Worship Leaders (as with any vocation involving sinful humanity) are often tempted to transition the focal point of glory to themselves. Brothers, I am not immune. I would venture to say that the majority of my 14 years as a worship leader has been spent attempting to usurp the glory that rightfully belongs to God. I wasted many years as a performer of “worship songs,” but not as a participant in worship. Brothers, we are not performers.
If Worship Leaders are performers then the people in the congregation are only spectators. God has not called His people to merely spectate, but to participate in worship. Therefore, the worship leader must not be a performer. Rather, the worship leader must be a participant in worship. The worship leader must take on the task charged to every believer of knowing God (growing in knowledge and intimacy) and making Him known (making disciples). [Matthew 28:19-20] God grants worship leaders a gift to be used in the work of advancing His kingdom for His glory alone. God created music for His own glory and for the edification of the Church. [Psalm 95:1, Psalm 105:2, Col. 3:16, Eph. 5:19] For a worship leader to employ this tool for any other purpose is to rebel against his or her God-given task.
We must take our role seriously.
Despite what seems to be a common misconception (at least in my experience) about the role of a worship leader, you are not called to be the congregational DJ. Just because a song says “Jesus” in it does not mean that it is helpful in your task of worshiping God and making disciples (that is proclaiming the truth of the gospel and teaching others to walk in His ways). You are not called to simply be a cover band for big name Christian groups that are heard on the radio. In taking our role as a worship leader seriously, we must take seriously the task of song-selection. The reason for this seriousness is that songs communicate truth. A major aspect of discipleship is walking with others in the truth and helping them to grow in understanding. If we communicate something off theological kilter, then we are not being good stewards of our calling. Practically, I have a three-fold criterion that must be met for a song to be accepted into our repertoire. They are as follows: God-centered, Theologically Sound, and Singable for a Congregation.
There are plenty of songs available today that use the name of Jesus that are focused on anyone but Him. They highlight our feelings (whether or not they are biblically sound), our accomplishments, our “this”, and our “that”. Worship, however, is not about us. Worship is about the One True God who reigns over all and, alone, is worthy to be praised. This is a crucial point that needs to be taught in order to be faithful in our disciple making.
- Theologically Sound
Music is a teaching tool. If one is going to be a disciple, they must be a disciple of the One True God whose testimony of Himself is found in the Scriptures. To sing songs that bend or break theological soundness is not only careless, but is detrimental to those you are trying to disciple. Pay close attention to the words of songs. Simply because a song sounds good should not qualify it to be used in corporate worship. I fully believe, just as the teacher is judged for the careless words he speaks, the worship leader will be judged for the careless words they sing, as they, too, are instructing through song.
- Singable for a Congregation
You may say I am overstepping at this point—and this is by no means a commandment of God. But, I will not sing songs with overly-intricate rhythms or excessive wordiness. This is simply because they become distracting at times to the point of not fulfilling their purpose in leading others to worship or planting truths within their hearts. You may agree or disagree with this point.
These requirements provide a safeguard as I try to make the best use of the tools God has granted.
We must plan intentionally.
My personal belief is that the music is not the point, nor the central part of the worship service. I believe the music should be centered on the preaching of the Word of God. Thus, the worship leader should plan intentionally around the preaching of the Word. This highlights the importance of the Word of God to the congregation. Each week, the other pastors and I meet together to pray over our church, our worship gatherings, and to plan our services. To plan intentionally is the opposite of flippant planning. We do not simply throw some songs together last minute. We consider the overarching themes of the text that is to be preached, and plan songs that emphasize that theme. For example, if text highlights the grace of God, then we sing songs of His grace. This is an effective tool in helping the flock understand the sermon more fully. A high view of the Word of God from all of the leaders promotes the same among the flock.
We must take on the task of making disciples whole-heartedly.
A worship leader is more than a musician. He is a brother in Christ who has been called to invest in the lives of others. He is an overseer who is to help shepherd the flock to which he has been called. This last point has very little to do with music and has everything to do with how you are aiding in the care of the flock. Do not be a worship leader who clocks in as the first chord rings and clocks out as the final chord fades. Invest in others. Invite them to be a part of your life. Spend time with them. Study the Word with them. Teach them. Learn from them. Love them and extend grace to them. After all, your greatest calling is not that of a worship leader, but as a believer.
Heath Walton is 29 years old and lives with his wife and three daughters in Roopville, Georgia. God has blessed him by placing him as the Associate Pastor at Sargent Baptist Church in Newnan, Georgia. He serves as worship leadership/family ministry. Heath is passionate when it comes to sharing and equipping others to share the gospel of Jesus Christ.