When I was working through seminary at RTS-Orlando I was given a great gift. A summer worship internship at Green Lake Pres in Seattle. While there my job was to practice planning and leading worship in the day to day of pastoral ministry with pastor mike kelley, deepen my own understanding of the forms of historic reformed worship, and write music with Rick Jensen and Nathan Partain in the Seattle milieu. One of the fruits of that summer was “The 6-pegs of a Worship Leader” – an exploration in the fundamentals of leading worship in the context of the local church. Part of this was trying to create a road map for my own future growth as a worship leader and another part was sorting out my worship leading experiences to date. I’d grown up in a traditional music setting that had one set of concerns, and led worship in a college setting which had a totally different set of perspectives on worship and leading. This was my attempt to synthesize the best of both.
1. Worship Leaders must cultivate a life of faith.
To lead people to Christ we must know Christ. To lead the people of God before the throne of God we must know the story of God. To welcome people into worship we must recognize the work of the Spirit leading people into worship! To lead and pastor a diverse congregation into a life of continual worship we must be a people actively living out our lives amidst the joys and sorrows of humanity. This is pursuing a life of faith daily, yearly, and into eternity.
Paul Westermeyer was really helpful for me in this. He reminds us worship leaders that we are “not called to know every theological detail, nor to unravel every theological question.” What we do need is the ability “to step back and keep the whole story in perspective and to know its broad outlines and themes.”
2. Worship Leaders are called to be shepherds and guardians
John Witvliet directed me here. He says that “we need to see planning and leading worship as first and chiefly a pastoral task.”
Peter Liethart is also helpful. “Song, as well as shoulders, “bear up” and “lift up” the ark-throne of Yahweh, so that He rides into Zion “enthroned on the praises of Israel” (Ps22.3). The ‘burden’ of the Levites is no longer merely a physical one but a musical one.”
At some point in college while I was involved in leading worship in both a college and church youth group setting I realized that worship leaders have a lot of power and influence that is largely unrecognized…both by themselves and by those in authority over them. For many of us, our favorite parts of worship are the music parts…and the words and music of these times is largely controlled by the worship leaders. Most of whom may not realize the pastoral influence they are waging! Note: You are not just a musician. In fact, you would probably be surprised at the amount of power and authority you are perceived as having simply as a result of being up front every Sunday, Wednesday night, etc. In today’s evangelical world, most people are choosing a church based upon the style of worship and music in that church. You, as a pastoral musician, need to realize the authority and direction you have in people’s spiritual diet. Paul’s words to Timothy (2 Tim 1) are just as apt for us. We need to shepherd the flock under us and guard the proclamation of the gospel that happens through our ministry.
3. Worship Leaders are called to be great musicians
It is a wonderful thing to read scripture as a musician. The whole bible is filled with songs, poetry, and people giving voice to their praises and laments. The largest book in the bible is one taken up in the duty and delight of praising God – the Psalms! It follows then that God must care about the quality of His praise.
In 1st Chronicles 15:22 we read that Kenaniah, the head Levite, was in charge of the singing; that was his responsibility because he was skillful at it.
Every worship leader should do a study of the Levites and how God called these people to direct and lead his worship in the Old Testament according to His Word. (Reading through 1st Chronicles is a great place to start)
Here are a couple areas that I have gathered from others wisdom that every worship leader should seek to study within their own tradition to improve their leadership and musicality. This list may seem a bit overwhelming to you, but even a simple worship internship will cover many of these. (1) the basics of music theory, history, literature and performance, (2) the ability and desire to teach music and musicianship to others, (3) the various approaches to ‘doing’ church music throughout history, (4) practical understanding of audio and video technologies, and (5) know, love, and practice your instrument – whether you lead as a vocalist, pianist, harpist, guitarist, or drummer strive to be the best.
4. Worship Leaders are called to be administrators
You haven’t had to lead worship for too long before you begin to falter under the weight of recruiting musicians, planning schedules, caring for equipment, and negotiating space issues! I’ve spent times where I thought I might change my job description to “Professional Schlepper.”
I was even more shocked when I found out that the Bible confirms this as part of our calling! (1 Kings 8:4, et al). I’ve often wondered (okay…not that often) who had it worse – us or the levites!
The admin is a necessary part of the calling and work so embrace it. Bring others alongside you who have stronger gifts in areas where you are weak, get the best tools you can find to help in this work. A great leader is one who surrounds himself with people more talented that he/she is!
I think many of us could even consider our ministry a deaconal one. So much of our job is stewarding material stuff – sorting cable’s, utilizing technology appropriately. Don’t shy away from that. It’s part of the ministry to steward God’s resources in the service of God’s people! A lot of what we do enables our pastors to spend more time praying and teaching and less time worrying about whether the sound system will break on Sunday! It’s no wonder that a worship director is often the 1st hire in church plants nowadays.
The unique challenge is how to keep Christ preeminent in the face of disheartening busyness. Be diligent to carve out time for yourself for prayer, study, reflection and refreshment. Cultivate the practice of saying no and asking for help!
5. Worship Leaders are called to be liturgists.
James White defines it like this. “Liturgy, then, is a work performed by the people for the benefit of others. In other words, it is the quintessence of the priesthood of believers that the whole priestly community of Christians shares. To call a service “liturgical” is to indicate that it was conceived so that all worshippers take an active part in offering their worship together”.
If you think of yourself as a worship leader than you are a ‘liturgist.’ Corporate worship doesn’t take place without leaders. As one of the liturgists you are directly responsible for the planning, preparation, and leading of ‘the people’s work’ of praise rendered to God.
As a liturgist your job is to balance three concerns when planning out worship. 1. The Word of God, 2. Your Community, and 3. Your own gifts, abilities, and calling. All of these will play into the work you do to lead your people through the Gospel through word, music, prayers, and fellowship.
Secondly, you need to study and understand the building blocks you are using to construct worship. Songs, elements, prayers, your people, your space, all factor in how the gospel is presented and how your people take it up. Brian Chapell’s new book “Christ-Centered Worship” is a great place to reflect on how the Gospel shapes our practice.
6. Worship Leaders are called with a calling
The New Testament is pretty quite in regards to the place of the modern worship leader. It’s been vexing to me ever since seminary when I was trying to figure out where I fit in the NT world of church leadership. Was my calling to lead worship actually a calling to be an Elder? A deacon? or more generally a servant in the church? Despite some of the difficulties here we should strive to reflect on our calling, gifts consistent with our calling, and the confirmation of the call and gifts from the church at large. Meanwhile the Old Testament has a lot to say specifically about God calling and appointing worship leaders, singers, and instrumentalists and God’s word in their regard is helpful to us. Wherever you fall out, I would encourage you to have an active conversation with your church leadership about this.
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