The Pursuit of Excellence

Published on December 21, 2016 by Paul Ryan  

Questions to ask prior to reading the article:

“As a worship leader what does it mean to pursue excellence?”

Questions to ask after reading the article:

“As a worship team how can we practically pursue excellence in this way? What might we want to focus on in rehearsal? What practices might we want to have or avoid in the service?”

What does the word excellence mean to you? Most of the worship leaders I know strive for excellence. Most of the conferences I attend encourage excellence. But what does this mean?

To be sure we aim for excellence because of the great worth of God. Psalm 150 declares, “Praise him for his mighty acts; praise him according to his excellent greatness!” (KJV). God requires our very best, and we dishonor God if we offer anything less (see Malachi 1:8).

But how do we know when excellence is achieved? What standards do we look to?

Sometimes excellence is based on musical perfection or professional quality. The goal of leadership is to emulate Kristian Stanfill or Matt Redman or strive for studio quality sound.

Other times excellence is based on matters of the heart. At times I hear what matters most is the sincerity of the leader. If she has a deep and passionate relationship with God, mistakes don’t matter.

These are common benchmarks for excellence. But sometimes they can be a burden.

On the one hand, striving for professional quality can lead to fear or discouragement: A worship leader may fear failure, inadequacy, or be threatened by musicians who are more skilled. A worship team may become frustrated by a leader’s unreasonable demands.

On the other hand, standards of the heart can lead to apathy or insecurity. Poor musicianship is rarely a recipe for glorifying worship, no matter how sincere the leader’s heart. And leaders, like all Christians, struggle with doubt and sin. A leader who trusts in her own passion or perfection is on shaky ground. We are all great sinners in need of a great Savior.

When searching for standards of excellence a shift of perspective is helpful. When leaders focus on professional quality or matters of the heart, their focus is primary on themselves. But what if leaders turn their focus away from themselves and turn toward the congregation? What if leaders instead found their standards in asking “Are the people participating?”

So many times worship leaders forget that the primary reason for musical leadership in worship is to aid the people in their singing and praying. Worship leaders are servants of the congregation. They are to do everything in their power (and in the power of the Spirit!) to facilitate and enliven the participation of the people.

The excellent worship leader, then, rises to these standards: Are the people singing? Are the songs I’m leading singable? Is my presence and musicianship helping people to worship? Do I care about the congregation and desire that they participate with all their heart?

Leaders who pursue these standards are excellent in my book. I’d love to see a new generation of worship leaders rise up to the challenge.