Worship Artist vs Worship Leader

What’s the difference?

Ron Kenoly is a well-known worship leader and artist who has inspired me since my teenage years. Recently, there was a video clip of him telling people to put their phones down during a worship service. He said that he's a worship leader, not an artist.

While it's good to encourage people to be present, I think the distinction he made was unfair to those who would self-describe themselves as worship artists. It seems to imply that artists are ok with people taking pictures during worship while worship leaders aren't - implying that worship leaders are doing a more sacred task, or more honoring of the moment than artists.

But Ron Kenoly himself is both an artist and a leader. In fact, he was perhaps the original worship artist, whose albums and videos were more 'spectacular’ than many of the other label mates he had.

Implying that worship artists are less ‘set-apart’ than worship leaders creates unnecessary tension.

Sure, there are differences between artists and leaders, but they both aim to usher people into an encounter with the Lord as they worship.

Both worship artists and leaders want to point people to Jesus.

The main difference is that artists tend to sing for us or to us, and we join in their song.

Leaders sing with us, uniting the congregation in worship.

The artist aims at an individual's heart, while the leader aims for a collective encounter for the congregation.

Imagine a psalmist (worship artist) like David singing over King Saul as he struggled with inner turmoil. As David sang songs of worship or encouragement, Saul's troubles eased.

A choir director unites voices in harmony, just as a worship leader does for a congregation. A choir director guides a choir and helps them sing together. As worship leaders, we might not want to be seen as choir directors, but our role is a mix of choir director, worship artist, and psalmist.

A worship artist uses thier unique artistic expressions to communicate their message. It's a personal flavor that might not be for everyone.

On the other hand, a worship leader tries to be all things to all people so that everyone in the room can worship together. Their personal expression is part of what they do, but it's used to unite the room.

A worship artist may worship in public like they would in private.

A worship leader is very conscious of the fact that they are leading a gathering and adjusts thier expression to serve that gathering.

What if the labels artist and leader are not callings or titles, but roles and responsibilities?

You can be both a worship artist and leader, put on each role to serve the moment.

Sometimes we need to express ourselves as artists, which can be beautiful. Other times we need to unite a congregation in worship.

Knowing the difference is key. Understanding what is required of us in the moment is wise

It's hard to give examples of pure worship artists and worship leaders because they don’t really exist in one category alone. The recordings we hear, are typically the artistic expression of the individual or band/team… which may/often look very different than what they actually do on a Sunday morning at thier local church.

Serve the moment and intention of your gathering. Use your giftings and artistic personality to accomplish the goal of the gathering.

Worship artists, sometimes we come to see you burn, and catch a spark for ourselves.

Worship leaders, sometimes we come to burn as a group.

Do what’s required to serve the purpose of the gathering.

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