How Much Training Do I Need to Lead Congregational Worship?

One Sound + Doctrine listener wrote in to ask, “How much musical or theological training do I need to be effective in leading congregational worship?” While there are a number of factors to consider, Bob and David devote this episode to taking a stab at answering that question.


References and resources
Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem
Concise Theology by J.I. Packer
Short Studies in Systematic Theology Series
Biblical Theology by Graham Goldsworthy
God’s Big Picture by Vaughn Roberts
Engaging with God by David Peterson
Christ Centered Worship by Bryan Chappell
Corporate Worship by Matt Merker
Worship Matters by Bob Kauflin
The Cross and Christian Ministry by D.A. Carson
Biblical Productivity by C.J. Mahaney

Worship Matters Intensive


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DZ: Hello and welcome to the Sound Plus Doctrine Podcast. My name is David Zimmer.

BK: My name is Bob Kauflin.

DZ: Bob, what are we talking about today?

BK: Hey, I’m glad you asked.


BK: Someone sent us a question. Jake sent us a question on, it has to do with musical training. And so we’re calling this episode How Much Training Do I Need to Lead Music in My Church. This is the question. He begins with a little background. “I have a background in classical piano, I’ve also played oboe and orchestras and wind ensembles for over 10 years.”

DZ: Wow.

BK: “I’m 25 years old.” That is really impressive, Jake, thank you for your dedication to music. “My church has offered to pay for seminary education but I’m not sure if that’s the most effective use of time and money. Looking at other local churches websites, I see that most of their guys have degrees in music performance or education, not theology. I do think it’s important for a worship leader to be theologically and musically trained but I’m unsure what’s the best route to take. I think it may be a better use of my church’s money to pay for guitar or voice lessons than to pay for seminary. My question is this, what formal musical and/or theological training would be most effective for helping me do the job of a worship leader?”

DZ: That’s a great question.

BK: It is a great question. It’s very specific and we’re gonna broaden it. I’d like to broaden it so that it hits maybe more people who are asking that question, just, yeah, how much training do I need? I mean Jake is a musician and feels he needs some training but maybe he just doesn’t need a whole seminary training, so that’s what we’re gonna tackle today.

DZ: Yeah. Well, and the beauty of that question speaks to two needs that every worship leader church should be feeling is, am I doing this in a way that’s theologically sound?

BK: Yes, that’s a good one.

DZ: And am I doing this in a way that’s undistracted excellence that we talked about on a podcast previously?

BK: Yes, yes.

DZ: Am I doing this in a way that is not distracting when I’m leading? And can people sing as I’m leading them?

BK: Yes, that’s a good question to ask.

DZ: Good questions.

BK: As I was thinking about this, we can’t begin to answer the question. Someone says how much training do I need? Churches are very different and so you need to begin with some questions, first personal, people are different, is yet… Things need to be considered, how much time do you have available? What’s your current season of life? So for someone who is married has three kids, four kids all at the age of five, I wouldn’t say to them, “Oh you need this training.” Because you’ve got something to attend to and that’s your family, and you wanna make sure that you’re caring for them first, and so I mean I know people make sacrifices for education, that’s a part of it, but you just have to weigh, you have to factor that in. How much time do you really have? And then how much can you afford? I mean I think in this case Jake’s church is saying… Offered to pay for seminary education, so that’s not an issue for him but for others it might be.

DZ: Yes.

BK: And I wouldn’t want anybody to feel like there is this standard education that every person who leads music in the church must have. ‘Cause the Bible doesn’t have that, we have a few indications that, from the Old Testament only, [chuckle] that to know what you’re doing is a good thing. 1 Chronicles 15:22, Kenaniah led the singing because he was skillful at it, NIV says and… Because he understood it, that’s the ESV. And then all those who were leading were skilled in training to lead the music, I think it’s 1 Chronicles 16. Having trouble with my words today. So there’s an expectation of skill, knowledge, understanding, but that’s about it. So we don’t know what level of skill that is. So those are some personal considerations, and then the church considerations, what are your church’s expectations for your role? What is your pastor’s expectations for your role? How much does he want you to know about, that’s a consideration. If you’re talking about a specific church, what gifts are already there on your team? Do you have someone who’s musically trained? Do you have someone who’s led a choir before? Who has led bands before, could serve as a musical director? Do you have someone who’s theologically trained on your team that you can kind of lean on?

BK: So those are considerations. And then a church’s tradition and trajectory. So what does the church come… What kind of history does the church have in terms of their expectations, and then where do they wanna go? Because a lot of churches are in that position of, well, we’ve been doing this, but we wanna do this. I talk to churches regularly where they’re saying this is what we’ve been doing and this is where we wanna go, so we need someone who does this. Some of them are moving from a position in the church that’s been maybe full-time and the person has a master’s in music and they arrange everything, they… Choirs, orchestra.

DZ: Yes.

BK: They wanna move from that to something that’s simpler, maybe more contemporary, more connecting with the people that they’re seeking to serve, and so they don’t want someone who is that trained in that way.

DZ: Yes.

BK: Course a lot of churches deal with that by having two different services, which I don’t know if we’ve talked about on the podcast or not.

DZ: We have.

BK: I’m sure we have, but not a great idea.

DZ: No.

BK: If you over the long haul tends to undermine the unity that we have in the gospel, but.

DZ: Yes, well said.

BK: Some churches we’re looking for someone who doesn’t have that much training. So what I wanted to do was, talk about some of the training, we can pursue formal training, and then give us three categories to consider when thinking about the kind of training we need. So I think this will answer your question, Jake, I hope it does, if not, email us again. [laughter] And if you have a question, you can email

BK: Spell out the plus, something. Formal training comes in many shapes and sizes. You can go to a community college and get training. You can go to your local college or normal college, you can go to seminary, you can get a private teacher.

DZ: Yes.

BK: All those are ways of pursuing formal training, different costs, different expenditures, different financial layout…

DZ: Absolutely.

BK: For those, I mean, you can spend anywhere from $100 a month, few $100 a month to multiple thousands of dollars for seminar training.

DZ: Yes.

BK: Informal training has grown exponentially.

DZ: Oh, yeah.

BK: Theory, harmony, different things, they’re online websites, YouTube, there are courses you can subscribe to, really good stuff. And I’m not gonna recommend any, I would do the same thing you would do, just google.

DZ: Yeah.

BK: [chuckle] What’s gonna help me get trained here, but there’s so many available.

DZ: So many resources and there’s a lot of free resources…

BK: A lot of free resources.

DZ: That can give you all the musical training, that’s immediately what I think.

BK: Yes, yes.

DZ: Yeah, for musical training.

BK: Yep.

DZ: And then me being a teacher myself, you can’t…

BK: Do you wanna give out your email or number too?

DZ: No, [chuckle] you can’t overlook just the consistency of meeting with a person.

BK: Yes, yes.

DZ: That’s huge.

BK: Yes.

DZ: Whether it’s your voice lessons, like you mentioned. Guitar lessons.

BK: Yes.

DZ: Or drum lessons or whatever. But yeah, you’re right, there’s so many resources.

BK: And that’s where the type of church that you’re talking about really plays into what kind of training you need. But I’m going to talk about three areas, we’re gonna talk about three areas that kind of need to define what we need to focus on. So the first is theology.

DZ: Should be first. [chuckle]

BK: Everything we do starts here and it sounds like Jake’s church wants to give them that kind of education. It is really important. Without knowing what God has said about who he is, about who we are, about what worship is, about the church, our ecclesiology, about the priority of the gospel, about how people change, we may end up pursuing things that aren’t necessarily accomplishing what God wants to accomplish, which is sad, that we can give ourselves to education that doesn’t really serve God’s purposes. Think of an example of someone who spends hours and hours and hours devoting themselves to video graphics. Now, I’m not against video graphics, but say they wanna use it in the church in the Sunday gathering and just… Like animation, they just wanna spend all their time just animating things.

BK: That’s a viable option, but I would say if that’s your only thought about it, you won’t have the guidelines. In fact, my son-in-law does this. He’s done video stuff, he’s really, really good at it. But if that’s the only thing that you’re doing at 4:00, you might miss the reasons why… The limits that God might wanna put on that, you might miss the things that you should be trying to accomplish with that or not accomplish, so your theology drives everything. So I wanted to recommend some things that would be helpful just to get started. Wayne Grudem has written a book that is a standard for a lot of leaders, a lot of churches, Systematic Theology has been condensed into Bible doctrine. Just to read something like that, to go through something like that would be so helpful. A shorter version would be J.I. Packer’s Concise Theology, there’s a series called Short Studies in Systematic Theology. Graham Goldsworthy has written on biblical theology. Vaughn Roberts has written God’s Big Pictures, we’ll put all these in the links.

DZ: Yes.

BK: So reading some of those or finding good commentaries on either books of the Bible or the Theology of Worship.

DZ: Yes.

BK: David Peterson has written Engaging with God. You should read that if you haven’t read that. Bryan Chappell’s written Christ-Centered Worship, Matt Merker…

DZ: Great book.

BK: Written a much shorter book, Corporate Worship. I wrote Worship Matters.

DZ: You wrote Worship Matters.

BK: Years ago.

DZ: The other book I was gonna mention, I didn’t see it on your list, but what was the D.A. Carson book that we have our Worship Matters Intensive Guys read?

BK: Oh, The Cross and Christian Ministry.

DZ: Cross and Christian Ministry, I would highly recommend that if you’re wanting to grow in how you’re thinking about your ministry.

BK: Well that ties into the next one as well, ’cause that not only teaches us how to do worship ministry, how to think about it, but it addresses your heart.

DZ: Yes.

BK: So that’s the second category. So don’t just be thinking about, I need training in education. I need training in my heart. Now, ideally, that happens in your local church, like it happens with your pastor, it happens with your small group, it happens with those you interact with, with your family, but if we don’t make it a category, we might be thinking, well, all I need is just to get more education.

DZ: Yes.

BK: Well, no, if you get theology without it leading to doxology, that’s bad news, because you’ll just be puffed up. You’ll think that it’s just about education. No, it’s about what matters most, what you love the most. When Jesus was asked, what is the greatest commandment? He didn’t say, be informed about everything that you’re doing. [chuckle] Make sure that you’re the best in your field at what you do. Make sure you have all the skills and accompanying tools to do what you wanna do.

DZ: Yes.

BK: He didn’t say that. That’s not the greatest commandment. Greatest commandment is you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these. So he extends it even beyond the first commandment to not just loving God, it’s loving your neighbor, it’s loving others as well. So we want to pursue those kinds of training that are going to help us have a heart that seeks the glory of Jesus more than our own glory.

DZ: Yes. Well, and we have talked about this on the podcast, and we talk about it a lot when we’re talking to worship leaders that come to the intensive, but if you’re disconnecting your sermons, your ministry from your heart engagement.

BK: Yes, yes.

DZ: If you’re relying on your gifting or your skills as a preacher, or your skills as a musician and an artist, you’re down a treacherous path.

BK: Yes.

DZ: Because your heart is not engaged. We can have our theology without our heart engagement.

BK: Yes, yes.

DZ: We can have our skills without our heart engagement, and so it’s, yeah.

BK: Which I don’t think Jake is asking or referring to or assuming, I think he wants to take the best route, he wants to use his church’s money wisely.

DZ: Yes.

BK: And it’s just focusing in on this specific formal musical and/or theological training. But I wanted to mention this because it’s just so important.

DZ: I love that you did.

BK: We can’t just… We can’t leave it out, and you mentioned the intensive, I’m not sure… If people don’t know what the intensive is, we do a five day event, Worship Matters Intensive, where 15 guys come together, it is intense.

DZ: Yeah, it is. [chuckle]

BK: It’s appropriately named, we go through the material in Worship Matters.

DZ: From like a Wednesday to a Sunday.

BK: Yeah, most of the time they’re held here in Louisville, although recently we did in Australia. And it is for the purpose of connecting people with these issues. Connecting leaders, guys who potentially be pastors, maybe they’re not, but they wanna think pastorally about what they’re doing. We talk about their family, their wives, their… All those things. And it’s a formal way of being trained, but just very condensed.

DZ: And will cost you a fraction.

BK: Yeah. [laughter] What’s that?

DZ: It’ll cost you a fraction of what you would go to get it.

BK: Oh, I thought say it would cost a ton.

DZ: College degree.

BK: Anyway, the third category is skill. So this is where Jake is asking both about theology and skill. You need enough theological education to do what you do wisely, to do what you do well. And you can always… You can learn the languages, you can learn Greek and Hebrew, I don’t know Greek and Hebrew, I depend on commentaries written by guys who do. But that’s okay. If you feel called to that, then by all means pursue it, but that’s not a requirement. I think if you’re going to lead, you should know something about biblical counseling, and I will tell people in college, hey, what courses should I take? I would say, take something in biblical counseling. I highly commend the guys from CCEF, the folks from CCEF, Christian Counseling Education Foundation, David Powlison, who’s gone on to be with the Lord was part of them, Ed Welch, others have written just great material on how God changes us through the gospel and through his word. When I’m in front of people leading, I need to know that, otherwise, I might be tempted to think it’s music that changes them, it’s lighting that changes.

DZ: Totally.

BK: It’s that background behind the lyrics that changes people, it’s my enthusiasm that changes people. No, it’s the word of God and the gospel that are empowered by the Holy Spirit’s working through them that changes people.

DZ: Yes.

BK: Everything else is supplementary and complimentary, but it does… It’s not better than those things. So, yeah. So the third category, skill. A couple things about skill, skill is for God’s glory, it’s a gift for God’s glory. It doesn’t make our worship or us more acceptable to God. And it grows through investment, which Jake is drawing attention to. We don’t pop out one day, hey, I had this skill I never had before. [laughter] It’s amazing. Although, wouldn’t we all love that to be the case? [laughter] We see people play a certain way, sing a certain way. We think, oh, I wish I could play. Oh, I wish I could sing like that, you just gotta invest.

DZ: Yeah, time, effort.

BK: [chuckle] So, the reason that skill is important, not to make us acceptable to God, not to bring us glory, it helps us focus on the important things. The lyrics we’re singing, the people we’re serving, it helps us serve people more effectively without distraction. I realize when I’m leading, I am benefiting from the training I had in college as a piano major, I’m benefiting from that, all the years I spent in the studio, because so many things are second nature to me now than they used to be. That came through investment, but it’s enabled me to not be so distracted by the technical things, and I don’t wanna be distracted by the technical things. So if you’re using technology, we’ve talked about technology on the podcast, but if you’re using technology, make sure that you’re skilled enough in it that it’s not a distraction to you, ’cause it’s not supposed to be.

DZ: Yeah, and let me just encourage people in terms of them wanting to grow in their skill just to say it’s just like, it’s never too late, we’re still learning, we’re still growing.

BK: Absolutely.

DZ: Obviously that doesn’t go away, but there are so many resources that you can do with little time.

BK: Yes, yes.

DZ: I’ve taught drummers that drum for their church and they have a full-time job. They have a family, they’re busy, and I just say, if you can hone in 10 minutes on this, if you can hone in 15 minutes on this, making it practical, you’ll see growth over time.

BK: Yes.

DZ: It will serve your people over time, so don’t get bogged down thinking, “Well, never, I can’t do that,” when there are resources available to you to do that.

BK: Yes, yes.

DZ: And we can always grow, we can always learn.

BK: Never too late.

DZ: Yep.

BK: As hard as that is for me to believe, [chuckle] but it’s never too late, and it’s good, I’m really glad. I learn a lot from you, David. I learn a lot from people around me who I play with on Sunday mornings, so it’s great. So, some of the skills that I think are important to develop if you wanna lead, again, depending on those context we set up in the beginning, personal situations and the church context. Harmony, understanding harmony, it would be theory, why do chords sound the way they do? I meet people who say, “Well, I can only… I can’t read chord charts.” Learn to read a chord chart. Or they read chord charts, but they don’t understand how the chords relate to each other. So learning number charts is a great way of learning chord theory.

DZ: Yep.

BK: ‘Cause what you learn there is a one chord… A four chord in a key will sound the same in every key, because if you’re in the key of C, an F chord will sound like the four chord, if you’re in the key of D, a G chord will sound like the four chord, if you’re in the key of E, an A chord will sound… You’ll hear that so you’ll be able to transpose a lot more easily.

DZ: Well, and for acoustic guitar players, knowing numbers will help you immensely.

BK: Or having a capo. [laughter]

DZ: Well, and capoing, because you’re just sticking to the same 1, 4, 6, 5 structure.

BK: Yes.

DZ: But yeah, basic theory on acoustic guitar and then with… As a drummer, just knowing if you’re using the right technique.

BK: Oh, good.

DZ: Knowing how to play in time, knowing how to use a metronome, listening, I mean, it will help serve people in your congregation.

BK: Yes.

DZ: No doubt.

BK: Yes. We did at least one podcast with you on drumming, if you haven’t heard that, you should check that out, it’s good.

DZ: Yep, but yeah, basic theory is very helpful.

BK: Yeah. So ear training, again, if you’re an instrumentalist or vocalist just learning to recognize pitches, it’s great if you can learn to read.

DZ: Yes.

BK: I mean, knowing how to do both really serves you.

DZ: It does.

BK: It’s served me for decades.

DZ: Also, can I mention one thing about for electric guitar players?

BK: Yes, let’s include everybody, even the electric players.

DZ: [chuckle] I can’t speak to the tuba or the oboe.

BK: No, not everybody, okay.

DZ: But he can. I would study the CAGED theory for electric guitar players. If you feel like you’re stuck in the low end of the guitar, CAGED just opens up the whole neck of the guitar.

BK: And describe that for those of us who are not in the know.

DZ: It’s certain shapes. C shape, A shape, G shape, E shape, D shape.

BK: That makes sense, CAGED, that’s brilliant.

DZ: And yeah, and it just helps you move in different positions of the guitar, it opens up the whole neck to you, and you can get that for free on Google.

BK: Yes, that’s so great. So ear training, recognizing pitches or not perfect pitch, but relatively being able to reproduce pitches, especially as a vocalist.

DZ: Definitely.

BK: Understand that harmony, learning how to sing harmony, and then just technical skills. There is benefit just in going to a room, practicing 15 minutes, practicing scales, practicing harmonic changes in different keys, that’d be another thing. So that’s one skill, musical skills. Leadership skills, I think is something that often those who lead the music don’t invest in, and I wish I could recommend specific resources on that, maybe you can think of them in the comments or add some in the comments, but to lead people is to say, “Look, here’s a place where you need to go and I wanna get you there.” And it’s a good place, it’s the place where God wants us to go, and I would say that is behold in the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ using His word, empowered by His spirit. All right, that’s where I want you to get you. How do I do that? Well, that leads to another skill, which is communication, I don’t think we give enough attention to this as leaders.

DZ: Yes.

BK: There’s a lot of, oh, just kind of fumbling, and…

DZ: Can you talk briefly about the pathos… Logos, pathos, yeah.

BK: Logos, ethos, pathos. Yeah, something I ran across… Came across years ago when I was thinking through this issue was something Aristotle had said on the rules of rhetoric, if you’re going to stand up in front of people and say something, how can you be sure that it’s effective? So we talked about three qualities, three elements, this has really served me even to this day. The first is logos, they’re all Greek words, logos, which is the truth. What I’m saying is true. That’s the word of God. So we wanna be sure that what we’re saying, if not the word of God itself, is in line with the word of God, and prioritized in the word of God, emphasized in the word of God, clear in the word of God. That’s the first thing in terms of the things we say. Second is ethos, and that’s not only is what I say true, but you should believe me. Ethos is the character of the person who’s speaking. So that comes across in looking in people’s eyes when you’re speaking to them, not kind of looking down at your notes and just go your head’s stuck in the music.


BK: Being relaxed, being sincere, just sharing humbly.

DZ: Well, and your character on and off the stage is your ethos.

BK: If people know you… That’s exactly right. If you look like someone different when you’re standing in front of people, that’s a problem. [laughter] So you wanna make sure that the way you’re living matches what you’re doing when you’re standing in front of people.

DZ: Yes, yes.

BK: So that’s ethos, you should believe me. And then pathos is what I’m saying matters. So it’s true, you should believe me, it matters.

DZ: Yes.

BK: And that’s where we’re speaking to people’s affections, not just their emotions. We’ve said this on the podcast before, emotion is what you feel, affections are why you feel them. So you’re speaking to their affections. What do you love? What do you think is most important? What do you prioritize? What do you run after? What do you chase? What do you pursue? That’s what your affections are.

DZ: Yeah.

BK: I wanna speak to those. So that is part of the way I communicate, that is by being affected myself.

DZ: Yes.

BK: I’m not just excited because I’m an exciting person, because I’m an extrovert and I type A and no, [laughter] I am excited because Jesus has changed my life. My sins have been paid for. I have an eternity of spending… Of being in God’s presence forever awaiting me after this life. I am secure, held in His hands, He is working everything for my good and for His glory. I mean, that’s good news, brothers and sisters. So I will at times want to, well, it’s hard not to express that my countenance in the way my body is engaged, those things.

DZ: Yes.

BK: So all those are parts of it, skill of communication.

DZ: I’m glad you mentioned that.

BK: Well, thanks for asking me to go through that. And then administration is another skill that we can grow in, there are good books that’ve been.

DZ: Absolutely.

BK: Written. Getting Things Done by David Allen was really helpful for me years ago. C.J. has written a book, C.J., our senior pastor, has written a book called Biblical Productivity, which I think is… You can get through Amazon. There are a number of great books, find something that helps you use your time wisely.

DZ: Yes, absolutely.

BK: And in this age of distraction, there are so many opportunities to use our time unwisely. So those are some of the things. So those are three areas.

DZ: Yes.

BK: Theology, heart, and skills, whatever you determine what do I need in those areas? And then you look at, okay, what are the best ways of achieving those things? So in Jake’s case, I would say if you find that your theology of worship and what you’re doing is in a good place, you have a good sense of the pastoral responsibility of a leader and you understand how God changes people, now you can find these things in books and in the word of God, just reading your Bible. But some people want a more formal way of approaching those, that’s fine, but if you think you’re in a good place there and musically you just need some strengthening here, well then just get some lessons, I would just do that. But then I’d say to someone, ’cause I’ve talked to a lot of people about this kind of training, if you have in your heart a desire to grow in a knowledge of the Bible and the Old Testament, the New Testament, biblical theology, systematic theology, you want to grasp those more wholly and completely, then get a seminary education. It’s not gonna hurt you. I mean, unless you handle it badly. [laughter] Or unless you go to a bad seminary.


BK: But if you wanna grow in those things, spending three years giving yourself to the study of God’s word and its application for your life, goodness gracious, yes, go do that. But make sure all the other things are in order as well, and make sure that this is something you really want to do, really need to do, really have the finances to do, and yeah, God could really use it in your life. So, Jake, I hope that’s helpful.

DZ: I know we barely slimed the surface of these resources or how to think, but I think it is helpful and I love what we do in the Intensive, I love what we do for worship leaders, in giving them those three. I mean, that really fuels…

BK: That’s what we focus on.

DZ: That really fuels the intensive theology and heart and skill. So Jake, I hope we gave you some resources.

BK: Yes.

DZ: But thank you for the ways that you are serving so faithfully and wanting to grow.

BK: Yep, amen, amen. And thanks you all for joining us, hope you’ll join us again.

DZ: Yeah.