) are to blame in this. I know of churches that have made it a policy to not hire a worship leader who is out of his/her 20s. I’m totally fine with churches contextualizing and letting their demographic dictate the age of the pastors they hire, but this kind of general policy is a bit much. I’m not knocking anyone in their 20s, but when it comes to pastoring this is our infancy stage. Don’t get me wrong, there are mature worship leaders/pastors in their 20s, but you only continue to truly grasp who you are called to be as a worship pastor as you age and mature. But maturity doesn’t seem to be these churches’ motivation – culture is dictating their decisions, and this is sad to me. These churches care less about making sure their worship leaders are theologically sound and pastorally fit, and more about making sure they will fit the cultural mold they are trying to create.

    On the other hand, whatever the reason, there seems to be a good number of worship leaders who don’t value their own biblical, theological and pastoral education. Again, maybe this comes from the lack of a well modeled approach to the role. Or from their own presuppositions about what the role involves. Or wrong motivations.

    My point is that, while the stereotypes suck, I guess I’ve seen enough to understand why they exist. I’m not trying to push back on you in what you’re saying, Tyler. I agree…we need to encourage the worship leaders in our churches. We also need to call out where the stereotypes DO exist and continue to be intentional with and good stewards of the worship leaders in our care.

    Again, thanks for the post bro. I appreciate your heart and what you bring to these conversations and issues.


    • Tyler

      Thanks for your thoughts Paul.

      My only push back would be that hiring someone who isn’t a qualified worship leader is a mistake churches make whether the person is 25 or 55. I think age is sometimes a good determinant, but rarely the best.

      In the end, I totally agree with you about this being an issue of churches trying to be culturally relevant. Sometimes you end up with a great worship pastor at a young age, other times you end up with someone who is very green (like I was and am probably) and don’t give them enough structure and support to succeed in their role.

  • alan

    Confession time…when I was in seminary it was mission students we joked about. I one time asked a friend if his introduction to misiology included learning to run a slide projector.

    I felt bad after but I have a habit not unlike Peter of putting my foot in my mouth.

  • David Santistevan

    Tyler, I appreciate your thoughtful response. I agree, rather than making fun of worship leaders, we should do all we can to ensure they succeed. Rather than being super critical what if we actually worshiped when they lead and thanked them when they were done?

    • Mark Falls

      That’s funny, weren’t u the first guy to comment on the original article under discussion describing it as “fantastic”?

      Wow, talk about sitting on both sides of the fence!

      • David Santistevan

        I don’t disagree with the article. I approached it knowing there was sarcasm involved in the writing. That allows me to read it differently and pull out what the author was trying to say. But I also agree with Tyler that we shouldn’t make a habit of making fun of worship leaders. I honestly don’t think that was the writer’s intent with this post. Make sense?

  • Chris

    If nobody made fun of worship leaders then everyone would be making fun of Mark Driscoll.

    • Tyler

      Ha, nice. And probably somewhat true.

  • Jason

    Tyler, I spent over 20 years in radio and I can tell you that I met more than a few “worship leaders” who were all about the rock star persona that came with it. But I will add that those people usually weren’t around very long because it didn’t take long for people to see through it.

    Most worship leaders definitely aren’t seeking the rock star status and you’re right that lists like that…while true to a degree for a minority of folks…doesn’t help the overall church body.

  • Gangai Victor

    Just to clarify, my article was about a specific type of worship leaders only, not the whole lot of us (yes I happen to be one too).

    I like the opening line in ur post, “For some reason, worship leaders have a bit of a bad reputation.” I believe ambition for stardom in some and resultant behavior is part of the “some reason”, which is what my article is about.

    Let’s learn from each other and work towards changing our reputation to good 🙂