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Saturday, February 18, 2012

The “Myth” of Leading Worship

I realize that referring to leading worship as a myth may cause some concern, but hang in there and let me stop and explain. As we understand the depth of worship and the implications of the priesthood of the believer, I believe it will help us come to a better understanding as to what is mean by “leading worship” and how to help others in worshiping. First, let's clarify some terms.

There are a myriad of definitions for worship, but the one that has been most beneficial to me is one that is simple, yet deep as it is unpacked: “Worship is the obedient response to the nature and character of God.” I will not try to elaborate on this since I have covered the idea in another blog post, but will just summarize some main points. [ see “Isaiah 6: Descriptive or Prescriptive? ]

It is imperative that we realize that God initiates worship: the bush was burning before Moses ever arrived. The implications are many, but a key element that we cannot bypass is that worship is not something we “drum up on our own.” Another key to understanding worship is that God reveals Himself, His nature, His character. In worship, we are overcome by the awesomeness of who He is and what He has done. Our natural response to our understanding of God’s holiness is repentance. We cannot see the glory of Holy God and not see our unholiness. As we confess and repent, we receive the forgiveness that is offered and are then able to hear the voice of God. In the case of Isaiah, it was a call to proclaim. Is it possible that the reason so few worshipers today hear the voice of God is because they are not prepared to hear Him? Worship does not end with the hearing of God’s voice, but with the obedient response to God. Worship is not so much the emotion of the moment, but the obedient life that follows. We also know from other passages that worship involves thanksgiving and praise.

Understanding worship is vital to leading worship, but another aspect that is often passed over in the discussion of worship is that of the priesthood of the believer. [Since entire books are on this subject, I will not attempt to elaborate, but just summarize.] We do not need a “mediator” to pray for us on our behalf, we can approach the throne of grace directly, we can go to God directly, and He can speak to us directly. God speaks to us through His Word and as He illumines His Word in application to our lives. [We must mention that though God speaks to us directly, it is imperative that we realize that our understanding of what He says must always be consistent with His revealed Word. Our understandings are not “updated versions” of Scripture.]

This leads us to an interesting question: Since God initiates worship and believers can go to Him directly and that He can illumines His truth to us directly, what is the role of a “worship leader?” The role of the worship leader, better understood as “lead worshiper,” is not to drum up excitement, manipulate emotions, or provide performance opportunities. To help us understand this, we need to talk about corporate worship.

Corporate worship is a local body of Christ’s believers who have gathered to focus on the nature and character of God, to worship, serve, honor, glorify, and proclaim Christ. Though that is true, they enter as individuals with myriads of needs and concerns, heartbreaks and joys. The lead worshiper is simply one who aids individuals in focusing on Christ . Leading worship is best described as a “reflective ministry,” that is, one in which the attention is reflected away from itself, to Christ.

It is not a “personality centered” ministry. The only personality that should receive focus is that of Jesus Christ. For this person to do this, he or she must be prepared, for they cannot lead where they have not been. Prepared in what ways? Obviously, there must be a biblical understanding of what worship is, but there must be an understanding of corporate worship as well. Corporate worship is an overflow of private worship. If those that lead fail to have a vital private worship, there can not be an overflow into corporate worship.

In leading worship, we ask the Holy Spirit to allow us to be usable channels to direct honor and glory to God in the corporate setting. He alone can do this. He alone touches the hearts of His children to respond to Him. In that sense, we do not “lead,” but become “available vessels” that He can use. An available vessel must be “usable” and becoming usable requires the preparation that we mentioned earlier.

Those that desire to “lead worship” must realize that it is not a casual past time, but an outgrowth from a passion for God, for someone whom God has called out to Himself for that purpose and for someone who is willing to make the preparations necessary to learn how to lead. The Holy Spirit leads through the preparation, planning, and persons involved so that everything that is done is for the glory of God.


For a broader discussion on these issues, the following are some helpful links that I trust will be helpful:

What is congregational worship?

Preparation for worship

Reconciliation with others

For those that are involved in the musical part of worship, there are other aspects of preparation necessary: /worship%20leader%20preparation
as well as:

Leading worship must also involve teaching the congregation what worship is and is not.


  1. Great word, Ed. Thanks for sharing your blog!

  2. Thanks, Michael, I appreciate your reading and commenting. God Bless you, your family, and ministry!

  3. "Corporate worship is an extension of private worship." when I learned this a few years ago, it changed my whole ministry. I began worshipping at the piano with the entire upcoming service schedule in preparation. This was different than practicing the notes to get them right - it's actually meditating on the words and thoughts in prayer and praise and song to God. Now my worship leading on Sundays is so full, because I've already been filled with the thoughts these songs address in relation to my heavenly Father. It's been a ministry-changer!

  4. I rejoice with you, Brian! Our congregational worship changes one person at a time, and God can use testimonies like yours to encourage many more to join the worship revolution!