David’s “Letter of Reference”

Characteristics of an Effective Worship Leader

Darcy L. Watkins – July 11, 2024 (original October 2, 2013)

When applying for a job, a loan or credit line, or even to rent a place to live, it is not uncommon that you may be requested to provide a letter of reference to establish your reputation. The focus of this study is to look at David’s “letter of reference” which brought him into a position of ministry at the king’s palace. For this study, we go to the Bible into I Samuel 16, verses 1-18.

Here is an interesting revelation from the Bible we often take for granted in teaching, but often forget when we make our day-to-day decisions. Samuel is with Jesse and his sons, looking for the one who will be chosen to be God’s anointed king to succeed Saul.

Samuel looked at Eliab and said, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is before Him!” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” [vs 6-7]

Even today, we often focus on the outward appearance while not paying due attention to the heart of the matter.  We go through great lengths to ensure that our worship services are a good show, and don’t always seek what is on the Lord’s heart.

After Eliab, six others of Jesse’s sons were brought up one at a time to Samuel. One by one, the Lord refused them all. There were none left but David, the youngest who was out watching the sheep, [vs 11]. David was called in to come before Samuel. David was the Lord’s choice to be anointed as the next king, [vs 12].

Later, king Saul was vexed by a distressing spirit.  He was advised to seek out a skilled harp player. He sought out a good musician. Here is David’s “letter of reference”.

Then one of the servants answered and said, “Look, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, who is skillful in playing, a mighty man of valor, a man of war, prudent in speech, and a handsome person; and the Lord is with him.” [vs 18]

Here it is in point form:

  • Skillful musician
  • Mighty man of valor
  • Man of war
  • Prudent in speech
  • Handsome
  • The Lord is with him

The king sent for David who up to this time, was faithfully tending his father’s sheep. David was not the sort who went out searching for all kinds of opportunities to minister. He didn’t go about, “banging on doors” to see if they are open or closed. He faithfully served where he was placed. This established his reputation, his “letter of reference”, and then the opportunity came banging on his door. This started his career serving the king which eventually led to his historic showdown in which he slew Goliath, the giant Philistine.

Now let’s look at each point of the “letter of reference” to see how this applies to us as worship leaders.

Note: This “letter of reference” idea applies equally to both men and women worship leaders even though some of the wording recorded in the scriptures was not gender neutral.

Skillful Musician

To effectively lead worship, and to lead a team, you must be skillful as a musician. You don’t necessarily have to play an instrument as you lead. Your “instrument” could even be your voice. You just must be skillful at it.

To be skillful implies that you take time, as part of your routine, to practice and develop your skill. When needed, you take lessons and training. You also work with others to develop each other’s skills. You don’t have to be a virtuoso, but you can’t just walk in off the street, singing off key and just picked up a guitar (without even knowing how to tune it) and then expect to be an effective worship leader.

Some unskilled people have been used of God to lead worship on rare occasion, but this is an exception, and not likely to be a sustained music ministry, just something worked out for a specific event.

Mighty Man of Valor

In Strong’s Concordance, the Hebrew word translated valor, has several connotations, mainly to do with military strength, but here are some which stand out.

  • a force
  • virtue
  • strength
  • ability
  • substance

The primitive root for the word insinuates that the characteristics of valor are drawn from pain and experience. This suggests a process of trials and a legacy of successes, some failures, (obviously non-fatal), and hopefully lessons learned.

This all suggests that an effective worship leader is one who has the courage to do as God leads, has the integrity to take responsibility for the consequences whether good or bad, and is thoughtful and teachable enough to learn from such experiences to grow.

This also suggests that worship leading is something that involves training, practice, evaluation and mentoring, not something you just jump into flippantly as part of a show or an act.

Man of War

Generally, anywhere in the Old Testament where it speaks of war and you want to derive a New Testament application to the principles, the key word is prayer. We wage spiritual warfare in the heavenly through our prayers. We don’t wrestle in the physical against flesh and blood, [Ephesians 6:12].

To be an effective worship leader, you must spend time in the Lord’s presence, time in prayer on behalf of what is on the Lord’s heart. Otherwise, your worship leading will be shallow and lack substance.

Preservice prayer at the last minute is not enough.

Prudent in Speech

I think that we are all familiar with what this is driving at. We should not be a bunch of blabbermouths. We should speak the truth in love. We should avoid trite expressions, especially “churchspeak” which is not understood by unchurched people. We should avoid negative talk and gossip. We should speak positive, uplifting and constructive (edifying) words.

Life and death are in the power of the tongue (Proverbs 18:21). Speak the words of life.

(I Samuel 17) David had the big showdown with Goliath because he was heard speaking against the giant. His brothers accused him of speaking foolishly [vs 28] and told him to hush up, but obviously he had a reputation for being prudent in speech. So again, he was brought before the king [vs 31-32], and they took him seriously enough to send him out against Goliath. This was not a flippant decision. The outcome of such showdowns always had implications in the battle frays which would follow. Somehow, they were convinced to send him out as their best. His words were obviously infectious, inspiring them to trust their fate to him as their champion, and to victorious battle frays afterwards.


This is perhaps the most misunderstood point of them all.

These days we take the Hollywood approach. Let’s put all the gorgeous gals and handsome hunks up on stage to put on a big show!

What you must understand is that in the historical context, to be handsome was a bad thing, not a good thing. Handsome meant to be smooth, clear complexion, no scars, and probably not much hair on the old chest. It meant to be straight looking as opposed to being all scarred up, rough and tough.

In those days, the “in thing” was to look intimidating, mean and scarred up. That is how most men of valor appeared. The handsome young man was probably regularly teased for not having a beard. His manly pride was probably poked fun at and prodded through all kinds of wise cracks and nasty remarks.

To take this into today’s context, an effective worship leader is a man or woman whose appearance is modest. They are not the super physically attractive sorts that appear modelling fashion clothes, etc. They are ordinary people.

The Lord is With Him

This is the single most important item on the “letter of reference”. Except the Lord build the house, they that build it labor in vain, (Psalms 127:1). If you try to do it on your own, it is just one big “gong show” (or some other popular talent show with rude judges).

It is important that the worship leader be a man or woman of God. They must be born again and filled with the Holy Spirit. They must have their life aligned with the principles of godly living as described throughout the Bible. Lifestyle definitely comes into play here.

The anointing must be evident in the worship leader’s life, not just be counterfeited by the person having good stage presence.

I am not saying that the person must be perfect in every way, but he or she needs to be yielded to God in the areas that God has held him or her accountable for. Generally, those who are called to leadership are also called to a more tempered and stricter lifestyle. This is for the sake of conscience of weaker Christians as well as the conscience of the worship leader.


What we have here are characteristics of an effective worship leader. Put these into practice and allow God to prepare you a “letter of reference”.

Note: The “letter of reference” idea, I heard originally at a worship conference in Portland, Oregon in 1990, I think from Rev. Mike Herron. I have used that as an outline to further develop these ideas.