In 2008, I suggested in Worship Matters that the title of “worship leader” needed to be defined to be helpful. So I defined it this way:
A faithful worship leader magnifies the greatness of God in Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit by skillfully combining God’s Word with music, thereby motivating the gathered church to proclaim the gospel, to cherish God’s presence, and to live for God’s glory.
I still like that definition, but I’m less sure the term “worship leader” is serving us. It’s taken on a life of its own and continues to be associated with stardom, predominance, the spotlight, good looks, hipster-ness, and in some cases, the ability to mediate God’s presence. It can refer to someone who leads full time, part time, or on a volunteer basis.
Most people I talk to fall into the last category. They faithfully serve their church week after week for free or for a small stipend, and are being used by God to lift up the name and glory of Jesus in song. If you’re among that group, I thank God for you.
But an increasing number of musicians have full time worship ministry in their sights. They hope that one day they’ll be able to make a living playing their instrument, leading people in songs of praise. That’s a great goal. But I’m not sure it’s the best one.
If you believe God’s called and gifted you to serve the church with your music vocationally, I want to suggest that you consider whether God’s calling you to be a pastor as well. A musically gifted pastor. Of course, not every musician who leads congregational singing should or will be a pastor. But if you hope to join a church staff some day, I want to suggest six reasons why preparing to be a pastor who’s also a musician is better than simply aiming to be a worship leader.
1. Your job description is actually in the Bible.
A worship leader might describe someone who plays a guitar on Sundays, a musician with a traveling concert ministry, the person on stage with the loudest voice, anyone in the band, the senior pastor, or someone who sings Christian songs. In contrast, God tells us what a pastor is supposed to do. He’s responsible to shepherd God’s people, lead them, teach them, protect them, equip them, and be an example to them (1 Pet. 5:1-3; 2 Tim. 4:2-3; Eph. 4:11-12; Acts 20:28). That’s why when I’m asked what a worship leader should study beyond music, one area I suggest is biblical counseling. Leading worship in song is an opportunity to care for people’s souls, to teach them how the gospel addresses their sin, to protect them from the deceptions of the world, and to display the heart-transforming glory of Jesus Christ. In other words, to do the work of a pastor. While singing is an emotionally expressive activity, leading congregational singing is a pastoral function before it’s a musical one.
2. Your character requirements are clear.
We tend to attribute deficiencies in worship leaders to the fact that they’re musicians. They’re supposed to be self-centered, disorganized, and easily offended. That’s why standards for worship leaders can vary widely. Some churches opt for anyone who seems to be a Christian and can play a guitar. But Scripture’s qualifications for a pastor are clear. A pastor is to be “above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.” He must manage his household well, not be a recent convert, and be well thought of by outsiders (1 Tim. 3:2-7). It’s easier to fudge on character standards when we aren’t specific about them.
3. You’ll know your Bible better than your instrument.
Being an emotional bunch, musicians can tend to live in the world of fleeting impressions, deep feelings, and theological vagueness (I should know). But Jesus said the truth will set us free, not music. So rather than seeking to move people’s hearts with creative arrangements, impressive solos, or cool reharmonizations, pastors who are trained as musicians understand the power of the gospel and want it to dwell in people richly (Col. 3:16). They know truth transcends tunes when it comes to corporate worship, so they give themselves to consistent and thoughtful study and application of God’s Word.
4. You won’t have to compete with the preacher.
If I view myself as a worship leader (however I might define it), I can be tempted to resent it when other aspects of the Sunday meeting infringe on my time slot. A musically gifted pastor knows that every part of the gathering has the same goal: to magnify God’s glory in Christ in people’s minds, hearts, and wills. God hasn’t anointed music in a special way for that task. Music is meant to complement, support, and amplify God’s Word. So if I have to shorten or give up a song to allow more time for the sermon, I won’t be disappointed.
5. You’ll find it easier to support a family.
I regularly get emails from churches looking for musicians who possess pastoral gifts, a love for the gospel, and a theological mindset. They don’t want a worship leader. They want a pastor who’s also a musician. Most churches have to hire multi-taskers. Only a small percentage can support a full time musician. When I helped plant a church in 1991, I led congregational worship but also ended up being involved in youth ministry, singles, counseling, leading a small group, evangelism, and doing graphics (badly). If the only skills you can offer your church are musical, you limit your options.
6. You, your family, and your church will all benefit.
Even if you don’t end up being a pastor, you’ll never regret getting to know God better through studying the Bible, learning how to live in the good of the gospel, working through theology books, and caring for others. You won’t lead your family to become part of a questionable church that you attend only because you couldn’t find another church to hire you. Your church will have someone who’s better equipped to serve in a variety of contexts.
Can someone lead music in the church and not be a pastor? Sure. I’ll share some thoughts on that in another post. But pastors will always be responsible to choose and lead what the church sings. It’s pastors, not worship leaders, that God will ultimately hold accountable for those they shepherd (Heb. 13:17). Which means it’s possible that if you want to be a pastor or already are, any musical training you get is only going to serve you and your church. And if you’re looking for a college/seminary that gets what it means to be a musician and a pastor, I can’t recommend Boyce College and Southern Seminary highly enough.
So what might happen if more churches were led in song by musicians who were pastors, or pastors who were musicians?
I’m not exactly sure, but I’m confident our hearts, our songs, and our churches would all be the better for it.
(Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.com)
Thanks for this Bob! What a sobering reminder that our calling is not simply to show up on Sunday, play an instrument, and sing a few songs. May we continue to seek God’s wisdom in Scripture on how to best shepherd His people toward worshiping the Son.
Indeed, thank you Bob for this. I think that the Musical Pastor is actually a perfect definition of the Psalmists and Levites who led in worship on the Old Testament. They were not only skilled musicians, they were also prophets (Pastors) who knew God and spoke His word! The Psalms themselves are God’s Word! Not to say that worship leaders are prophets then, but we do see a pattern of them knowing God and His word and giving expression to it in music.
Excellent thoughts, my friend. Thanks for writing this.
Thanks for being a model of this, Dale!
There is a song in/for every sermon as well as a sermon in/for every song.
Thanks for the encouragement Bob! Whether you’re aware of it or not, our conversations during WG13 led me to study at Southern preparing for pastoral ministry through music. What a blessing it has been for my life and ministry! – Javier
That is so kind of the Lord! So glad you’re here!
I served as Pastor of a small church and I also lead worship. The roles have their differences but more similarities.
This needs to be discussed more in the church today. Not only do the songs we sing have a deeper effect on the doctrine of the church than we give credit, but the shepherding influence of the musical pastor should help guide our hearts and minds to think appropriately about The Lord. I am grateful for the grace God has granted to the ministry of Sovereign Grace Music.
Good evening Mr. Kauflin,
I happened to come across your article on a Twitter feed that caught my attention.
After having read your article/plea, I am thankful that the Lord has grown you to be more Biblically based. In other words, you have sought to entrench your thinking and understand your role in God’s Church based upon the roles that the Scriptures offer.
Therefore, you have become “less sure the term ’worship leader’ is serving us.” And you have found more comfort in knowing that the Bible, however, does give the role and description of a pastor – not a “worship leader.”
And in that God-ordained role, the job description does not involve musicianship or band practices, but rather as you have stated, “He’s responsible to shepherd God’s people, lead them, teach them, protect them, equip them, and be an example to them (1 Pet. 5:1-3; 2 Tim. 4:2-3; Eph. 4:11-12; Acts 20:28).”
I pray for your continued progress in finding the Scriptures sufficient to determine the structure and roles in God’s Church – and to be just as open and humble about it.
Alex, thanks for writing and for your encouragement. I haven’t been comfortable with the term “worship leader” for many years now, but recognize that Christians throughout the world use it to describe the person who leads the singing in the church. This post doesn’t explain so much a shift in my thinking as a more specific plea that full time music leaders in the church give more thought to the biblical role they’re fulfilling.
I was recently at a bible college in Mexico that had as part of its curriculum for those wanting to be church leaders, a music program. Every graduate there had to know how to play guitar or piano and be able to lead worship in whatever situation they end up in as part of their learning. This is also important as part of their culture. They were training to be pastors who were also musicians. I thought that was great. Equipped for serving. Thanks
Number 3 changed me forever beginning (in and at) the 2002 Worship Conference. Still changing me…
Gary, that is so encouraging to hear. Praise God!
Great read! Nexus ICA in the UK also teaches these values. It was not 30mins I left a lecture on worship being costly and how it is the worship pastors role to shepherd the people.
Very thoughtful. Thx alot brother. I always struggle with helping people understand this. It’s very encouraging when you finally share the same truth with people from afar.
I should add those that worship Him, must worship Him in spirit and in truth…. The word of God.
This has always been my heart. Thanks for articulating it so well.
A great many musicians are extremely passionate and emotive creatures. As a result, we often interpret the elements of scripture that are before the church with a unique perspective. What better way for a church to develop than to experience teaching from both sides of the text. Both intellectual and emotional interpretations are valuable and will grow a church with a greater dynamic than only one perspective. If more Musicians were Pastors, and more Pastors invested themselves in music, the dynamic of both the “worship” time and the “sermon” would grow in richness and complexity.
I relate to this article very well. Before I was a believer, I studied music education and actually wanted to be a professional trombonist. After Christ saved me I sensed the call to go into full-time ministry to preach the Gospel. Yet at the same time I was singing and learning guitar and since it was a small church I was appointed the worship leader from my background experiences. I love to preach and I love to see people passionately worshiping Jesus. I struggle with my call to be a “traditional pastor” because I love to preach yet I see God blessing my preaching and writing when it’s focused on worship. I often struggle with perusing the traditional pastor role with so much of my past was founded in music and the successes is the past when I lead worship and other circumstances (my wife is a trained musician as well and we love leading worship together). This article is helping me wrestle with this. Is there are place in the local church that I can combine my desire to preach the Word and not abandon the obvious grace of talent God has blessed my wife and I through our musical ability?
Chad, thanks for your comment. There are more than a few pastors who use their musical gifts to serve the church. Church planters are often in that position by default. They have to both lead the music and preach the messages. I’m in a position of occasionally preaching (1-2 times a year), and leading music 3 out of 4 Sundays each month. There can be a number of variations on how much a guy preaches and leads the music. Among other things, it’s dependent on the gifts already in the church, the needs of the church, and the time and abilities of the individual. But even if I don’t get to preach, I can choose songs and make brief comments that build people up in the faith and enable the word of Christ to dwell in them richly. I pray God gives you wisdom and fruitfulness in your pursuit of serving him!
Please suggest where to study this course. I’m a graduated students in liberal arts,study guitar professional ly for 4 years and vocal study for 1 year. presently working as a worship leader,music teacher in a christian school and I do preach sometimes. I love to preach. Surprisingly I have been given a lot of opportunity to preach in the school and in my village.
Pholan, Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky has an excellent degree program for musicians who want to theologically trained. You can check them out at http://www.sbts.edu
I wish I found your pages earlier. So instructive and full of Bible based teachings.
Is a music minister Called by God like a pastor is called?
Duane, thanks for the question. Unlike music ministers, pastors are appointed or ordained for ministry. A music minister isn’t specially mentioned in Scripture, so in one sense, a pastor is a different call. But in another sense, every person who serves the church in a leadership capacity should have a sense that God has called them to fulfill that role.