It's a Bird! It's a Plane! It's a … Worship Leader?
How to cope with sky-high expectations as a worship leader.
Ever-Changing Tools Of the Trade
Every craftsman has a toolbox. A mechanic, a wood worker and a metal fabricator all use tools to help manufacture and maintain their wares. Even in a personal sense, we need skills to communicate and operate in society. Being an effective worship leader requires specific skills and tools, many of which have changed drastically in the past several years.
A degree from seminary or Bible school, with a concentration in choral music and a foundation in classical theory, doesn’t fully prepare the 21st century worship leader as it may have in the past. Skills in areas such as team building, leading a worship band and singers while playing guitar or piano, instrumental arranging, knowledge in lighting, sound and video equipment, and proficiency in certain software programs for music notation, audio recording and video editing, all contribute to the success of a contemporary music minister.
A Modern Version of Corporate Worship
Actually, the job of a worship leader these days is not unlike that of a TV or live concert producer: The pressure to put on a full blown music and preaching extravaganza each week — incorporating theater lighting and sound, captured on multiple high-definition cameras — can be typical fare.
A former pastor with whom I served for several years often said, “The problem with church is that it happens every week!” The fact is, once we complete last week’s production critique, there is barely enough time left to high-five our team members because we need to focus on next week’s production. Then there’s Easter, Christmas and a smattering of special services throughout the calendar year that require attention.
Look over the requirements for some worship leader positions, and you may see a list of qualifying attributes that only Superman could fill! I’ve even seen small churches — 200 in attendance or less — looking for superheroes to fill their worship leader positions. Usually, the salary isn’t commensurate with the requirements. Some churches like to add student ministries to the load of a worship leader, and when that is required, burnout is a big possibility.
Corporate worship — in the modern sense, and across denominational lines — usually involves a comfortable environment in a clean facility, with superb childcare, offering a spiritually uplifting message, with an excellent audio/visual experience, in the span of between an hour and an hour and thirty minutes. The worship experience in the 21st century has evolved into a consumer-oriented activity, and the contrast between first century worship and today is drastically different.
What’s A Worship Leader To Do?
When I attempt to break down the “job description” of a worship leader, I state the essentials from a historic point of view — one that doesn’t take into consideration a building, technical aspects or congregation size. It simply describes the function of the position:
• To serve the local church with excellence
• To be a servant leader
• To follow the direction of the Holy Spirit
• To help Christ followers encounter God personally
• To facilitate God-focused moments of corporate worship
• To assist the leadership in fostering spiritual growth of the congregation
• To make Christ known to the local community
• To make Christ known throughout the world
• To do all for the glory of God
The term “worship leader” isn’t found anywhere in the Bible. In 1 Timothy 2:5, Paul states that there is no “mediator” between God and man but Jesus. Therefore, most instances in the Bible where worship takes place happens without a specific leader (although in the cases of worship in the Tabernacle and the Temple at Jerusalem, there was a system brought to the process of worship). Still, even in the New Testament, as well as in today’s churches, God doesn’t require a worship leader to stand up with an acoustic guitar and a handful of worship choruses to foster worship among His people.
In Hebrews 10:19-22, Paul encourages us to draw near to God:
“Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water (NIV).”
In the Old Testament, there was a high priest who went before God on our behalf (Leviticus 16). Rituals were practiced, including animal sacrifices, and blood was offered to cleanse our sin. These annual offerings on the Day of Atonement were but a precursor, a symbol of what Jesus would eventually accomplish in His death and resurrection. In the New Testament, our new High Priest, Jesus, became the sole sacrifice for our sins, once and for all time. Because of this, we now have the confidence to meet and fellowship with God. We, therefore, are encouraged to draw near to God, having been cleansed, with a guilt-free conscience.
Back To the Basics
Jesus is the true Worship Leader! We as music ministers are simply servants in our churches, available to help facilitate corporate worship. This music leadership role has rapidly evolved in recent years, as the Church strives to remain culturally relevant and to keep up with ever-changing technologies. I believe that, while improving our corporate worship experiences, we also have an obligation to assist our congregation in their private worship time. As my wife Brenda says: “Often, one’s personal worship time is less a priority than their corporate worship; it should be just the opposite.” The songs we teach each week are excellent tools for spiritual growth, for spreading hope and encouragement.
In Ephesians 5:18-20 we read:
“Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (NIV).”
In Hebrews 10:25, Paul writes:
“Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another — and all the more as you see the Day approaching (NIV).”
As we have seen, God does require believers to:
• Draw near to Him
• Be filled with the Holy Spirit
• Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit
• Give thanks to God the Father for everything
• Meet regularly to encourage each other in the faith
What Have We Created?
Outside of that, what have we created in today’s modern version of corporate worship? If in our churches we have strayed from the central focus of Christ, we must find our way back to the heart and soul of worship as it was originally intended.