Who's the Worship Leader?

So, you're leading worship on a Sunday morning. The spirit is great in the house. People are engaged. The musicians are engaged. As a worship leader, you couldn't ask for much more...

...then this happens...

....your pastor interrupts "your" worship set. He comes out and essentially gives a mini sermon about worship and challenges the people to be as excited about God as they are about their favorite sports teams.

This happened to me last week. Here's the footage. Forgive the guy standing in front of the camera. See if you can catch me taking the pastor's picture in the background...

This is supposed to be my job, right?

This is my time, right?

I'm the worship leader. He's got a much longer time slot to do his thing and here he is trying to do what he brought me here to do....lead worship.

Well, if any worship leader ever thinks or says something like that, there's only one explanation...

He or she is dumb. By dumb, I mean ignorant. Ignorant of the amazing thing that is taking place in their midst.

I am soooo grateful for a pastor who sees the importance of corporate worship in song. There is so much unexplainable power that happens when God's sons and daughters lift up a song of adoration to their Father. It's unifying and God loves that. (Psalm 133:1)

I am soooo grateful that I've worked for two amazing pastors in my life that get this and want it for their church as much as I do. (On a side note, I would encourage any pastor who's reading this to seek out their advice about worship, music, church transition, church planting. They've been through a lot. Twitter links: @michaelbranch & @dougdameron)

Last week really prompted me to write about this topic of worship leading. I've been through many different types of situations as a worship leader/worship pastor. I've learned a lot. One thing I've learned when it comes to a church really catching free, Spirit-led corporate worship is that there is more than one worship leader.

When a church just has one worship leader, I can guarantee that Spirit-led corporate worship will be a fleeting and frustrating dream for that one worship leader. It usually means that the pastor wanted to catch up with the times, so he brought in a young dude with a guitar and sold him a false bill of goods. He probably told him that they wanted to see worship happen, but when the dude with a guitar gets there, he realizes real quick that he's in this alone.

I've learned one important truth in working for a church. If the lead pastor is in support of something 99.9% and not 100%, it won't happen. Don't even try it. In fact, treat it like the plague, because you will kill yourself on a dream that's never going to come true and then it will be your nightmare of burnout and discouragement. Your leader has to be behind what you're doing 100%.

This truth is so vital to the success of corporate worship and any other ministry in a church.

But, I'm gonna go a step further. I believe the lead pastor must be a worship leader...period. I say "period" because I'm very passionate about this thing called worship. Worship is soooo much more than music. Worship must be the goal of every church leader for their church. Worship is the "why" of what we do. If the "why" is screwed up, then the church will eventually get screwed up. It's the motive and the heart of it all. If our churches focus on the "why" as much or more than the "what" we will stay on course. Here's a dangerous fact: We can do the right thing for the wrong reason. That's scary.

That's why we need to ask the question - Who's the worship leader?

In my experience, there's got to be more than one worship leader...and there's also a pecking order:

Simply put, worship of God doesn't happen without God.
I Corinthians 12:3 says, "...no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit."
If it's all going to be pleasing to God, then it has to come from God. Worship that is not dependent on the Holy Spirit is actually idolatrous. If our motive and heart is not being directed by the Holy Spirit, then it's probably not being directed to God. If we're not worshiping the Creator, then we're worshiping the creation (Romans 1:25). This is idolatry, and it can be a huge problem in the most ironic of places - CHURCH. We have to ask the question: If it's not Spirit-led, then what is it?

By pastor, I mean, senior pastor, lead pastor...whatever you want to call it. I'm talking about God's chosen leader of your church. One thing that worship leaders need to realize is that people are predominantly attending the church based on whether or not they like the pastor. This means that they are following the pastor's lead in many ways. This is a huge responsibility and one I gladly let my pastor carry. It's a huge responsibility to lead a group of people. The pastor will, hopefully, lead the congregation to pursue spiritual things in their life. If that's the focus, then Spirit-led worship will be a natural no-brainer regarding the overall vision of the church and worship services. The pastor will teach and shepherd people to worship God much more than the worship leader has the ability to or authority to do. Denial and pride are the main things that will keep any worship leader from this truth.

There's so many names for this position. I've heard Music Pastor, Music Director, Minister of Music, Worship Director, Director of Worship Arts, Worship Arts Director, Creative Arts Director, Lead Worshiper, Worship Pastor, Worship and Music Pastor, and even Worship Champion...do you get a championship belt for that one? For the sake of sanity, I'll just stick with Worship Leader. Anywho...this position is definitely a support role. As a worship leader, I tell people that my job is to assist the lead pastor in leading the church into corporate worship. This does not diminish my role or position. Only pride will tell you that. My pastor and I work as a team every Sunday to take people on a journey. A journey that will, hopefully, lead them to God. A worship leader can serve the church in an enormous way by being sensitive to the Holy Spirit's leading and submissive to the pastor's God-given vision. In my humble opinion, the worship leader can assist the pastor's vision as much as the pastor can lead the way in corporate worship. The team concept of Holy Spirit leading the pastor leading the worship leader is an amazing, powerful combination fueled by humility, reverence and passion for serving God's church.

In John 4:23, Jesus shows us what kind of worship that the Father is seeking. At this point, all of God's children's spiritual ears should perk up. The kind of worship that God is looking for is the kind of worship we should be looking for. Jesus made it simple. He said it's all about "Spirit & Truth". If Spirit & Truth is the goal, then the question of "Who's the Worship Leader?" will be important.

To Pastors, I want to challenge you to understand your influence and your role. Corporate worship starts with you being led by the Spirit and then shepherding your flock to love God with all their heart, mind and soul. The least we can ask our church to do is sing to God. If you want your church to worship, lead them to do that. Then your worship leader can be even more effective.

To Worship Leaders, I want to challenge you to understand your place in all this. If your pastor doesn't get it yet, be patient and loyal as long as you're under their leadership. Have conversations and examine yourself first. There may be something you could do, besides prayer, to help your pastor grasp the whole vision of corporate worship. When that happens, be ready and fixed on God. You will be a difference maker in the life of the church.

Rick Warren has a very profound and simple statement: The Christian life was never meant to be lived alone.

This is also true for worship leaders. Worship leading was never meant to be done alone. It's a team effort. If we can answer the question of who the worship leader is, then we can be a part of some amazing Kingdom activity in church services.


Rich Kirkpatrick said...

Good stuff my friend.

I do think part of this is that worship leaders take ourselves too seriously and over spiritualize our role. Andy Crouch says that in heaven worship leaders will be the only ones out of a job. Who would need us in heaven?

In a video I made, I said "every pastor is a worship leader" because leading worship is not leading a service but calling people to worship God (i.e. making them disciples.) Bingo!

I would add to your list of worship leaders your sound guy, the bass player, and anyone involved on or off stage. We say worship team, right? The pastor is part of that, but so are the ones who make sure the slides work and who prep the room. We under-spiritualize those roles.


Nick McAvoy said...

Awesome word Gary. I'm sorry to say I wasn't able to be there.

Corporate worship is like nothing you have experienced. I have been in services where God shows up and all you can do is worship and no message was ever given. I have seen people receive healing, people laying on the floor weeping before God while others have their hands lifted up and crying out to God. Non believers come running to the front repenting and asking God into their hearts. One service lasted for several hours but only seemed like a short while.

God wants and desires our worship. If we, the church, would prepare our hearts before we come to church than God would truly have His way in us. Just imagine if 25, 50, or 100 people did this faithfully each Sunday, God would move.

Gary you do a great job at worship and you have the desire and passion to bring worship to a higher level. Keep up the good work and I will be praying that Gods spirit will touch each and every one of us through worship.

I use to teach 9 to 11 year olds and one of the lessons was about worship. When we worship God it is like a sweet aroma. I would ask the kids what is their worship like...an outhouse or a steakhouse? Which is yours?

Worship Tools said...

Well said Gary. I would suggest a 4th leader of worship, even before worship leaders and that would be Fathers. Dads have a strong influence on how their children respond in worship, especially for pre-teens and teens. They often serve as an excuse for not joining in "mom's weird behavior.: