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Friday, July 8, 2022

A Neglected Part of Worship Leadership

 Yes, there are many neglected parts of worship leadership, but here is one that we may not hear much about because it touches an area that we can conveniently allow to slide by and ignore. [I am indebted to Dr. Jessica McMillan for the genesis of these thoughts when she was asked in an interview for faculty her thoughts on a call to ministry and worship leadership. Her response has stuck with me since that day: “First, I am called to make disciples.”  What follows is some thoughts her response has spurred in me.]

Bypassing Discipleship
I have no doubt that God called me into the worship leadership roles that I have had, however, my first and foremost calling is that to be and make disciples. The Great Commission is not the Great Suggestion, but a command for all believers. Leading worship is not a substitute for it. Making disciples is more than just proclamation, though it certainly includes it. 

To make disciples we first must be one– a follower of Christ who is growing daily in an intimate relationship with God and His Word. There are no substitutes for quality time in the study and application of God’s Word and allowing His Holy Spirit to mold us into what He desires. Because there are many good resources in this area, I am going to move on to making disciples. 

The Great Commission
Matthew’s account in 28:18-20 lays the foundation for what all believers are called to do: “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’”  

I’m sure you have heard some powerful messages on this passage, so I just want to highlight a few points. [1] Jesus has the authority to command and expect obedience. [2] The word “go” here is better translated, “as you go;” the command is to make disciples. [3] the implication is that they must first hear, understand, and respond to the Good News of what Christ has done and then baptize them, that outward sign of inward change and a new life and identification with Christ. We also must continue working with them by teaching them what Christ taught and how to obey by word and example. A goal in discipleship is that our nature and character becomes more and more a reflection of Christ Himself, in our words, actions, and emotions. 

Teaching Through What We Sing
Leading worship can be one means of teaching, provided that the lyrics being sung are theologically sound, but there must be individual involvement as well. Paul’s admonition in Colossians 3:16 gives some great guidelines for worship leadership: “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” The Word of Christ in us flows to those around us by what we sing and by example. We can teach and admonish one another through the songs we sing provided tat they focus on Christ and His teaching. Failing to teach through what we sing means we are missing that opportunity for discipleship. 

Doing this “with all wisdom” and “with gratitude” can be challenging. “With all wisdom” implies that we are doing it [1] with a biblical understanding of what worship is, [2] with an understanding of what the message and teachings of Christ are, [3] doing it in such a way that is effective, and [4] doing it in such a way the Christ is glorified, not the messenger. “With gratitude” implies that we are ever mindful of the great sacrifice that Christ made so that He might redeem us from our sin by His grace. This needs to be done in more than in a group setting, but with individuals so the details of how to apply what is being sung can become part of the process. The most effective discipleship is done one-on-one or in small groups. We need to not confuse an emotional response with a song with an obedience response to God’s Word. 

What We Sing, Not Just How
We need to reconsider what we are teaching each time we stand to lead, as well as how we are doing it. Mapping out the theological themes and biblical teaching of the lyrics and coordinating them with the message is one way we might be able to do this more effectively. Another step would be to review all the songs sung in the past 3-4 months [or a year would be better] to see what has been presented and if it has been done in such a way that we are helping the congregation to build a canon of songs that they will know well enough that they are part of their heart songs. Doing this would also reveal those things which we are overlooking in our sung worship.  A lot more could be said, but I trust this might help start some conversations and help us to become more aware of an area that is being neglected in worship leadership. 

I welcome responses of how this is being done so we can all learn more.


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