Who is really leading worship during a service or gathering? I would say the Holy Spirit, the pastor, and the worship musicians (in order of priority).
The Holy Spirit is always the first and most important leader of worship. The Spirit’s preparation and work began long before the service was a twinkling in our eye. Before the first text or song is chosen, the Spirit is aligning the elements and people that will be included in the service. We need the Holy Spirit to point all the elements in a service to Jesus. The Spirit’s presence in the midst of a service is always the default leader. When the Spirit moves, we follow.
The pastor is always the second most important lead worshiper in a service or gathering. That’s right – the Holy Spirit does come before (and sometimes through!) the pastor. The pastor is the spiritual leader for the entire congregation, and this includes the congregation in worship. Just because you’ve got the guitar or mic doesn’t mean everyone is watching/following you. The pastor will always set the tone for worship in any setting. If the pastor’s heart and mind are engaged in the songs, prayers, and texts, then the people will be as well. If the pastor is shuffling through sermon notes, making small talk with the ushers, or not singing, then the people will be equally disengaged in worship.
The worship musicians are the next most important leaders in worship. Notice that “musicians” is plural. All who play instruments or sing are on equal ground. If you are on the platform in front of the people, you are just as important as anyone else in front. The lead vocalists aren’t elevated higher than the bass player. Being a worship musician requires a good dose of humility. 1 Peter 5:6 says, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.” Although the spotlights may shine on the musicians, it’s important to remember that everyone is following the pastors cues, and nothing is possible without the Spirit’s work.