If there's one misunderstood figure in Christian leadership, it's the humble worship leader. When the rest of us stand in church, we might see a well-groomed young singer taking centre stage, but we don't see the years of practice, the weeks of thankless rota management and the hours spent counselling the 97-year-old banjo player for whom the band has no place.
As any experienced worship leader will tell you, the role is far from glamorous, and is paved with struggle. Here are just a few of the major challenges facing the men and women who seek to be our modern day psalmists.
1. Running out of edgy backgrounds for the worship lyrics
There was a time when all a congregation expected of their song words was an overhead transparency displayed the right way up. Today though the bar has been raised stratospherically, with the average lyric playing over the top of a rushing waterfall, a birds-eye swoop over a majestic valley, or a New Year's Eve-style firework display. Now, despite the rapid growth of the billion-dollar worship-background-creating industry, musicians are left frequently searching for a new one to avoid accusations of becoming predictable. And Retro-OHP week is only cool once.
2. Angst over the term 'worship leader'
Over-thinking musicians and songwriters talk frequently about the best way to describe their function. In recent years many have switched from 'worship leader', which they fear implies they're supplanting the role of the Holy Spirit, to 'lead worshipper', which suggests that they're a kind of first-among-equals in the congregation. A few people suggested a better term might be 'worship curator', but they have rightly been rounded up and excommunicated. Meanwhile this important debate rages on.
3. Being 'a distraction'
It might not sound like a problem to some of us, but for many of our young worship leaders / lead worshippers, criticism for being too good-looking is a hazard of the profession. The problem, the argument goes, is that an unusually attractive front-person can cause congregants to reflect on more earthly things. Having accidentally become gym-ripped by all that constant carrying of heavy instruments, one worship leader was even infamously asked* to cover up his muscular arms for fear they might evoke some non-Holy-Spirit-inspired swooning.
4. Amateur PowerPoint operators
To be a musician, you train for years; you play until your fingers bleed. You practice, you sweat, you fail, you cry, you try again; all in order to faithfully lead a church congregation in their worship of God. To be the person who tells that same congregation what to sing however, you just have to sign up for a rota. Five minutes of tutelage later, and you're ready to mess up everything by sending people to the wrong verse, losing concentration and missing your cue for the slide change, or – in what we'll call the 'worst-case scenario' – getting caught in an endless cycle of button-pressing and back-and-forth lyric slides after losing your place.
5. Having no clean checked shirts
If Worship Central has given the church anything, it's a clear dress code for our worship leaders. But what's a preppy young guitarist to do when he's forgotten to empty the laundry basket, and can find nothing to wear on the lumberjack-to-gingham scale? In response to this unthinkable eventuality, some worship leaders have taken to carrying around a ruler and marker pen at all times, in case they need to adapt a plain shirt in an emergency.
6. Not knowing whether rainbow guitar straps are cool, ironic, post-modern or pro-gay
Once the staple of the Graham Kendrick generation, the use of the rainbow guitar strap is now laced with danger. Many worship leaders – who seem to be naturally attracted to the colourful apparatus – are simply unclear what signal they'll be giving off by wearing one. Are they giving a knowing nod to their 1980s forefathers, or accidentally coming out to the congregation? It's a rainbow-coloured tightrope.
Worship leaders. Their world is not all as it should be; sometimes they're found in the desert place. Spare a thought for them next time you're about to pen that angry letter about them to your pastor.
*This is actually a true story.