As mentioned in my last post, the church has rightly begun to re-examine the words we use to add clarity and help avoid misunderstanding. Sometimes this from a heart that desires to help the congregation more fully embrace a humble, grateful, Biblical theology and sometimes it’s merely out of a sense of modern Pharisee-ism, wanting every “i” dotted and every “t” crossed precisely. My aim on this blog is the former.
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A term that has become contested is “worship leader”, with some arguing we should use “lead worshipper”. The later feels cumbersome – like an attempt to spiritualise what in this capacity should simply be called a “music leader.”
Depending on the extent of the role (and whether it’s a paid staff position) it might include everything from choosing weekly music, choosing new songs, choosing liturgy, leading the musicians, training the musicians, teaching, organising the tech teams, creating lyric sheets or slides, and so much more. Today let’s focus on the up-front role during gathered musical worship.
Why “music leader” (or “band leader”) and not “worship leader” or “lead worshipper”?
Firstly, because the primary leader of worship in our congregations is the Holy Spirit. If the heart is not moved by God’s character or the Gospel, it will merely be going through the motions. Also, our worship of God is only perfected through the work of Christ, so no human in his or her own skill can motivate the heart to genuine worship. Either the congregation is affected personally by the Gospel or they are not. Musical or verbal manipulation may lead to a “result” or reaction, but not genuine worship. Only the Holy Spirit can move someone to whole-hearted worship in spirit and in truth.
Second, as skilled as any up-front musician may be, in the local church setting the lead/Sr. pastor and/or senior leadership are the primary models to the congregation of what it looks like to be engaged in corporate worship – musical or non.
I don’t mean to disparage skilled music leaders or put undue pressure on senior church staff, but the reality is that the congregation will have its collective eye on you.
Just as they watch your life to learn what it looks like to follow Christ (1 Cor 11:1) in everyday matters of life and faith, so too will they imitate how they see you in a gathered worship setting.
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Is your church one that welcomes and embraces the freedom and joy of the outward Biblical imperatives to expression (clapping (Ps 47), raised hands (Ps 141,1 Tim 2:8), dancing(Ps 150), shouts of joy (Ps 66), etc.)?
It will only to the degree that senior leadership models and/or affirms it – from both the front and whilst in the congregation.
Ps 89:15 says “Happy are the people who know the joyful shout; LORD, they walk in the light from your face.” CSB
“Know”… Hebrew: yaw-dah’ (Strong: H3045) – to know (properly, to ascertain by seeing)
The NIV translates “learned” instead of “know.”
People who have observed the festal shout of God’s people and because of their understanding and experience of God also employ it. (more on outward expressions in a later blog)
Festal shout aside, there is a very real sense in which the people of God learn how to worship God by observing the people of God in worship.
Many of us experience a worship gathering from a place of learned traditions or presuppositions. But, a person with zero church background, upon conversion, will adopt what he has observed in the church he attends.
Two national church leaders I admire, John Piper and Kevin Kompelien model this so well. While not seeking to draw attention to themselves, they dive headlong – with full abandon – into worship and adoration of the One who has ransomed them. It’s immensely compelling.
Some may be tempted to say – “but that’s not my culture/personality.”
I get that, but these Biblical imperatives are not culture or personality bound. It would be akin to me saying, “I’m uncomfortable giving. It’s not my personality.”
Church leader – perhaps you need to ask the Lord to help you grow in this area, just as I need the Lord’s help with a stingy heart. We are continually being remade in accordance to God’s word. (2 Cor. 3:18)
I’m not saying you need to perform cartwheels down the aisle of the church or adopt the church scene from Blues Brothers. I’m saying don’t shy away from the Biblical calls to worship fully. And don’t shy away from teaching your congregation these things because they make you uncomfortable.
At the very least… for the sake of the Bride of Christ – don’t “skip the music”, don’t go over or be rehearsing your sermon notes, don’t be chatting it up with your neighbor during musical worship. Need to save your voice? Fine. But when you appear ‘checked out’ during the music what do you think is communicated?
Do you mean to communicate to the congregation that musical worship is unimportant, or that it’s important for everyone except you? May it never be!
Music leaders – give heart and soul and mind and strength to serve the King of kings! Your role is important.
Senior church staff – give heart and soul and mind and strength to serve the King of kings! Your example is noted. Your example is emulated. Your example is essential.
Thoughts? Let’s talk!