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Wednesday, April 11, 2018

What Is the Biblical View on the Role of a Worship Pastor/Leader?

I received this interesting question from a previous student of mine: What is the theological view/biblical view on the role of a worship pastor/leader in the context of the church? What is their job from a biblical standpoint? And how does that translate to being full-time staff? I think this person has experienced full-time worship pastors and leaders that end up on a weekly basis only selecting and leading songs for Sundays and maybe Wednesdays and not really doing much else. 

While much could [and should] be written about this here are some brief comments that I hope stir some conversation to address the issue:

Biblical Ideas
Scripture does not give specific instruction about "Worship Leaders" as understood today.  The role of the Levite in the OT was not carried through in the NT; however, new roles developed as needs arose, i.e. deacons, etc. Jesus gave specific instructions about worship in John 4, related to worshiping in "spirit and in truth," which was for all believers, but nothing specifically for worship leaders. Paul addressed worship issues in I Corinthians [abuse of Lord's Supper, speaking in tongues] and some general principles about the use of music [Eph. 5:19 & Col. 3:16].

Is There More?
We know that we are all commanded to worship, which is the obedient response to God's revealed nature and character. We know we are called to do this when we gather as the Body of Christ for worship on Sunday.  Looking back, after the end of nearly 300 years of persecution after the death of Christ during Constantine, as the smaller groups began to grow, the need/desire to have a place that was adequate to hold the meetings together also grew. Without the constant threat of persecution, large congregations arose. What might have been spontaneous worship in a small group developed into worship being led by those gifted in those areas? 

The Arian Heresy led to the Council of Laodicea in which the congregation was forbidden to sing during worship. It wasn't until the Reformation that Luther recovered congregational song. The idea of trained musicians in worship was carried over from the developments in the Middle Ages and eventually developed over the centuries.  Even after the worship controversy over singing only psalms or singing hymns, years passed before the non-catholic churches addressed the need for a person to coordinate the music/worship activities. The rise of the Evangelist/Singer teams like Moody and Sankey did much to set a new kind of model for evangelical congregations.

The reason to see the history of all this is to realize that roles changed and developed according to the need of the times. Just as there was not a command that directed the early disciples to start a deacon ministry, but followed God's direction to do so according to the need, so the leadership of the church has the freedom to hear the Spirit direct in ways that address specific needs to that particular congregation. In many cases, this development has led to the need for someone to coordinate the worship ministry.

Fast forwarding to recent days, some of those who lead the worship ministry see their responsibility more in terms of the visible presence in a congregational setting, and not the full breadth of what worship ministry entails. Some worship leaders are in the position much by “default,” that is, there wasn’t anyone else around and were called upon to “help with the worship service” because they could play a guitar or keyboard.  Though their musical training may be limited, they do the best they can and see their function within the church only in that capacity.

However, a growing number of congregations look that this position as described and wonder “Should we pay a full-time salary to someone who only leads a few songs on Sunday?” Yes, their may be a small band or praise team, but the question still arises.  I think the answer lies in the difference in understanding the difference between a worship ministry and just a worship leader.

What is the difference? 
Worship ministry must include:
[1] a leader with a strong personal understanding and continued personal growth in all the aspects of worship: musical, theological, and relational;
[2] commitment to planning/leading and helping the congregation understand and participate in worship,
[3] as instructed in Col. 3:16, a commitment to utilize the music as a tool for the instruction of God's Word;
[4] commitment to training and mentoring younger worship leadership, which would include working with children and youth in music and worship.

Worship leadership that fails to complete at least these 4 basic areas seems short-sighted and fails to understand the role and responsibility of a worship ministry.  A ministry that is engaged in the four areas above could easily be a full-time job and for many others a robust part-time job.

One of the reasons we teach and train as we do here in the Seminary is because we are trying to address the full spectrum of worship leadership, not just how to play and sing on a guitar. Yes, our churches are clamoring for worship leaders, but if all we are doing is putting someone in front of a congregation to lead a song, then we are failing to address the greater issues about worship ministry and discipleship.

I would encourage the lay worship leader to get more training to help fulfill the call to worship ministry. I would encourage churches to help these individuals get the preparation they need to develop skills in personal discipleship and growth, worship planning and leading, theological understanding that can evaluate doctrinal weaknesses in songs and how to correct them, and training children and youth in worship ministry. Until we can address the larger issue of Worship Ministry, we are failing to provide a solid biblical foundation from which our worship can grow.