I had an interesting conversation over lunch today. A dear friend of mine was lamenting the fact that a good education for an a capella worship leader is generally hard to come by. For generations, learning to lead worship in an a capella church consisted of Wednesday night services when the youth had a chance to lead singing. We’d throw some Jr High boy up there, let him start a song in the wrong key, and the regular song leader (sitting on the front row) would join in (in the correct key). Then it was off to the races.
There are a few organizations who spent summer sessions teaching young men how to lead, and I believe some of those are still out there. I would hazard a guess that they are much less attended than they used to be.Things have changed a bit (understatement).
A large number of churches have not changed at all. They still proceed with worship as they always have, and more power to them. I suspect that, as the years go by, it’s getting harder and harder to find new song leaders. It’s nice to see motivators like Keith Lancaster pouring themselves into training leaders (see his Worship Leader Institute).
Many a capella churches are moving to the “team” concept. I say “moving” as if this were a new concept, which it is not. Many churches have being doing this for years, but more and more are heading that way. This may seem like a foreign concept to those of you reading this that are not from an a capella church. Believe me, it’s a big step from a solitary man leading singing to a worship leader with an 8-10 person team.
So how does someone learn to lead a team of singers? There are several Universities that offer degrees in Worship Pastoring… but those are generally oriented toward instrumental churches. I only know of one that offers a specific degree in leading a capella worship (Lipscomb University in Nashville). The learning curve is much steeper for leading teams. Throwing a new leader into the fire will almost certainly result in burned followers and a charcoaled leader.
Do we learn by observation? Brandon Scott Thomas of Zoe Group has led thousands of people in worship through the Zoe Conferences and special events. Many have studied and learned under him, even if he did not realize it. The same can be said for Randy Gill, Ryan Christian, Ken Young and several others.
Do we learn by participation? I know of several worship leaders who began as a tenor or baritone on the team and “graduated” into leading.
Or does it actually start in our youth? Are the worship leaders of today the same kids who stood behind the pulpit on Wednesday nights, waving their arms in their best approximation of a 4/4 pattern and trying to sing without cracking?
What do you think? How should we train our next generation of a capella worship leaders? If you’re one of them, how did YOU start? Sound off… leave your comments in the space below.