what i look for in a worship leader (and review of “josh fox: radiant”)

whether it’s ultimately helpful to me or not, i tend to “evaluate” worship leaders in 3 ways:

1. do i like their music? are they good musicians and singers? is it a style i connect with?

2. do i find, when listening to a cd or sitting in a context where the worship leader is leading a group of people, that their leadership is helpful, rather than a distraction? do i sense it’s about god, or about the worship leader? do i sense that it’s real or contrived? is it affected (you know, when you can tell the worship leader is taking on a certain persona, voice, facial expressions, movements, posture because it looks like they’re captain worship)?

3. when i know the person at all, do i like them “off-stage”? do they seem to be normal and whole, or do they seem to be driven by other issues (in other words, does he or she suddenly switch into either “jerk” or “insecure poser” the minute the lights go off?)?

when those three factors are all present, it all boils down to whether or not i’m willing to choose to be a worshipper (rather than a spectator).

there’s no question for me (and maybe this is more about me than about the worship leader), i can engage in worship if at least a couple of these factors are positively in place. for example, i can totally get past a mediocre musician or a musical style that’s not my fav, if the other two factors are present. i can even (sometimes, on my more mature days) forgive and forget a slightly cheesy and affected “stage presence” if i know the person’s heart is really pure, and they just need to learn to disavow some of that crap.

but i find it extremely difficult to engage when the music is great, the leadership is wonderful, but i know the person is a jerk, or arrogant, or mean-spirited, or their deepest desire is to be a rock star.

in my years at ys and speaking at youth events, i’ve had the chance to interact with dozens of known and hundreds of unknown worship leaders. i’ve been with them backstage. i’ve hung out with them when the lights are off. this has endeared many of them to me, and caused me to find it difficult to really engage the songs of others (even if the songs are wonderful).

i’m blessed to attend a church where the worship leader, jason denison, hits that trifecta pretty much every week. and he’s coaching a young revolutionary group of worship leaders on the same journey.

i also have a short list of “known” worship leaders who are my fav, fav, favorites, because of how completely they nail all three of these variables. i know there are many others who fit this description, but these are people i consider friends, and whose music (live or on cd) consistently takes me out of myself and reorients me toward god.
david crowder
matt maher
starfield
shane and shane

i’d could probably add tim hughes to this list also, though i know him slightly less than the others.

really, it’s a short list.

one more i’m going to add to the list: josh fox. you might not know josh, since he’s not received the label exposure others have. but he’s been a working, recording, active worship leader for a long time. and – one of the things i love about josh – he’s been the worship leader for a local congregation for a very long time. he’s grounded in reality.

i got a copy of josh’s brand new cd the other day: it’s called radiant. as i listened to it, i found myself tearing up with emotion. the songs are so good, and so pure. many are full of energy, but it’s not contrived or manipulative. most of them are songs i found myself hoping my church would start singing — because i want to sing them with other people.

i encourage you to check out josh’s cd. it’s on itunes now (just came out this week, and is being offered for a special price of $5.99 for two weeks only). get it for your own listening; or get it for a group of awesome songs in your youth ministry or church. josh is the real deal, a good friend, humble and gifted.

3 thoughts on “what i look for in a worship leader (and review of “josh fox: radiant”)”

  1. I didn’t realize Jason D was leading worship now. I’d love to reconnect with him. Please pass on my greetings. Enjoyed reading this.

  2. Marko:

    I first read this a few days ago. And I have to admit my reaction now s the same as then: OUCH!

    Worship leaders all have a powerful place in our churches. But we need to remember that Christ desires humility to be at the foundation of that place. I have to remind myself of that every time I sit at the piano and open my mouth to sing.

    I think what convicted me the most is your thought about who the worship leader is “when the lights are off”. WOW! I know I’ve failed at this many times when I have not been able to point worship toward God and away from me.

    Perhaps this quote by Archbishop Charles Chaput can help the whole church reconsider what it means to “worship”:

    “Our worship is an icon of heavenly things, a window through which the reality and destiny of our lives is glimpsed.”

  3. I couldn’t agree with you more, especially about Josh Fox…I was in Santa Cruz for a few days, and always go the church where he is the worshipteam leader…

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