Before I start this series, I wanted to give you some background. Eight years ago, after I had served as a pastor for twelve years, C.J. Mahaney invited me to assume the new role of “Director of Worship Development” for Sovereign Grace Ministries. One of my assignments was to study and train others in the practicals of biblical worship, particularly as it relates to music.
As I studied Scripture and read books like Engaging with God by David Peterson and Adoration and Action, ed. by D.A. Carson, I quickly realized that the Bible, especially the New Testament, didn’t give much space to my role as a worship leader. None, to be exact. The more I read, the more I felt I was reading myself out of a job.
There’s no question that the role of the worship leader has been exaggerated in recent decades. Some pastors give 1/3 to 1/2 of their meeting to singing, led by a musician who has little to no theological training. Gordon MacDonald comments, “For many young people choosing a church, worship leaders have become a more important factor than preachers. Mediocre preaching may be tolerated, but an inept worship leader can sink things fast.” (Gordon MacDonald, To Find a Worship Leader, Leadership Journal, Spring 2002) In addition, the rise of “worship artists” has intensified the often unhelpful connection between pop music culture and congregational worship.
Ultimately, our worship leader is Jesus. He is the only mediator between God and man, and the perfect man who sings God’s praise in our midst. (1 Tim. 2:5; Heb. 2:12) He is our high priest who has offered the perfect sacrifice of Himself to insure our entrance into the holy places. (Heb. 10:19-22)
However, in spite of the all the pitfalls and abuses, musical leadership is modeled in the Old Testament (1 Chron. 15:22 and many Psalms) and can be an expression of wise pastoral care in the local church. Congregations can be taught, pastored, and led as they sing God’s praise. In fact, a pastor is the ideal candidate for leading congregational singing. But in many churches, that’s just not possible. Pastors are put in the position of finding someone to “lead worship.” But who are they looking for, and what is that person’s function?
A few years ago, I was asking myself that question and formulated a definition of a corporate worship leader (with the help of my good friend Jeff Purswell) that I’ll be unpacking in the days to come. Here it is:
An effective corporate worship leader,
aided and led by the Holy Spirit,
skillfully combines biblical truth with music
to magnify the worth of God and the redemptive work of Jesus Christ,
thereby motivating the gathered church
to join him in proclaiming and cherishing the truth about God
and seeking to live all of life for the glory of God.