A heart of worship helps Christians glorify God and stay focused on Him. This is why Paul urged the Ephesians to “be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:18-19 NKJV)
Accordingly, corporate worship is a central aspect of every church. In this part of a church service, worship leaders inspire the congregation to draw more closely to God through music, biblical readings and other spoken parts.
David Carlyle, the worship pastor at Victory Church in Lakeland, Florida, offers advice on how to lead worship. Carlyle has been a worship pastor for 25 years.
How to Lead Worship
Beginning With Prayer
“Leading worship starts with prayer,” Carlyle said. “I believe worship is not something we do just on Sundays or whenever there’s an event. Worship is who we are. Worshipping is a daily walk with God. Worship involves more than just singing and more than just music. Every area of our lives is considered to be a part of worship.”
Before planning the service, worship leaders should seek guidance in prayer. “I believe we need to prepare ourselves spiritually first,” Carlyle said. “Whatever God is speaking to the pastor and the worship pastor I believe is [something] that those two need to get together, and get the heart and mind of God in preparation for that weekend. So this starts with prayer before you even sit down and begin to plan anything.”
Approaching Spoken Parts of the Worship Service
“You can put a package together,” Carlyle said about spoken parts of the worship service. “You can put an order of service together and have that ready to go. But you have to be spontaneous. You have to be open to the Spirit.”
“If the Spirit of God wants to move in a different direction, I think the worship leader has to be open to that,” Carlyle said. At that moment, the leader may pause after a song and read Scripture, or encourage people who may be struggling to lift their voices in praise. “It takes confidence in who [worship leaders] are … confidence in their walk with God, and it takes just learning how to listen to the Holy Spirit.”
It’s important for there to be trust between the pastor and the worship leader. This can take time to establish, according to Carlyle.
Carlyle urges new and less-experienced worship leaders to focus on engagement. The goal isn’t to get through what’s prepared as fast as possible or make corporate worship seem like a concert. Worship leaders should find a moment to pause and just encourage the people.
Worship leaders should choose music based on the makeup of the church. “You have to know your audience,” Carlyle said. “You have to know the DNA and the vision of your church.”
“If you’re a millennial church, of course, you want to be more contemporary. You want to do more Elevation, more Hillsong, more gospel or whatever [speaks to] the diversity of your church,” he said.
Carlyle leads a multigenerational church at Victory. “That means when I walk in on Sunday morning, I’ve got to lead a teenager into the presence of God and I’ve got to lead [a] grandma into the presence of God,” he said. “So we have a variety of age groups. And I’ve got to be sensitive to what I choose.”
Having different age groups can alter how worship leaders choose their music. Carlyle gives an example of a congregation with people who have grown up on “Amazing Grace.” This might require a new arrangement on a classic hymn for a multigenerational church like Victory. These types of scenarios require creativity, wisdom and an understanding of the audience.
“Worship is not about us,” Carlyle said. “And that’s where we mess up [if] we start thinking that worship is about what we’re trying to do, the songs we want to do, what we’re trying to create, how we want Him to come across, how we want to look or how we want to be received.”
Psalm 34 says “I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth.” “We’re here to bless Him and to honor Him and to lead people into His presence,” Carlyle said. “Jesus came to serve, not to be served, and so we [also] have to have the mindset of serving the people.”
Carlyle believes that worship leaders will develop confidence with time and with the proper focus. “What we’re after in service, in a worship experience, is His presence,” he said. “The presence of God changes everything.”
“Worship is all unto Him. As we spend that time in prayer, God gives us that … confidence to stand among the people like Peter did on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), and stand above the crowd and declare that our God reigns. He’s the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. We’re going to lift our voice in praise and thanksgiving, and honor Him through our worship. And that comes in our walk with God.”
“We have to come together and get the mind of Christ.” -David Carlyle
Worship leaders need to approach each worship service by committing everything to God. “We have to come together and get the mind of Christ,” Carlyle said. “So when we walk out there, we’re delivering the message through the Word, we’re delivering the message through music and we’re trying to save people’s lives [by encountering] the kingdom of God.”
“And it takes time. If you’re a young, working pastor, it takes time to develop that confidence.”
Pursuing a Career in Ministry
Southeastern University’s online ministry degrees prepare students for various careers in churches and other faith-based organizations. Graduates can pursue positions in areas such as worship, preaching, teaching, administration and youth and family ministry. Each program takes place in a flexible and convenient format to accommodate students’ personal and work schedules.