Unsolicited advice is never cool because it’s, well, unsolicited. You didn’t ask for it. No one likes it when someone wags a finger in our face and says, “You shouldn’t eat that” or “I wouldn’t do that, if I were you!” It’s just not fun and the would-be advice is almost always lost on us. We usually just go ahead and eat that and do that, anyway, no matter the consequences.
Truth is, we’d all be better off if we took some of the advice available to us, unsolicited or not, especially from a source like the Book of Proverbs. If you don’t read it much, I highly recommend it because it’s full of practical (and really short) bits of advice that will make you very wise and help you deal with life from a standpoint of wisdom and success. You want that, believe me. Turns out that a lot of success in life and ministry is a result of a “wise heart” instead of a “foolish heart” that rejects wisdom that comes our way.
As I look back over my thirty-plus years of leading worship in the local church, I see some places I could’ve been wiser. I think I’ve done okay, over all, but I still see some glaring deficiencies I would love to go back and fix for the gracious people who sometimes suffered under my leadership instead of being blessed by it.
Some other wise person once said, “No matter how hard I work on yesterday, it never seems to get any better.” I can’t go back, of course, but I thought I’d give you some unsolicited advice, five specific things in my worship ministry I would go back and change if I could, just in case you decide to heed them and avoid a few regrets later on.
- Pick lower keys. Okay, so I’m a first tenor and I love keys that make my voice shine when I lead them. The problem is that my congregations were rarely made up exclusively of first tenors. My keys were too high for the men, so they tried to sing an octave lower rather than strain and look silly trying to sing up there with me. The women were stuck in the stratosphere, too, and my wife begged me for years to not do these songs in their original keys (let him who has ears to hear, hear this and be wise). This resulted in a room full of people just standing there listening to me have a good time singing. Last time I checked, that doesn’t qualify as worship leading.
- Be less “creative” and more relational. I once built a ten-foot waterfall on the stage for one It rocked. It was “over the top creative,” but the time I put into doing it for a big effect was time I could’ve spent building relationships with team members, my pastor, or my congregation. I did a lot of “creative” things trying to prove that I was creative and cool. I bet people would’ve thought I was a lot cooler if I’d cared about them more than my creativity.
- Chosen better songs. I am just as guilty as the next “modern” worship leader for choosing songs that everyone thinks are cool over songs that will actually serve the spiritual needs of the people. All worship songs aren’t created equal. Some have better doctrine and are much more impacting than highly repetitive and innocuous “modern” songs. Lifeway works hard to give you excellent song resources. Use them wisely.
- Spent more time mentoring. Like many leaders in the church, my motives for ministry have always been that funny mixture of serving the church and serving my own needs to do music. Wow, that was transparent, but I think you might identify with me in that, especially if you’re the slightest bit self-aware. We are, after all, humans. No one’s perfect. But I would, if I could, go back and spend a lot more time investing in the people who served with me and build their ministries while I worked on my own. Who knows how God could’ve blessed that?
- Thought more about leading well than just doing music. Maybe this one encompasses all of the above, but that’s okay. Music is amazing and it’s a blast to do when it’s all working well. But God’s call on us as worship leaders means that we learn to lead and that means leading others. Leading others means they benefit from what we’re doing much more than we do. That’s hard to keep in mind when the key is lower for our voices than we want, when we’re not as “cutting edge” as the church down the street, and when we can’t rock the spotlight like we would really want to if people only knew our hearts. Ouch. So true humility really is part of great leadership.
That’s enough for now. I don’t want to dig in the past any more. You get the point. Leading is serving others, not ourselves. That’s harder to do than most people know, but, if you’re leading in the local church as a worship leader, you get it. Maybe something I’ve shared here will encourage you to focus on becoming a better leader for others while you do great music. My finger didn’t wag even once while I wrote this. I offer it to you from what little bit of wisdom I have in hopes you’ll receive it in love, the way I mean it, and not reject it just ‘cuz you didn’t ask.
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John Chisum is a pioneer in the Christian music industry and currently Managing Partner of Nashville Christian Songwriters, a company that exists “to empower Christian songwriters worldwide. As a songwriter, arranger, producer, music publisher, and recording artist, he has served alongside some of the world’s greatest and best-loved artists such as Bill & Gloria Gaither, Don Moen, Twila Paris, Paul Baloche, and many more. John is an internationally appreciated worship leader and speaker in his own right, known for his passion for Jesus, his creativity, and his sense of humor. He has recorded over ten music albums and has over 400 songs professionally published. John lives in Brentwood, TN, with his wife, Donna.