Following Well: 5 Ways to Serve Your Leaders

Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to be involved in worship ministry as both a worship leader and a worship band member.   I’ve been able to personally experience the difference between leading and following in the worship setting. I can relate to the challenges, the pressure, and the joy of leading well, and I can also relate to the struggles, the frustrations, and the camaraderie of following well.  

My primary responsibility as a worship leader is to cast and cultivate a vision and direction for the team.  As a worship band member, however, my primary responsibility is to serve the vision and support the visionary.  I need to stress that it is essential to not only serve the vision but to support the leaders as well. If you serve the vision without supporting the leaders you create politics, but if you serve and support the leader as well as their vision you create a culture of family.

I would like to share 5 ways that you can serve and support your leaders.  These can be applied to almost any organization or leadership structure, but I will unpack them specifically in the worship team context.  Keep in mind that the goal here is not perfection or rigid regulations, rather a conscientious heart posture with intent of serving and blessing those who lead.    

  1. SHOW UP EARLY

When you show up early to a practice you are communicating to your worship leader that this team is important to you.  You’re communicating that you believe in the team and you are here to bring the best that you can bring. Unfortunately, showing up late communicates exactly the opposite.  Being late says that being a part of the team is an inconvenience and you’re not there to bring your best.

As a worship leader, seeing people arrive early, or even before I did, always made me feel at ease.  It made me feel like my team valued our mission as much as I did, and that gave me more confidence to lead them.  Likewise, nothing raised my anxiety level more than when my team would arrive late. This would make me feel rushed and subtly believe that my team didn’t really want to be there.

Now, most of the time when someone shows up late, it is not a true indicator of their attitude.  Most of the time it is simply bad time management, overscheduling, or just oversleeping. But I cannot recall a single time that I was ever late when I was the worship leader.  And unfortunately I cannot claim the same to be true for times I’ve been a band member. The difference being that as leader I accepted the mantle of responsibility and never allowed anything to prevent me from being on time; occasionally as a follower I’ve abdicated my responsibility to be on time and instead relinquished it as a burden to the leader.

Here is a best practice for following well: show up as if you were the leader.  If you would want to show up 30 minutes early as the worship leader, then do it as the guitar player as well.  This approach causes you to take ownership of your role and responsibility within the team.

  1. COME PREPARED

Proper preparation is a great way to support your worship leaders.  Proper preparation means that you have come ready to bring your best.  It means that you know the songs in the set and you know your parts. When you take the initiative to prepare outside of the rehearsals you bring a standard of excellence that propels a team forward.

Take time to familiarize yourself with the songs you will be playing and try out some new ideas that you may have.  This helps to facilitate collaboration as you can offer suggestions to the worship leaders during rehearsals. Taking time to practice beforehand honors the time of the team and the leaders.

Preparation also includes taking time to get ready mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.  This means that we’re not arriving with an ego, an agenda, or entitlement. It’s important to prioritize healthy life rhythms outside of the worship or ministry environment.  Otherwise, worship team becomes an escape from life rather than a place where you give from the overflow of your life.

This is not to say that you should never arrive with problems or issues that you’re working through.  Life is always happening and we should be free to come together in complete authenticity. But it is important to remember that we are here to serve first and receive second.  

  1. BE FLEXIBLE

Leaders need to have people on their team who are flexible in order to successfully lead.  It’s very difficult for a leader to lead rigid people. When a leader has a team of people who can be flexible, there are infinitely more possibilities available to the leader and the entire team.  

Preparation means you have come with a plan, flexibility means you’re willing to let go of your plan to do what is best for the team.  Being prepared and being flexible are two sides of the same coin, and that coin is called “team first”. It’s the attitude that you are putting the good of the team above any personal good or gain.  Coming prepared means that you’re ready to contribute something to the team, being flexible means that you’re willing to adapt to what is best for the team.

Sometimes I may come to a rehearsal with an idea that may sound great on guitar, but after practicing with the band I may need to let go of that idea and play something different that fits better.  Self service says, “I’m just going to play what I think makes me sound the best.” Flexibility, in the spirit of service, says, “I’m going to play what makes the entire team sound best.”

Being flexible means that you are easy to work with which leaders absolutely love in people.  No one wants to lead difficult people, so carry a posture of surrender to do what’s best for everyone.  It requires humility and patience, but the fruit that it produces in your life and the life of the team are absolutely worth it.

  1. COMMIT TO GROWTH

If you really want to serve your leaders well, then commit yourself to growing and improving your skills.  Go a step further and ask your worship leader what they think you can do to improve your skill-set. This is like music to a leader’s ears because it says that you are humble enough to accept feedback, and you are committed to being better tomorrow than you are today.

There are a number of ways to grow your skill-set but nearly all of them require an investment of your time and/or resources.  It can be as simple as watching some online tutorials to learn new musical skills or techniques. It can also involve taking formal lessons to advance your abilities.  Investing in your skill-set may require you to purchase a new piece of gear that will enhance your sound.

The point here is that you are not letting your ability to contribute grow stagnant.  You are making a conscious effort to bring more and more to the table as a follower. It is an incredible blessing for leaders to have people on their team who are committed to growth, because it allows them to dream bigger for the future.    

  1. BE ENCOURAGING

One thing that universally everyone could use more of in their lives is encouragement.  This is especially true for leaders because they are often on the frontlines of a mission and discouragement hits them most directly.  And encouragement is not the absence of discouragement. We cannot expect someone to feel encouraged simply because no one is discouraging them.  Encouragement must be intentional!

Take every opportunity to be a source of encouragement to your worship leader and the team with whom you serve.  You can add so much value to your team just by bringing a positive and encouraging spirit. I try to add encouragement whenever I can, telling the worship leader that I love the songs they picked out or that I enjoy what the keyboardist is doing.  

Always be sincere in your encouragement and don’t give out false praise.  There’s room for constructive feedback within an atmosphere of encouragement.  Being honest and encouraging are not mutually exclusive. The most constructive feedback, however, comes with healthy dose of encouragement.  So don’t be stingy with encouragement.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Following and serving well is not about perfection or even performance.  It’s about the attitude and mindset that we hold towards our role and our leaders.  And those attitudes and mindsets ultimately shape the actions we take. We need to follow as though we were leading and bring that same level of care and responsibility to whatever role that we are in.   

To follow well is to serve well, and serving by definition means that you are putting others before yourself.  Jesus himself said that He came to serve and not be served (Mark 10:45), and so we see that the paradox in all of this is that by serving you are actually leading.  It does not matter whether you have a title or you are the one making the decisions; if you are serving, you are leading. And when you are serving people who have been put in authority, you are helping to pave a path towards the future.

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