Whose Responsibility is it Anyway?

The worship leader continued on with his set list. But the congregation had checked out.

I know, I know. It’s never happened at my church either.

A friend of mine was telling me about Bruce Wilkinson’s ‘83 classic "The 7 Laws of the Learner." He asserted that the principles could be applied to worship leaders who have "unresponsive congregations."

Wilkinson says that to "teach is to cause to learn," meaning that the responsibility of learning is on the teacher not the student. Like Doc Silantien used to say in college "There are no bad choirs, only bad choir directors."

As worship leaders, there is a responsibility on us to create spaces where people meet with God. To be sure, we can’t force anyone to worship in the same way that a teacher can’t force a student to learn. But what can we integrate into our own way of leading that helps more and more people engage each week?

Here are Wilkinson’s 7 maxims:

1. Teachers are responsible to cause the students to learn.

2. Teachers will stand accountable to God for their influence.

3. Teachers are responsible because they control subject, style,

setting, and speaker.

4. Teachers should judge their success by the success of their


5. Teachers impact more by their character and commitment than

their communication.

6. Teachers exist to serve the students.

7. Teachers who practice the Seven Laws of Learning can become master teachers.

Now I’ll rewrite them in "worship leader terms" and I’ll expand briefly on each. (drumroll please):

1. Worship Leaders are responsible to cause the congregation to engage.

What if we, as worship leaders, would assume that those we are leading don’t know what to do, don’t feel like participating, don’t know the songs, don’t understand biblical worship, etc.? ("Hey, you just described my church" he said) And what if instead of just going through the setlist, we adjusted our approach to facilitate engagement?

2. Worship Leaders will stand accountable to God for their influence.

I like the way Gateway uses the word platform instead of stage because a stage is for performance, but a platform for influence. There’s no doubt that worship leaders are worshipers. But are we leaders too? Are we influencing in the ways that we're called to?

3. Worship Leaders are responsible because they control songs, style, arrangements, seques, and leader.

You get to pick. What key do you sing them in? Do they lend themselves to congregational engagement? Are they overproduced to the degree that congregational singing isn't necessary to the "sound?" How do you set things up? How are you directing yourself?

4. Worship Leaders should judge their success by the engagement of their congregation.

The criteria isn’t "Did we pull that song off?" Or "Did I worship personally?" And of course, "Was God glorified?" and "Did I honor Him?" are tops. But is the pastor more aware of the congregation’s engagement that the worship leader is? That’s got to be up there on our priority list.

5. Worship Leaders impact more by their character and commitment than their leading.

Who we are carries more weight than what we do. Grace? Absolutely! And a high calling with no excuse for any lack of Godly character whatsoever. A new friend reminded me the other week to not let your talent take you where your character can't keep you. #GoodWord! (#StillUsingHashtags)

6. Worship Leaders lead to serve the congregation.

We’re not there for us and our pleasure, desire, fame, identity, or glory. We must tie on our aprons and serve the congregation like the best server at your favorite eatery.

7. Worship Leaders who master the Five Faders can become master leaders.

Do you know what kind of leader you are? Artist, Shepherd, Worshiper, Educator, or Organizer? Start with awareness of who you are and then begin to learn how to be the most resourceful and integrated version of yourself, and how to move the other faders up and down as the moment demands. If you’d like to learn more about this framework, just email us.

The bottom line is this: When the congregation seems like they’re checking out (or never checked in!), don’t just keep on rolling through the set list. Adjust. Ask God what to do? Plan and prepare more prayerfully and thoughtfully next time. Walk with humility in the authority you've been given. We need you to, even though it may be scary. God is with us!