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Not all artists are leaders. This is true not only in the highest cultural settings or our planet, but also in the church. So, then, if an artist also desires to lead, what quality or value distinguishes them from the rest?

When I think of an artist in the strict sense, the vision of a solitary painter comes to mind. Alone with her brushes, tubes of paint, and gessoed canvas, she is sequestered until another inspired vision of shape and color is made manifest. No other soul enters the painter’s process (or room) until the work is completed.

When I think of a leader, I do not think of the leader. (Pause for a moment of silent Zen meditation). What I mean is, to be a leader implies that there are those who are following you. So naturally, a leader is (ought to be) surrounded by all kinds of people, most of the time. When I think of a leader, I think of the people being led who are part of the leader’s creative process on a regular basis.

For instance, one of my mentors in the area of leadership travels all over the world visiting various ministry sites. He is rarely traveling alone. This is because he chooses to invite a less experienced leader to come along every time. Gratuitous? Yes, it certainly is. When you consider the extra cost of plane fare, meals, hotels, travel on the ground, and the general complication of traveling with two instead of one – it is gratuitous. But this “gratuitous collaboration” is exactly what differentiates the effective leader from the solitary artist.

The worship leader of today is typically an artist. At the same time, they are a leader. It says it right there in their title. Unfortunately, I have found that many worship leaders more closely resemble the solitary artist than my inclusive, traveling, missionary friend. “Wait!” you say. Worship leaders always include others. Think of the typical guitar-slinging Chris Tomlin type, or the mic-wielding Darlene Zschech type. Neither takes the stage alone. They are surrounded by other musicians, not to mention the sound engineers and lighting and media techs. This is collaboration, indeed. But I file this brand of group creativity in different column. This, is what I would call “necessary” collaboration.

In contrast to gratuitous collaboration, necessary collaboration is, well, necessary. Necessary collaboration is not unwarranted or lacking good reason (as is often the perception with gratuitous collaboration). Many modern worship leaders are compelled to collaborate simply to accomplish the desired outcome. Taking it a step further, some of these leaders will even pay collaborators to participate. In this case, the collaboration is undeniably of necessity. The motivation is getting it done, alone. (Double-meaning intended).

[Side-note: I don’t think this makes anyone who functions this way a bad person. It just makes them a bad leader.]

So, practically speaking, what steps might we take to be more gratuitous in our collaborative leadership rather than simply collaborating out of necessity? Here are a few suggestions to get you started…

First, always invite someone along. Are you writing a song (something you’ve done one hundred times before)? This time, invite a less experienced musician to join you in the process. She will learn from watching you. You will become aware of the profound, unarticulated depths of your own process the first time she asks you, “How do you come up with that first lyric phrase?”, or “What makes you choose a major chord over a minor chord?”

Second, practice “planned absence”. My friend Neil once told me that he had started a simple church which was ready to continue without his leadership. Only thing is, the members of this church were convinced they still needed him. Neil knew this was not the case, and in fact had his eye on a person in the church who was ready to step up and lead. In an act that can only be designated as a venial sin, Neil phoned this reticent leader an hour before the church meeting and explained that something had come up and he would not be in attendance. The result? That leader stepped up, church was had, and Neil was free to start another one.

Third, you might try simply involving an unlikely person. Instead of inviting the aspiring actress or published poet in your community to be the public reader of scripture, why not nominate the shy, single mother of two to bring the scriptures to the gathered community. This is counter-intuitive if your goal is polished excellence. However, if your goal is deepening the richness of your faith-community through the participation of the whole body, this might be the most shrewd and beneficial use of “talent” you’ve ever conceived.

These examples are all gratuitous in that they each involve ‘unnecessary’ action. Each external goal could have been met with far greater ease and much less inconvenience had these risks not been taken. And yet, these gratuitous actions reveal the best leaders.

There was a time in history when being a collaborator was bad. In Europe during WWII, those designated “collaborators” were the same ones accused of treason and helping the Nazi cause.

Today, being a collaborator is a wonderful thing. It is especially wonderful if you are one who is a leader of worship. It is unspeakably wonderful if your brand of collaboration is “gratuitous” for its unnecessary and reckless habit of involving (many) others in your creative endeavor, throughout every step of the process.

Will you choose to collaborate gratuitously, or will you opt for the sexier “necessary” form of collaboration that gets the job done, but without considering the importance of bringing people up in faith and craft?


My son Asher is almost nine months old. He really likes music. I know that all children have that ‘musical gene‘ or whatever it is that is programmed into them that makes them gravitate toward organized sounds. Asher is no exception.

Usually, when I carry him into the living room where our stereo is, he looks right at it and sometimes even grunts a little. All I have to do is carry him in the direction of the speakers (which are not yet on) and he begins to get excited – kicking his feet, shaking his legs, and a moving his arms all around. Once I select some music and hit ‘play’ he smiles and wants to ‘fly’ in the air, his body members in quivering vibration.

Today, I chose to put  a music video on the TV instead of just playing a CD. We haven’t yet exposed him to many movies or video, but I have noticed that with the choice between a children’s TV show and a musical performance video he seems to prefer the latter. I realized this when he was in his bouncer a couple months ago and I had the live performance called From the Basement by Radiohead playing on my iPod. Though he was at least five feet away, he was mesmerized by the tiny 2.5 inch (diagonal) screen and all of the musical action taking place on it.

This morning I put on Sting’s “The Brand New Day Tour” video from 2000. Asher sat in my lap for about five minutes straight watching the musicians play. A dynamic feat for one his age (his attention span is only about 2 minutes shorter than mine).

I hadn’t watched this performance for a while and I noticed something that really bothered me. Sting had three ‘back-up’ vocalists on that tour. Apparently, they also existed as their own music group called Scream (though, I can’t find a link anywhere to this group). The producer of this program – not sure who that is – had these three women dressed identically in extremely tight-fitting, brown-sequined, mini-skirt dresses. They danced (maybe this is the wrong verb) in perfect mechanical unison, swaying their hips sensually from side to side in an almost figure-eight motion. They did not deviate from this action for as long as they were on camera – for numerous songs in a row.

The performance of these ladies was reminiscent of a Robert Palmer video, about a decade and a half previous. (Incidentally, I’ve always thought Palmer looks like he’s trying to stifle a belch in between each phrase on this video… “When I took… (look away, belch)…/You out… (look away, belch)…, etc.”

My point is, the women – who are at least real musicians in the Sting video – have been reduced to mere automatons. This is boring. It is boring and it bothers me. I don’t like it because this choreographed reduction of personality limits the contribution by these ladies to the larger whole. It not only makes them appear nearly useless as musicians, but depreciates Sting’s overall performance, as well. Ironically, Sting may have been the very one who pushed the Palmer-esque dance routine idea for his 2000 tour.

I realize that Sting (one of my very fav musicians by the way) is a different generation from me. He was “Born in the 50’s” as The Police song says. I am part of the “Unplugged” generation. My idea of an interesting music performance to watch includes musicians in a stripped-down (at least theatrically) environment where each performer is free to emote – both physically and musically, and above all – naturally.

This does not necessarily mean each performer in this kind of environment would act rhapsodically. But, I would expect at least some variation in facial expression from person to person and minimized pre-sychronization of movement.

I realize, those who are fans of dance might argue that synchronized movement is just as artful as synchronized music performance. However, in the context of a concert, this kind of action communicates uniformity rather than creativity as it involves the contribution of the individual performer.

All of this may just be preferential musing at this point. But, when one considers how this kind of choreographed music presentation has influenced contemporary church music, I think we can arrive at a critical conclusion.

While authenticity in artistic expression may not be a preferred quality that spans generational gaps, authenticity in musical worship – it can be argued – must necessarily be presented with utmost genuineness. This is because the kind of performance undertaken in worship leading is not the kind meant to impress with synchronized hip swaying (not to mention the potential sexual insinuations contained in these actions) nor is it meant to ‘wow’ the ‘audience’ with the latest costumes and greatest light show.

The most impressive thing that musical worshipers can put forth involves a real presentation of music that originates in the depths of their spirit and is expelled through truthful (read: authentic) action and sound.

I haven’t asked him yet, but I’m pretty sure Asher feels the same way. Or maybe his generation will have an altogether different idea of legitimate musical stage presence, inside and outside the church.


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