Tips for guest worship leaders
Having been in several churches where we had a guest worship leader come in and lead for the morning, I have some thoughts to share.
1. Know your role.
Your job is not to come in and teach new songs to the congregation. Your job is to fill in and maintain the status quo. Find out what songs the people know and love and choose from those. This is not only good for the congregation but good for the guest worship leader. If you sing crowd favorites, the people will have a positive impression of you and want you to lead again.
2. Know your responsibility.
Your job as a guest worship leader is to choose songs/the set list, lead the weekly practice, lead the sound check and run-through on Sunday morning and then lead the music in the service. If you need to meet with the staff worship leader or senior pastor to pick out songs that go with the day’s theme/message – do that. Be prepared for the weekly practice. Get your songs out to the band as soon as possible. If you use Planning Center, get your songs uploaded and charts as well. Have charts ready for rehearsal and start and end on time. Tell the band and production team what time you want to gather on Sunday morning for sound check and run through and be the first to arrive that day. Make sure you’re finished with run through and have the stage cleared by at least half an hour before the service starts. Don’t be the guy rehearsing while people are coming in and sitting down.
3. Know your music.
I can’t hold back here. If you are paid to fill in for an existing musician or worship leader, you need to come prepared and know your music. There’s no place for a music stand on stage. Memorize your music and play skillfully before the Lord and congregation.
4. Know the people.
Find out from the existing worship leader the pulse and comfort level of the congregation. Don’t try to take them where they’ve never been. Just hold down what is the norm and don’t rock the boat. On Sunday morning, make it a point to get around the congregation pre-service and shake hands. Introduce yourself and keep from the rock star mentality of hiding in a green room. This will help people better connect with you on stage. After the service, don’t just pack up and leave. Stand around and talk with people after the service. This includes the band. Thank them for letting you come in and play with them.
5. Know the room.
Be sensitive to what God is doing in the service. Be sensitive to the senior pastor and where he wants to go in the service. If you need to play softly behind him during a prayer or response time, be ready and prepared. If you need to lead a reprise of a song during a response time, be prepared and ready. If people are praying or taking communion, be softer and don’t overpower what is happening in the room. The main thing is to be sensitive and allow the Holy Spirit to guide you.
6. Know you’re trusted.
Someone believes in you and has asked you to lead, so rest in that. Don’t get an ego and don’t get intimidated. Someone sees great talent and potential in you and is trusting you to lead his or her congregation in corporate worship. Please take that responsibility seriously and know there’s grace and you are loved.
7. Know your part in the big picture.
Realize that this is not your show, your shot or even your church. You are a guest and you should respect what God has done before you arrived and what He is continuing to do in that congregation. There will be a lot happening on that Sunday, from parking lot attendants, to greeters, to ushers, to production, to children’s workers, etc. You are just one piece of the puzzle. Your job is to lead music that the people can worship with and connect to the Living God.
Lastly, thank God for the opportunity. Thank the worship leader that asked you to fill in. Thank the senior pastor for having you. Thank the band for being understanding and flexible and doing their best to support you and set you up to succeed. Do such a good job that you will be asked back and give God the glory.
Greg Atkinson is the Founder of Worship Impressions and Executive Director of ExPastors.com. Greg is a leadership coach and consultant, and the author of Church Leadership Essentials, Strange Leadership, Scaling Down, and Secrets of a Secret Shopper. Greg has worked with churches of all stages and sizes, including some of the largest and fastest-growing churches in the country, as well as with businesses, non-profits and organizations such as Josh McDowell Ministries.
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