What are Worship Leaders Supposed to Look Like?

Do You Look Like a Worship Leader?

A few weeks ago we hosted a preview dinner at the seminary for people interested in our worship department. A friendly extrovert came up to me after the dinner and said, “You surprised me.” His demeanor and expression were kind and engaging so my interest was piqued in knowing why I surprised him. My rejoinder was simply, “Really, and why is that?” In those seconds between his opening statement and my response, my brain raced through potential reasons for the surprise. Because I had just shared some details about the curriculum and courses we offer in our worship leadership degrees at Southern, I wondered if he would say he was surprised at the number of hours we require. Or maybe he was going to offer his reactions of being pleasantly surprised that half of our course work is dedicated to the study of the Bible and theology. What came out of his mouth next caught me by surprise. He looked at me and said, “You don’t look like a worship leader.” What made the comment even a bit more perplexing was the fact that at no time did he see me actually lead worship. He based his comment solely on my appearance.

I don’t know about you, but I have a tendency to dwell on comments like that. How does one respond? Apologetically? Defensively? Gratefully? At this point, this blog could travel down several different roads. One road could be “Tips on offering grace-filled responses to unusual comments.” Another might be “Worship leader make-over: How to change your hair and clothing so you look like a worship leader without losing your soul.” Or perhaps, “Re-tooling as a worship leader when you don’t look like one anymore.” But I think there is a bigger issue at hand: Is it possible that the evangelical worship culture has unwittingly emphasized more the look of a worship leader rather than the actual work and life of that leader? Has the style of hair and clothing and age become more important than the leader’s character and calling to lead?

So, what is a worship leader supposed to look like? Here are just three of many possible answers that I found in 1 Peter 5:1-6.

1.     Worship leaders should look like shepherds. Peter was clear in his charge: “Shepherd God’s flock among you” (1 Peter 5:2) Notice the emphasis isn’t on the public persona of the leader. Peter’s care and concern is not on outward appearance. In fact, the focus isn’t on the leader. The emphasis is on the people who are to be shepherded. Our hair style is not our ministry. Clothes are not the ministry. Music is not the ministry, and the worship service itself is not even the ministry. The people are the ministry. If we care more about how we look or we find ourselves fretting over a coolness factor in our appearance more than caring for and serving the people God has entrusted us to shepherd, we’ve missed the mark.

2.     Worship leaders should lead “. . . according to God” (1 Peter 5:2) In his book, For the Glory of God, Dan Block says that means “according to the standard by which God shepherds.” Frankly, that’s a pretty tall order. We tend to view of Psalm 23 from a narrow lens of how Jesus shepherds us. How often do we look at it as a model for how we are to shepherd our people? In that most famous of Psalms, we see the shepherd leading, nourishing, renewing, and comforting. Those characteristics seem to me to be very intentional. They don’t happen because a worship leader looks cool. Those shepherding actions happen because there is a clear understanding they’ve been called to lead like the divine Shepherd, and everything the true Shepherd did was for the sake of others. We lead not out of concern for what people think of us (am I cool enough?), but out of a desire to serve and shepherd them toward Christ and His gospel.

3.     Worship leaders should “clothe themselves with humility.” (1 Peter 5:5). Consider the perfection of the heavenly beings worshiping around the throne at this very minute. They worship in perfect humility. What a contrast to the way I often stand up to lead. In a recent lecture lunch we hosted for our worship students, Pastor Steve Hussung said, “I’m constantly amazed at how prideful I can be over so little. When our own glory is our aim,” continued Hussung, “we falter because we aren’t glorious.” There is nothing worthy of recognition about us…especially when we lead worship. Any desire for personal glory weighs like a heavy burden. And that self-imposed, insatiable burden for glory causes us to lie about ourselves, making us seem better to others than we really are. The lack of humility leads us to be more concerned about what others think of us rather than what they think of Jesus.   

So when I was told I didn’t look like a worship leader, I wish I would have responded differently. Instead of being a tad offended and wondering if I needed a make-over, I should have seen the comment as a humorous reminder that my personal hip quotient is far less important than my call to shepherd like Jesus and clothe myself with humility.

Joe Crider

Dr. Crider is the Executive Director of the Institute for Biblical Worship and a professor of Church Music and Worship in the Department of Biblical Worship at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY. He also serves as Worship Pastor at LaGrange Baptist Church in LaGrange, KY.