In Pursuit of Excellence

Psalm 150 declares, “Praise [God] for his mighty acts; praise him according to his excellent greatness!” (KJV). God requires our very best, and we dishonor God if we offer anything less (see Malachi 1:8).

Most of the worship leaders I know strive for excellence, and most of the conferences I attend encourage excellence too. But what does excellence in worship mean to you? How do we know when excellence is achieved? What standards do we look to?

Sometimes our idea of excellence is based on musical perfection or professional quality. In this case, the goal of leadership may be to emulate Chris Tomlin or Matt Redman or strive for studio-quality sound.

Other times our notion of excellence is based on matters of the heart. For some people, what matters most is the sincerity of the worship leader. If she has a deep and passionate relationship with God, mistakes don’t matter.

These are common benchmarks for excellence. But sometimes they can be a burden.

On the one hand, striving for professional quality can lead to fear or discouragement: A worship leader may fear including young people in leadership because of their inexperience, or a worship team may become frustrated by a leader’s unreasonable demands.

On the other hand, standards of the heart can lead to apathy or insecurity. Poor musicianship is rarely a recipe for glorifying worship, no matter how sincere the leader’s heart. And leaders, like all Christians, struggle with faith. A leader who trusts in her own passion and pursuit is on shaky ground.

When leaders focus on professional quality or matters of the heart, their focus is primarily on themselves. But what if leaders turned their focus away from themselves and toward the congregation? What if, instead, worship leaders found their standard of excellence in asking “Are people participating?”

Sometimes worship leaders forget that the primary reason for leadership in worship is to help the people in their singing and praying. Worship leaders are servants. They are to do everything in their power (in the power of the Spirit!) to facilitate and enliven the praise of the people.

The excellent worship leader, then, rises to these standards:

  • Are the people singing? Are the songs singable?
  • Is my presence and musicianship encouraging worship? Do I care about the congregation and desire that they participate with all their heart?

Leaders who pursue these standards are excellent in my book. I’d love to see a generation of worship leaders rise to the challenge.


Scriptures That Call Us to Excellence . . .

  • Genesis 1:31
  • Exodus 31:1-6
  • 1 Chronicles 25:7
  • Psalm 33:3
  • Psalm 145:7
  • Psalm 150:2
  • Ecclesiastes 9:10
  • Malachi 1:8
  • Matthew 25:21
  • Luke 12:48
  • Philippians 4:8
  • Colossians 3:23-24
  • 1 Timothy 4:14-15
  • Hebrews 6:1

A Process for Pursuing Excellence . . .

Exposure: Read about, listen to, and observe excellent worship leaders.

Discernment: Ask yourself what techniques, skills, or practices would help your community worship.

Practice: Put into action practices you have learned; grow in your ability to execute techniques.

Reflection: Evaluate your abilities and gauge your congregation’s response.

Rev. Paul Ryan has mentored emerging worship leaders for twenty years at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he is the worship pastor overseeing daily chapels. He also is a resource development specialist with the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Paul is married to Sheila, is father to two high school boys, and is coach to dozens of middle school track and cross-country kids.

Reformed Worship 97 © September 2010, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.