One of the hardest things for me to do as a worship leader is to find replacements. Part of the reason is because I was never trained by anyone. I cut my teeth leading worship from the moment I decided to learn the venerable G-C-D chord progression. From the very beginning I was the guy. I was terrible at it, but I was the guy nonetheless. So when I look to start training people, my experience is from a place of just doing. Worship leading is multi-faceted and very high paced in today’s world. For example, you must be a good musician, talented vocalist, good at leading a team, good at leading a congregation, able to speak well and react to what is happening around you, and you must be constantly listening to the Holy Spirit to be sensitive to His moving among us. All of this often happens simultaneously and we are required to have the skills and utilize them on any given Sunday. While some of these traits can be taught some are inherent within the gifts given to people.
The first step to training a replacement is to simply identify that person as a leader. A good singer alone will not cut it, they must have the leadership ability before anything else. Leadership alone is hard to quantify because people lead differently. Don’t dismiss people because you have different leadership styles, make sure you know and understand leadership from multiple perspectives in order to identify if someone has leadership potential. A very good example is recently I had a young woman who wanted to be a worship leader. Her stage presence was very timid, and exceedingly so next to one of our other worship leaders. But over the years she has become a very good worship leader. I hear people say things like “she brought a sweet worshipful presence” and other such compliments. There is an authenticity and quiet fervor that resonates with people. It is, in a word, leadership. I am an introvert by nature. I love talking to people, but will often not do so unless I either have to to be nice, I get super excited about something, or am in a situation that requires it. In a crowd I could easily sit by myself and just hang out and be quiet. So I could be mistaken as someone who is not a leader. If you got to know me, you would find out differently. I lead differently than super-outgoing-bombastic-type A guy, but that is perfectly ok. People are different and leadership, both on stage and off, is different. So know your prospective leaders and be alert for various ways in which they lead.
From there, the key is time and intentionality. It is rare to stumble upon anything great, both in personal life and in the church. Intentionality is the key ingredient to achievement. Training a leader requires spending time teaching them the basics of what you do. Give them some books if you can, push them to learn music theory and multiple instruments, walk them through the ins and outs of what you do. Because much of this has become second nature, it helps to journal your activities and thought processes, even when not at work. Then you will be able to speak about what you do more clearly. Understand, however, that this will take time. I have been leading worship for 18 years. I have made countless mistakes, and have soaked in hundreds of best and worst practices over the years. If I were to go back even a few years ago, I would say I have changed even since then. So for me to assume I can impart this knowledge without intentionally thinking through what I want to communicate would be folly. I would miss much of the best of what I have to offer. It takes time. It takes reflection. And it takes intentionality.
Experience is the third and most valuable tool in helping to train worship leaders. You must give them all the experience they can handle. If I want someone to lead, I must let them lead and do so often. You have to let them succeed and fail in the same ways you and I have. That is the only way they will become experienced. It is hard to do for many of us. Especially when we want to be excellent at all times. I had a conversation just the other day about worship leaders who have not yet achieved the confidence on stage to actually lead. It can be painful almost. But in our context, we do not have any other options for worship leaders to gain experience than on Sunday morning. Even if we perceive that excellence is being sacrificed, part of that excellence must be the perpetuation of leaders in our midst. The only way this happens is by letting go a little, and letting those who will hopefully come after us gain the positive and negative experiences that will make them mature and well rounded leaders.
It is hard in larger churches to get new leaders to develop because of the skill and experience of those who are leading. My training came by way of stumbling through the dark at very small churches that were still singing hymns exclusively. I was given loads of experience because there was no one in front of me, even if I was painfully bad. That dynamic is not available in many churches, so we have to be especially mindful to create cultures and systems that create the space for experience and leadership to grow in the next group of worship leaders.