Worship DJ?

I had a student ask me a great question. The question was essentially this: how is a worship leader different than someone who just plays song after song (basically a worship disc jockey)?

Insightful question, as I am afraid many worship leaders today are glorified worship DJ’s. The job of a disk jockey is to play songs, and if we aren’t careful, we can reduce the job of the worship leader to someone who just does song after song with some running commentary. Usually we also give a weather report to boot.

I never been a DJ, so I decided to see what they do to find any similarities between worship leaders and DJs. I googled “How to be a disk jockey” and came up with this site that had 16 tips on “How to be a DJ”. Some similarities between being a DJ and worship leader that I thought were interesting:

1. Decide whether you want to be a crowd pleaser or a music specialist. This could be a whole blog post : )
2. Know what you need (equipment).
3. Start with the basics
4. Augment your performance with software (loops or iWorship anyone?)
5. Be economical.
6. Learn to mix beats
7. Learn the intros and outros.
8. Learn about all genres of music.
9. Find a gig.
10. Know the crowd.
11. Be professional.
12. Develop a good balance of banter and playing. Your crowd will want you to talk to them a little bit, but not too much.

So what is the difference between a worship leader and a disk jockey? I came up with a list of 7.

1. Good worship leaders should be leading people into the presence of God. To do this, they must be intentional and purposeful. Much has been made of “taking people to the throne”, so I won’t belabor the point.
2. Good worship leaders place worship elements intentionally. It is not enough to have a play list, and just press “shuffle” and push play. While some disk jockeys may be intentional about the order and flow of their songs, worship leaders must constantly seek to use flow as not to distract (musically or textually), to reinforce thematic worship (if desired), and to help people be focused on Christ.
3. Good worship leaders realize that music is only a means to an end. It goes beyond enjoyment to fulfill what I believe are the three roles of music: evangelism, praise and worship, and teaching and admonishing.
4. Good worship leaders seek to exalt Christ rather than themselves. It seems that “successful” radio personalities are created by people who depend on their cleverness, persona, or ability to speak well. They are successful when they call attention to themselves so that they are remembered, especially when it comes to ratings. Worship leaders by contrast should focus attention on God, not themselves. In a recent Skype interview, Darlene Zschech reminded her viewers “We are not made to receive glory, but to give it”.
5. Good worship leaders are careful with what they say and how that say it. They choose their words carefully. This is much of the “leading” part of worship leading. Bob Kauflin has a great series of blog posts on this issue.
6. Good worship leaders make use of more than music. Prayer and scripture are essential elements of worship. Don’t neglect them. Jesus doesn’t say that his house will be a house of worship, but a house of prayer. Public reading of scripture is also vital. How much are we saying when we could be reading scripture.
7. Good worship leaders expect a response. DJs can have passive listeners and be successful. The worship leader is not leading worship if people are not worshiping.

So be a worship leader, not just a worship disk jockey? Anything that I missed? Any comments?

11 comments to Worship DJ?

  • Jonathan Holman

    I can definitely see some similarities between DJs and what often people see from worship leaders. It’s extremely easy to just press play, and sing a few songs. This isn’t right, we are supposed to be specific, and intentional in worship, but often we aren’t. But ultimately, in deciding if one is a worship DJ, or a Worship leader, it comes down to why you are doing what you do. If you are just playing songs because it’s what your supposed to do and choosing songs just because people like them, than you probably are a worship DJ, but if the reason that you sing and pick certain songs is to glorify God by leading others to do the same than you are being a worship leader.

  • Roger O'Neel

    Totally agree – what motivates us is altogether important, and something to constantly check!

  • Caleb Ingram

    Huh, this article does trigger several interesting questions. It is convicting as I realize that at times our worship pastors have erred on the side of being personal DJ’s for a church. I think about the times that we whip together a “worship set” by throwing a few songs in order that people know. If we’re “good” at what we do we might make a quirky transition to loosen people up and make them feel comfortable. We’ve figured out how to make the songs transition well by arranging them in whatever order it is the easiest to connect the keys.

    In the prior paragraph I mentioned several of the ways I believe leading worship has turned into church DJing. While I am aware that these things have happened, I do not believe that most of them should be the case. However, whether we like it or not there are a couple similarities that are not bad things. Both should be skilled in music. Both should grow in their ability to connect with people.

    As mentioned in this article and also in Jonathan Holman’s post, I think that the major difference is the purpose. What is the goal of each? What defines “success”? A DJ’s final goal is to make people feel comfortable and be impressed with his music choices and comments to tie things together in between. At the end of the day, he was successful if the audience was comfortable and passively enjoyed everything.

    A worship leader realizes that music is a tool to bring glory to God. The skill and excellence put into the music is to reflect the creativity given by Him. The songs are specifically chosen to help point congregations to truths from God’s Word. The goal in worship is not for people to leave feeling comfortable and entertained, but instead challenged and motivated.

  • Grant McCurdy

    My initial instinct as a worship leader being compared to a DJ is to adamantly argue against similarities, however I believe that the fact we are being compared to this profession denotes a tendency towards certain flaws within worship music tradition. While a good DJ certainly has some similar characteristics to a good Worship leader, the fact that someone could not tell the difference between the two exposes a failure by worship leaders to intentionally communicate the philosophy and theology of musical worship. I believe our congregations misunderstanding of our purpose (which sets us aside from DJs) is due to an often apathetic or simply unintentionally repetitive pattern of worship leading.

    In order to distinguish ourselves as worship oriented musicians we must effectively communicate why we are doing what we do, as we do it. This can take on the form of explaining song lyrics, verbally describing the logic behind the worship set’s progression and flow, or reading scripture which forms these links naturally. Regardless of the method it is our duty to undo the unfortunate pattern of misunderstood and tragically shallow worship by effectively explaining the intentionality behind what we do. However, in order to do this we must certainly be putting great amounts of prayer, thought, and wisdom into our plans in order to keep the DJ stereotype from being attributed to worship leaders because of our apathy.

  • Jason Carnegis

    I can see the similarities between a dj and a worship leader, but those differences are all along the musical side of being a worship leader. It is good for a worship leader to be professional and to have an understanding of different genres and to have skills in music as well, but what the worship leader does when he isn’t on stage is important as well and sets them apart from a music dj on K-Love or any other Christian radio station.
    I think that instead of picking songs that are popular and that everyone knows to ‘please the crowd’, a worship leader instead picks songs that are similar in theme to make the congregation understand a certain aspect of God or something Christ has done for them. Using Scripture and videos to communicate this theme in a different way is another way of showing the congregation that it is not a concert to be entertained at, but to lift up the name of Jesus Christ and worship him. I think that too many times the audience doesn’t think the music is good if they don’t know it or if they don’t like the song. I think that worship leaders need to show the congregation that the music on Sunday mornings is not for entertainment, like a DJ would, but for God to be given glory.

  • Brian Fanelli

    The one characteristic of a good DJ that really stuck out to me (and convicted me) was “Decide whether you want to be a crowd pleaser or a music specialist.” So often I find myself picking only those songs with which I know I’ll find congregational approval, and not always those that I feel led by the Holy Spirit to pick. While I definitely think it’s necessary to keep the congregation in mind, I think worship leaders become too preoccupied with keeping the congregation happy.

    This in mind, I think that another difference between DJs and worship leaders is that worship leaders need to be filled with and led by the Holy Spirit. We tend to go on “auto-pilot” rather than letting the Spirit guide song orders and maybe impromptu moments of reflection.

  • Ashley Auch

    I think the difference between DJs and worship leaders that most stuck out to me is that worship leaders expect a response. This is a huge aspect of worship! Worship is more than being entertained by a set list of songs. Worship is an interaction with God and certainly demands more than passive participation. Therefore, it is the worship leader’s responsibility to ensure that they are encouraging the congregation to treat worship as more than singing a few songs.

    This is where one of the other differences comes into play: worship leaders incorporate more than songs into worship. Whereas a DJ may add some light commentary in between songs and bring the focus to himself, a worship leader’s purpose is to do everything to draw attention to God. The most important thing for us to take away from this is that we need to constantly remind ourselves of what worship really means so that we don’t simply default to a DJ-mindset.

  • Jacob Tudor

    I can see it how it understandable to compare a Worship leader to a DJ, especially with the vast amounts of technical innovations in our society today. With what you mentioned about loops and tracks, some aspects of modern worship can seem to simply be a craft of a good Dj. And perhaps, in some cases, a Worship leader may be struggling with this- I’m sure that it is happening somewhere. But the purpose of a Worship leader is not to entertain. As it was mentioned, Worship leader’s are there to lead in Worship- to come alongside other believers and help them open their hearts and surrender themselves wholly and fully to God in a time devoted to praising our Creator! Worship leaders shouldn’t be expected to have a flawless performance. It’s very impractical to have an expectation like that, as many of us do when we go to a concert. Mistakes show the Fallen nature of our humanity, and I think a flawless time of Worship isn’t necessaily always true Worship, and is sometimes a “show”, like a Dj. But, with that said, we should always give our best! Just a few thoughts after reading this post!

  • Isaac Murrell

    The intentional planning and purpose sets apart worship leaders from DJ’s. I agree with this list in how they are different as well. I feel like DJ’s can also plan songs to intertwine with each other in order to communicate a theme or message, which I think is really cool, creative, and effective. I’m not sure how many worship disc jockeys prayerfully consider each song or setlist of songs, but I know that this is and should be true of worship leaders. I believe that this is needed in order to allow God’s spirit to work throughout the music planning in order for it to flow and communicate a message to others throughout the worship time. Prayer is powerful and with the intent of prayer within the purpose to glorify God, its a wise way to go about it.

  • Jordan Redfield

    I think the fact that these two roles (worship leader and music DJ) are being confused and closely compared is pretty disturbing, and as mentioned by some others, a sign that there may be necessary changes to be made by worship leaders. Of course there are some comparisons and similar traits…but I think those can be made between nearly any two professions. Just one if countless examples could be a salesperson and a pastor. They both have common things they both need to understand to be successful: understanding your audience, being prepared and confident, appearing professional and credible, etc.
    The bottom line, however, is that worship pastors and music DJ’s should be VERY different jobs with VERY different objectives. One is to entertain and provide a show, the other is to lead followers of Christ before the throne of God to worship…if these two things are confused and/or easily comparable, there is an issue.

  • Caleb Gordon

    I agree, worship leader and music DJ are unfortunately being confused, although seeing the comparison convicts me, but also pushes me to make there a noticeable difference between worship and DJ-ing. One of the easier aspects of keeping this distinction is knowing that we are worshiping God. The struggle that I have found is the “crowd pleasing”. Although a lot of worship music is argued about style and tempo etc. as long as it is theologically sound and brings glory to God it is good, but that’s not what I am getting at. The struggle is finding the “balance” of pleasing the congregation and pleasing God. Obviously God is first and foremost and He is more important than anything, yet there is the idea of “relevance” to the congregation and not just to me and my personal worship. I guess this is why worship leaders’ role in the church is so important, I will rely on God for his guidance and keeping my heart and pride in check so that I will not become a worship DJ.