Where Does the Term Worship Leader Came From?
We quickly realized that we are not to be simply song leaders rather worship leaders. We don't lead God's people in songs rather in connection with God through worship. It was not a "song service" rather a "worship service," which requires a different paradigm of music-making and a different leadership style.
So the term "worship leader" was used to describe the purpose of the musical leader. It wasn't about the songs. It was about using the songs to come before God and worshiping Him. This required a team of leaders who
could play musical instruments and sing with excellence. So the piano and organ was substituted for a team of musicians. We named this musical group "the worship team." Their focus and purpose was to musically and expressively facilitate the worship of the congregation.
In the beginning years of the worship reformation many Christian denominations and movements opposed the concept of God dwelling or manifesting in the praises of His worshipers. Early preachers of the truth were strongly opposed and one had death threats on his life. "Heresy!" church leaders yelled. Later, it was the Word of God that convinced church leaders to make a change not a new style of music sung by a cool looking young man in skinnies, but a principled one best not on trends but on scriptural truth.
Today the scripture declaring God inhabits the praises of His worshipers (Ps 22:3) is in denominational hymn books. I know because I put it there as a member of the editing committee for hymnbook series. Preachers of most denominations now believe and teach of God inhabiting our praises.
In the reformation we put down our hymn books and chorus books so we could sing to God, clap and raise our hands. This required a change in technology and song publishing. Sales of songbooks slowed and overhead projectors and slide projectors were used to broadcast the words so the worshipers could be free to sing, clap, dance and raise their hands to God.
In 1980 I self published one of the first books on the role of music in worship. In 1986 I started the International Worship Institute to train and equip worship leaders and worship teams in the Biblical paradigm of worship music. It was a week-long master intensive on equipping to encounter the presence of God - the purpose of corporate worship. It became one of the largest events of it's kind.
In the same year as we began the IWI, Hillsong began their conference, Integrity Music started the Hosanna Music series and CCLI began licensing songs to use in public worship. This made a significant foundation for the introduction worship a new paradigm of worship in the Charismatic and Pentecostal church at the time.