I asked some experienced worship leaders (Tim Hughes – HTB, Al Gordon – HTB, Nick Herbert – St Mary’s, Bryanston Square, Dave Bilbrough, David Clifton) about their early experiences as worship leaders. When we see people who are very experienced at something we might not appreciate the hard work that it’s taken them to get there. I think it’s encouraging to see that everyone has to start somewhere.
You can hear and see their responses here:
Well I vividly remember the very first time I led in a main Sunday service at a church I used to go to. And it was a hot summer’s evening and I rather foolishly made the decision to wear shorts because I remember you know the practice had been fine, the band felt good I was feeling very relaxed and then as soon as the service kind of started and I suddenly looked out and saw all these people. My knees just went to jelly and my knees were just knocking and shaking throughout the whole first few songs and all I could think about: I wasn’t even thinking about what I was singing, what the band were doing I was just trying to concentrate on locking my knees together because they were just shaking everywhere.
I first learnt to lead worship and play the guitar in my bedroom with a CD I had a friend of mine had given me of some worship from a festival and I had another friend who was a guitarist and I kind of grew up with guys who played a lot of guitar so I end up just figuring out the chords and playing along with the CD. That was kind of how I learned. I used to kind of really simplify the songs down to one chord mainly if it was in the key of G, I’d just play G all the way through. Even though there was like nine different chords sequences in the song I used to go for the one chord because it used to see me through.
A mate of mine just literally put a guitar into my lap when I was 16 and became a Christian and he said this is a D chord you can play and I just found myself finger picking straight away. It’s quite a crazy story.
I started to lead worship you know as quite a young Christian really. I was very inspired by the music around so it was very natural for me to start to want to play the guitar. And in those days that was really quite a novel thing you know acoustic guitar in a meeting. It wasn’t kind of common-place like it is now.
I had a few guitar lessons with a teacher who taught me chords and rhythm and a whole bunch of stuff. Spent hours practising and actually I guess the main way I learned the guitar in the end was just learning all these worship songs – Vineyard and Graham Kendrick and early Delirious stuff. And so it was through a few lessons but also lots and lots of hard work and just times hidden away in my room.
First time I led worship was in a home group at my church Holy Trinity Brompton, and the guy who led the home group was the worship leader and he was ill that week. So I had to be the emergency worship leader with like half an hours notice. I only knew one song, which was ‘He is the Lord and He Reigns on High’ by Kevin Proche and it has four chords in it and I knew at that stage two chords G and C. So I kind of boldly set around playing that song for 15 minutes just playing the two chords I knew to get by.
It sounded terrible. And in fact there were ten people in the room when I started and about three when I kind of finished because it was so painful they had to go outside to laugh.
I think you can begin – it’s like children, you don’t discourage children when they’re first starting. But eventually they grow up and become adults and you don’t want to have to be helping them how to walk and put on their clothes. And it’s the same way with your playing or your singing. You begin and everyone makes allowances when you are a beginner but actually it’s a high calling and it’s the highest calling of any musician to use this fantastic gift of music to draw people closer to God in worship and so we have to invest in our talent I think. So that the simple answer is that you can facilitate worship very simply we can sing an unaccompanied song now or I could play one chord and that might be the thing that leads us into a place of worship but how much more can we explore the beauty and the majesty and the mystery and the wonderful nature of God by using that gift of music in a way that does just that it reflects that creative beauty that we see all around us in nature and it’s like I often think about it in terms of the nature that is revealed you know flowers and plants and things. You know you look at the intricacies of a flower you think well God could have done it with just one petal or one colour but you look at nature and it is this myriad of beautiful complex design and we can reflect that I think in our worship. And so a very long answer to a very short question but I think its essential really to invest in our gifts and the more skilful we are the more of a language we have because praise and worship is a language and the language of music reveals different elements and emotions and things. Not that we control peoples worship of God but it reveals different aspects of God I think.
I was impressed I heard this interview with Chris Martin the lead singer of Coldplay just the other day and he was talking about how his vocal coach was trying to teach him to do something new and I just thought that’s amazing that here’s this guy one of the biggest bands in the world you know everyone loves his voice and yet he has been doing it for x numbers of years and yet he’s still having regular lessons and that really challenged me so I think man I’ve got to take it a bit more seriously. So yeah I think it is very important that we never get complacent and we never think right well now I can play the guitar, done. Actually we always can get better.