What Does a Worship Leader Do?

by Bob Kauflin

What Does a Worship Leader Do? Pt. 1

Before I start this series, I wanted to give you some background. Eight years ago, after I had served as a pastor for twelve years, C.J. Mahaney invited me to assume the new role of "Director of Worship Development" for Sovereign Grace Ministries. One of my assignments was to study and train others in the practicals of biblical worship, particularly as it relates to music.

As I studied Scripture and read books like Engaging with God by David Peterson and Adoration and Action, ed. by D. A. Carson, I quickly realized that the Bible, especially the New Testament, didn't give much space to my role as a worship leader. None, to be exact. The more I read, the more I felt I was reading myself out of a job.

There's no question that the role of the worship leader has been exaggerated in recent decades. Some pastors give 1/3 to 1/2 of their meeting to singing, led by a musician who has little to no theological training. Gordon MacDonald comments, "For many young people choosing a church, worship leaders have become a more important factor than preachers. Mediocre preaching may be tolerated, but an inept worship leader can sink things fast." (Gordon MacDonald, To Find a Worship Leader, Leadership Journal, Spring 2002) In addition, the rise of "worship artists" has intensified the often unhelpful connection between pop music culture and congregational worship.

Ultimately, our worship leader is Jesus. He is the only mediator between God and man, and the perfect man who sings God's praise in our midst. (1 Tim. 2:5; Heb. 2:12) He is our high priest who has offered the perfect sacrifice of Himself to insure our entrance into the holy places. (Heb. 10:19-22)

However, in spite of the all the pitfalls and abuses, musical leadership is modeled in the Old Testament (1 Chron. 15:22 and many Psalms) and can be an expression of wise pastoral care in the local church. Congregations can be taught, pastored, and led as they sing God's praise. In fact, a pastor is the ideal candidate for leading congregational singing. But in many churches, that's just not possible. Pastors are put in the position of finding someone to "lead worship." But who are they looking for, and what is that person's function?

A few years ago, I was asking myself that question and formulated a definition of a corporate worship leader (with the help of my good friend Jeff Purswell) that I'll be unpacking in the days to come. Here it is:

An effective corporate worship leader, aided and led by the Holy Spirit, skillfully combines biblical truth with music to magnify the worth of God and the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, thereby motivating the gathered church to join him in proclaiming and cherishing the truth about God and seeking to live all of life for the glory of God.

What Does a Worship Leader Do? Pt. 2

I've gone back and forth over whether I should use "worship leader" in the title of this series. Among other things, using the term can communicate that:

1) the only time we worship God in a meeting is when we're following the "worship leader" up front
2) congregational worship must be led by a musician
3) worship leaders have some special access into God's presence that the congregation doesn't have
4) this is a role that God has commended in His Word

I don't believe any of the above statements are true. Anyone who seeks to encourage others to give praise and honor to God can be referred to broadly as a "worship leader." While in Scripture praising God often involves music, it can happen without it as well. Worship leaders enter God's presence the same way that every other saved sinner does "“ through the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Finally, as I mentioned yesterday, while aspects of the worship leader role can be deduced from Scripture, there are no requirements that we have one.

So why am I doing this series on worship leaders? Many churches have been caught up in or influenced by the "worship phenomenon" of recent decades. People under thirty (and I'm not one of them by a long shot) have no memory of a time when churches didn't have worship leaders. Whenever a church position or title has no specific biblical warrant (children's ministry teachers, ushers, youth ministers, sound technicians, for example), it's wise to develop a biblical understanding of it, and make sure that it's fulfilling God's purpose for leadership in the church, especially if it's as widely popular as the term "worship leader."

Actually, I think a church can get along fine without a "worship leader." On the other hand, when seen as a pastoral/teaching role, I think it can have great benefit for a church.

As far as using the term "worship leader" in the title - While I prefer terms like "music pastor" or "congregational worship leader," I decided to use the term "worship leader" simply because most people can identify with it. I'm aware that some have voiced strong feelings against using the title. Don Carson shared this in an interview with Tony Payne, although I heard him say something similar in a class I once took from him.

"I would abolish forever the notion of a 'worship leader'. If you want to have a 'song leader' who leads part of the worship, just as the preacher leads part of the worship, that's fine. But to call the person a 'worship leader' takes away the idea that by preaching, teaching, listening to and devouring the word of God, and applying it to our lives, we are somehow not worshipping God."

Whatever name you choose to give it, I hope this series will give you a biblical lens to look at this role through.

What Does a Worship Leader Do? Pt. 3
Today I want to begin unpacking this proposed definition of a corporate worship leader's role:

An effective corporate worship leader,
aided and led by the Holy Spirit,
skillfully combines biblical truth with music
to magnify the worth of God and the redemptive work of Jesus Christ,
thereby motivating the gathered church
to join him in proclaiming and cherishing the truth about God
and seeking to live all of life for the glory of God.

An effective corporate worship leader"¦

If I'm in front of a group, I'm leading. Whether it's through verbal contributions, facial expressions, or bodily posture, people are following me. That raises some questions. What am I leading people to? Am I aware that I'm being followed? Am I doing anything to make my leadership fruitful?

Romans 12:8 says leaders must lead with zeal (ESV), or govern diligently (NIV). We should never think that we can lead people to praise God without any thought or preparation. To be effective, a leader must know where he's going, how to get there, and how to take others along with him. That kind of leadership requires intentional effort and consistent faithfulness.

At times we can make it sound as though worshipping God together is entirely a mystical, unpredictable experience. More than once I've heard something like, "I just don't understand why last week we really experienced God's presence and this week our praise didn't seem to make it past the ceiling."

While God may relate to us in different ways at different times, He is not hiding from us, waiting to see if we'll find the right combination to unlock His blessing, power, and presence. Worship in spirit and truth isn't something we're waiting to have "happen" to us, but something we give to God. God can at any moment choose to reveal His presence in our midst, but He has identified specific actions and attitudes that glorify Him, and to which He generally responds. Critical words, for example, quench the Spirit, while praise invites His activity and involvement. We reap what we sow.

When we moved into our house eight years ago our lawn was non-existent. We were surrounded by dirt. For five years I aerated, planted seed, fertilized, and waited. During that time, an amazing thing happened. Grass grew. Despite my poor horticultural talents, I reaped what I sowed.

We will reap what we sow when we lead people to worship God as well. If we sow to musical experiences, we'll reap a desire for better sounds, cooler progressions, and more creative arrangements. If we sow to feelings, we'll reap meetings driven by the pursuit of emotional highs. On the other hand, if we want people to glorify God, we must sow to His glory. We must paint a compelling, attractive, grand, biblical picture of our great God and Savior.

In order to do that, we need the power of God's Spirit. That's the topic tomorrow.

What Does a Worship Leader Do? Pt. 4
Here's the next part of my proposed definition of a worship leader. An effective corporate worship leader is aided and led by the Holy Spirit.

Every leader of congregational worship will acknowledge that biblical worship is impossible apart from the activity of the Holy Spirit. This is at least part of what Jesus meant when he told the Samaritan woman in John 4 that the Father seeks worshipers who worship Him in spirit and truth. Paul also tells us in Philippians 3:3, "For we are the real circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh." (See also Eph. 2:18, Eph. 5:18-21, and 1 Cor. 12:3, and 2 Cor. 3:18)

But what does it mean for a worship leader to be aided and led by the Holy Spirit? Charismatics and non-charismatics (or continuationists and cessationists) might disagree on the specifics. At the very least it means that we worship the Holy Spirit as God, the third Person of the Trinity. But it also means that as we gather to worship God, the Holy Spirit fulfills His normal roles of illuminating, helping, strengthening, comforting, leading, making us aware of God's presence, and revealing Christ and Him crucified.

Practically, I think that means at least three things.

First we need to ask God to help us by His Spirit as we lead others to worship Him. It's easy for me to trust that my experience, background, musical skill, preparation, or planning will enable people to worship God rightly. If I feel prepared, I'm confident; if I don't feel prepared, I'm anxious. But no amount of preparation can replace humble dependence on God's Spirit to do what only He can do "“ bring light to darkened hearts and minds. God reminds us in 2 Cor. 3:18:

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

In other words, music doesn't transform us; God's Spirit working through His Word does. God is honored when we humbly ask His Spirit to work in our hearts as we meet to exalt Him. That's not to say that God isn't already present by His Spirit when we gather. We're just asking Him to make us more deeply aware of both His presence and His activity in our lives.

Second, having asked the Holy Spirit to work in our midst, we need to expect His involvement. That involves listening for His direction, even if our plan is "air-tight." Certainly, we should be listening for the Spirit as we plan for a meeting. I think this is an area we often overlook "“ prayer during planning. But does the Holy Spirit stop speaking to us when we meet? That's not the impression we get from the Corinthian church in 1 Corinthians 12-14. Despite their excessive esteem of the "spectacular" gifts of the Spirit, Paul never tells the Corinthians to stop expecting the Holy Spirit to reveal God's presence in various ways during a meeting. Neither should we.

What might the Holy Spirit "say" to us? We might feel led to emphasize a certain line from a song or repeat a verse that draws attention to a relevant theme. The Spirit might bring to mind a particular need or a reason to celebrate. He might direct us to a Scripture we hadn't previously thought of including. There doesn't have to be anything mystical or "spooky" about the Holy Spirit leading us in times of corporate praise.

Finally, biblical worship means that we respond to what we sense the Spirit is saying or doing. If we have asked for God's active presence, and are listening for the Spirit's leading, it should be evident through our faith-filled obedience that He really is working in our midst. That means that we might spontaneously pray for those parents who have a rebellious older child. That's exactly what we did in one of our meetings this past Sunday at Covenant Life. Whatever we believe about the availability of the gift of prophecy today, 1 Corinthians 14 implies that we should expect the Spirit to speak to us through spontaneous expressions of encouragement, admonition, and instruction when we gather. How that looks will depend on your theological position, the size of your church, the maturity of your people, and a number of other factors. But certainly, a leader who is committed to honoring God will seek to follow the Spirit's leading in times of corporate worship.

Of course, the end of being led and aided by the Spirit is to bring honor to the Lamb who was slain. But before we go to that part of the definition, I'll share some thoughts on using music and the Word. Tomorrow.

What Does a Worship Leader Do? Pt. 5
We've almost reached the place where I talk about what a corporate worship leader is actually supposed to be doing. But not quite. There's one more thing I want to say about the tools we use to lead congregational worship.

An effective worship leader "skillfully combines biblical truth with music."

Skill has been defined as the "the ability to do something well." With all the benefits of the mass outpouring of worship songs in the past decade, there have been some down sides. One is the belief that a sincere heart, a guitar, and a knowledge of three chords qualifies someone to lead worship in a church. Fortunately, more and more churches are realizing that it takes skill to put music and biblical truth together in such a way that people actually worship God rather than the leader, the music, themselves, or other idols. That skill may come from natural gifting, training, or experience; but it's an important part of what a worship leader does.

Combines biblical truth with music.
Leading God's people in corporate worship isn't just about truth and it isn't simply about music. It's about both. If I had to choose one, obviously, I'd take truth. But God, for some reason, mentions singing over 400 times in his word, including 50 direct commands to sing His praise. He makes it pretty obvious what He wants us to do in Ps. 47:6:

Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises!

Worship involves all of life, to be sure. We can worship God when we evangelize, care for our children, serve a neighbor, or obey the traffic laws. But God wants at least some of praise to be musical. Have you ever wondered why? I have. And I've realized that if I use music in corporate praise without understanding God's purpose for it, I'll be prone to misuse it. Even worse, God won't be glorified by sincere, but misguided, attempts.

So, let me start by suggesting what music doesn't do when we meet to exalt God. It doesn't reveal God's presence or bring us closer to God. Only the Holy Spirit and the finished work of our Savior can do that. Harold Best writes:

"Christian musicians must be particularly cautious. They can create the impression that God is more present when music is being made than when it is not; that worship is more possible with music than without it; and that God might possibly depend on its presence before appearing." (Music Through the Eyes of Faith, p. 153)

Music doesn't sanctify or morally change us. Again, that is the work of God's Spirit working through His word. Music doesn't preach propositional truth to us, and has no power to save us. Apart from lyrics or a surrounding context, music is a "truth-less" form of communication. By that I mean that while music affects us in many ways (which I'll address later), it can never accurately articulate realities like substitutionary atonement or the relationship of the Father and the Son on its own.

Next week, I'll talk about how I think God intends for music to function as we lead people to praise Him. Thanks for reading.

What Does a Worship Leader Do? Pt. 6
If a skillful worship leader skillfully combines biblical truth and music, what part does music play? Why is God so concerned that we use music to worship Him?

One response comes from Martin Luther. This is a portion of his Forward to Georg Rhau's Symphoniae iucundae, a collection of chorale motets published in 1538:

"Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world. It controls our thoughts, minds, hearts, and spirits...This precious gift has been given to man alone that he might thereby remind himself that God has created man for the express purpose of praising and extolling God. However, when man's natural musical ability is whetted and polished to the extent that it becomes an art, then do we note with great surprise the great and perfect wisdom of God in music, which is, after all, His product and His gift; we marvel when we hear music in which one voice sings a simple melody, while three, four, or five other voices play and trip lustily around the voice that sings its simple melody and adorn this simple melody wonderfully with artistic musical effects, thus reminding us of a heavenly dance, where all meet in a spirit of friendliness, caress and embrace. A person who gives this some thought and yet does not regard music as a marvelous creation of God, must be a clodhopper indeed and does not deserve to be called a human being; he should be permitted to hear nothing but the braying of asses and the grunting of hogs."

Not exactly conciliatory, but he makes his point that music matters to God. However, there are a number of details God seems to have left out of Scripture when it comes to music in worship. For instance:

* How much music is too much?
* Should music be universal or localized?
* Should music support elements of the liturgy (e.g., the Gloria) or consist of stand-alone songs?
* What is the best instrumental accompaniment (if there should be any at all)?
* What do we mean by the BEST music? Are we speaking theologically, emotionally, pragmatically, aesthetically, or historically?
* Should songs be grouped together in one portion of the meeting, or interspersed with other elements?
* What is the place of choirs? Of soloists?

There have been numerous people throughout history who were convinced God had answered these questions. I don't think God has been clear as we'd like Him to be. There's a good reason the canon was completed before recording was invented. Understanding His will in these areas requires wisdom, discernment, patience, and a continual dependence on His Spirit to lead us.

What God has been clear on is the primacy of congregational song. The few references to instrumental worship (Ps. 33:2-3, Ps. 150) are far outweighed by the number of Scriptures inviting us to sing God's praises. But why do we sing? Let me suggest three reasons.

We sing to remember God's word.
We sing to respond to God's grace.
We sing to reflect God's glory.

In the next few days, I want to spend some time developing each of these thoughts. If we understand why we sing, we'll be able to lead others more effectively.

What Does a Worship Leader Do? Pt. 7
If someone wants to lead God's people effectively in corporate worship, they have to know why God wants us to use music, especially singing. Here's the first reason I suggested yesterday:

We sing to remember God's Word.

It would be natural to assume that we sing because music affects our emotions. But in congregational worship, music is a servant to words. From the time Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate the forbidden fruit, God's Word has always been central to the worship of God. God's Ten Words were placed in the center of Israel's worship. (1 Kings 8:9) The longest book in the Bible is a collection of words set to music. Revivals in Israel's history revival broke out when God's Word was remembered and obeyed.

In the New Covenant, the living Word of God is both our means of access to God and the object of our worship. Paul instructs us in Colossians 3:16: "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God." The stunning hymns of worship in Revelation continue to highlight the importance of words in worshipping God.

Singing is meant to be a tool that helps us remember those words "“ God's deeds, attributes, promises, and warnings. In Deuteronomy 31, as Israel is about to enter the promised land, God tells Moses to teach Israel a song, so that "when many evils and troubles have come upon them, this song shall confront them as a witness (for it will live unforgotten in the mouths of their offspring)."

We remember what we sing. And there's nothing more important to remember than God's Word. The feelings that music produces will fade, but the living and active Word of God will continue to work in our hearts, renew our minds, and strengthen our faith.

Gordon Fee has said, "Show me a church's songs and I'll show you their theology." If music is going to help us remember what we sing, we want to be careful that we're singing biblically faithful lyrics. Al Mohler is in the middle of a series on authentic worship. In his entry for today, he said this:

"Roger Scruton, a well-known British philosopher, has suggested that worship is the most important indicator of what persons or groups really believe about God. These are his words: "˜God is defined in the act of worship far more precisely than he is defined by any theology.' What Scruton is saying is, in essence: "˜If you want to know what a people really believe about God, don't spend time reading their theologians, watch them worship. Listen to what they sing. Listen to what they say. Listen to how they pray. Then you will know what they believe about this God whom they worship.'"

All this means that a wise worship leader will be more concerned about biblically faithful lyrics than a cool harmonic progression or a musically complex arrangement.

Tomorrow, I'll share a few more thoughts on combining music with biblical truth, as we continue to look at the role of the corporate worship leader. Thanks for reading.

What Does a Worship Leader Do? Pt. 8
I'm in the middle of series on the role of a congregational worship leader, and I've been camping out on how music works in worshipping God. Yesterday I addressed how one of the primary functions of music is to help us remember God's Word. Today, I'd like to share another way music serves us in worshipping God.

We sing to respond to God's grace.
Colossians 3:16 tells us that we're to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with thankfulness in our hearts to God. God is not interested in mere lip service. It dishonors him. But he's not looking for raw emotionalism either, that is, seeking emotion for its own sake. We sing to express thankfulness FOR something. That "something" is the word of Christ, which dwells in us richly as we sing.

In a sermon on Singing and Making Melody to the Lord, John Piper commented:

"Music and singing are necessary to Christian faith and worship for the simple reason that the realities of God and Christ, creation and salvation, heaven and hell are so great that when they are known truly and felt duly, they demand more than discussion and analysis and description; they demand poetry and song and music. Singing is the Christian's way of saying: God is so great that thinking will not suffice, there must be deep feeling; and talking will not suffice, there must be singing."

I've known people who have been taught to repress their emotions as they sing. They fear feeling anything too strongly, and believe that maturity is evidenced in restraint. But that seems to fly in the face of why God gave us the gift of singing in the first place. Jonathan Edwards responded to similar concerns in his own day with these words:

"The duty of singing praises to God seems to be given wholly to excite and express religious affections. There is no other reason why we should express ourselves to God in verse rather than in prose and with music, except that these things have a tendency to move our affections." (Jonathan Edwards, The Religious Affections p. 44)

Worship leaders must teach their people the difference between being moved by music and being moved by the beauty of God's glory in Christ.

"I should think myself in the way of my duty, to raise the affections of my hearers as high as I possibly can, provided they are affected with nothing but truth, and with affections that are not disagreeable to the nature of what they are affected with." (John Piper, quoting Jonathan Edwards in Desiring God, pg. 91)

That is to say, singing is an ideal way, a God-ordained way of combining objective truth with thankfulness, theology with doxology, intellect with emotion.

Commentators acknowledge that no one can say for certain what Paul meant by "psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs." At the very least, it implies some kind of musical and lyrical variety. However, I'll save those thoughts for a later series. Next Tuesday, I'll share thoughts on how singing helps us reflect God's glory.

What Does a Worship Leader Do? Pt. 9
I want to finish up thoughts today on why God wants us to use music at times to praise Him. I've mentioned that music, especially singing, helps us to remember and meditate on God's word, and also enables us to proclaim truth with heartfelt passion. Finally,

We sing to reflect God's glory.

How does singing reflect God's glory? I can think of at least three ways.

First, singing glorifies God by expressing the unity Christ died to bring us. Of course, gathering in the same room at one time expresses unity, as does reciting a creed together. Music both intensifies and demonstrates our appreciation of that unity.

I've been told on more than one occasion that large "worship events" would bring unity to the Christians in a city. While such events might have some place in encouraging Christians, we need to remember that music expresses, not creates, unity among God's people. We are one because Christ has destroyed the dividing wall that once separated us, due to our sin. When we don't understand this, we argue over which musical style is going to be the voice that "unites" us. We can't look to music to do what only the Gospel can do.

Second, singing glorifies God because all three persons of the Trinity sing. In Zephaniah 3:17, the Father exults over us with loud singing. Jesus sings the Father's praise in the midst of the congregation in Hebrews 2:12 (quoting Psalm 22:22). The immediate result of being filled with the Spirit in Ephesians 5 is singing and making melody to the Lord with all our hearts. Our God is a singing God, and we reflect His glorious nature when we lift up our voices to sing His song back to Him.

Third, singing glorifies God because it anticipates, in a faint but genuine way, the song of heaven. When God pulls back the curtain on heaven's activities, we find that heaven is a very musical place. The living creatures and the elders sing a song in Rev. 5:9 celebrating the Lamb who was slain. They are eventually joined by every creature in heaven and earth. The 144,000 sing a new song before the throne in Rev. 14:1-3. Those who conquered the beast sing the song of Moses and the song of the Lamb in Rev. 15:3. Our songs on earth are a sweet foretaste of what is still to come.

But at this point, our attempts to worship God with music are limited. We're hindered by insufficient hours, restricted mental capacity, and physical weakness. We don't have the time, the mind, or the strength to worship God the way He deserves to be worshiped.

But that's not how it will always be. A day is coming when every limitation will be removed and we will celebrate before the Father and the Lamb in the power of the Spirit for endless ages. Wise leaders seek to prepare God's people for that time by combining music with biblical truth NOW in a way that feeds our souls with the glories of God and heightens our anticipation for seeing our Savior face to face.

An effective corporate worship leader, aided and led by the Holy Spirit, skillfully combines biblical truth with music...to do what? We'll look at that tomorrow.

What Does a Worship Leader Do? Pt. 10
When someone stands (or sits) in front of a congregation to lead them in worshipping God, what's their goal? I believe it is this:

To magnify the worth of God and the redemptive work of Jesus Christ.

David invites us in Psalm 34:3: "Oh magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together." When people walk into church service, they might be magnifying all sorts of things, from the superficial to the serious "“ deadlines, unpaid bills, an unkind comment from a friend, a lab test for cancer that came back positive, a "thump-thump" sound the car is making, the championship game this afternoon, a rebellious child, some besetting sin, or a million other details of life. What we magnify tends to absorb our time, energy, thoughts, and hearts.

As we begin singing, I want them to help them remember that God is bigger than their problems and their joys, greater than their sorrows and their successes, more significant than their testings and their triumphs. Because we lose perspective so easily, I want to make God "bigger in their eyes." God doesn't become bigger "“ it just seems that way.

It's not unlike the looking up at the stars at night. To the naked eye they appear like small, twinkling, harmless lights hanging in the sky. However, when we look a through a high-power telescope, we find out what they really are: massive spheres of raging fire, millions of times larger than the planet we live on. What a difference in perspective! The stars don't change, but our appreciation of them does.

Of course, knowing how big stars are may not impact our lives much. But knowing how great God is will.

So how do we magnify the worth, value, and significance of God in our hearts, minds, and wills? Following the example of the psalmists, I've found it helpful to think of three categories about God to focus on: His Word, His worthiness, and His works.

I had a discussion the other day with a friend about whether it's ever appropriate to praise God's Word. He grew up in a culture where he Bible knowledge was an end in itself, apart from a relationship with the Savior it revealed. Bad experiences notwithstanding, God encourages us to thank and praise Him for His Word. God is a speaking God whose primary means of relating to us, outside of the Incarnation, is words. So we join the Psalmist in trusting in the God "whose word I praise; in the Lord, whose word I praise." (Ps. 56:10) The longest song in Scripture (Psalm 119) is a glorious rehearsal of the ways God's Word has affected, changed, shaped, encouraged, and ruled our lives. So a wise worship leader isn't primarily concerned about coming up with the most creative musical arrangements, the best video images, or some engaging personal anecdote. He makes sure that God's Word is sung, proclaimed, reveled in, preached, explained, and treasured "“ all so that God Himself might be magnified in our eyes.

What Does a Worship Leader Do? Pt. 11
Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created. (Rev. 4:11)

One of the problems we have in worshipping God is forgetting why He is so WORTHY to be worshipped. When we do, our minds tend to shift into neutral and we end up mouthing words that we're barely thinking about.

Part of magnifying God's worth is recounting the reasons it's appropriate to worship Him. One way is to recount what Wayne Grudem calls God's "summary attributes." Those include God's perfection, blessedness, beauty, and glory. We can also speak to each other about more specific aspects of God's nature: He is eternal, good, just, merciful, righteous, holy, sovereign, all-powerful, omniscient, and all-wise. He is our Shepherd, our Father, our Deliver, our Shield, and our Savior. Obviously the list goes on forever. But a worship leader needs to remind his congregation of specific reasons God is worthy of worship. John Owen, a Puritan pastor of the 17th century, wisely wrote:

"We must not allow ourselves to be satisfied with vague ideas of the love of Christ which present nothing of his glory to our minds" (John Owen, The Glory of Christ, pg. 54).

In magnifying God's worth, we take time to remember His word, His worthiness, and also His works. Who God is can't be separated from what He does, but it's helpful to think of both categories as we give God praise. The Psalms are filled with exhortations to give God glory for His deeds, including this one from Psalm 150, which emphasizes both God's works and His worth:

Praise the LORD! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens! Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his excellent greatness! (Ps. 150:1-2)

God's character is intimately connected to His actions. We don't worship some spirit-being who has no relationship with the physical world. God has acted in history and redeemed us to proclaim the excellence of all that He's done. He created the worlds with a word, He rules over the universe, He judges the nations, He sustains every living thing, He keeps the planets in their orbits, He watches over our affairs and provides for us.

But by far the greatest of all God's deeds is the giving of His only Son to die as our substitute at Calvary. That's why as we gather to worship God, a primary focus needs to be the redemptive work of Jesus Christ.

What Does a Worship Leader Do? Pt. 12
I'm at the part of my proposed definition for worship leaders which says their task is to magnify the worth of God and the redemptive work of Jesus Christ.

Certainly there are many aspects of God's worth and works that we can and should dwell on as we sing His praise. He's our Creator, our Deliverer, our Father, our Guide, our Shepherd, and Shield. But this side of the cross, we find the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6) and his substitutionary sacrifice for our sins. This is what Paul considered of first importance (1 Cor. 15:1-4), what Peter encouraged us to remember (2 Pet. 1:9), and what is to richly fill our singing (Col. 3:16). Every time we gather to worship God, the saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ must be gloriously displayed for everyone to see and benefit from. Here are four brief reasons why both in word and song, our Savior and His redemptive work must be central when we gather to exalt God.

1. Jesus' atoning work on the cross made us worshippers of God. (Rev. 5:9-10)

We wouldn't even be worshipping God if Jesus hadn't endured God's wrath against our sin and purchased us for His Father's glory.

2. Jesus' atoning work on the cross is our means of access to God. (Heb. 10:19-22; Eph. 2:18)

I've seen more than one church post a want ad for a worship leader who can lead a church "into God's presence." Tough job. Biblically speaking, no worship leader, pastor, band, or song will ever lead us "into God's presence." At Calvary, Jesus tore down the veil that separated us from God's presence. His saving work is complete and will never be repeated "“ only joyfully recounted.

3. Jesus' atoning work on the cross makes our worship acceptable. (1 Peter 2:4-5; Heb. 13:15)

Nothing against skill, practice, complexity, nuance, musicianship, or sincerity, but only the finished work of Christ makes our offerings of worship acceptable in God's eyes. What a relief!

4. Jesus' atoning work on the cross is the object of our adoration. (Rev. 5:11-12)

The hosts of heaven never seem to get tired of extolling the Lamb who was slain. Should we?

At some point I want to talk about the blessings of Gospel-centered worship and the effects of neglecting it. But we'll save that for another time. In the mean time, I encourage you to glory in the Redeemer whose praise will never cease throughout eternity.

What Does a Worship Leader Do? Pt. 13
A few weeks back, I proposed this definition for a corporate worship leader:

An effective corporate worship leader,
aided and led by the Holy Spirit,
skillfully combines biblical truth with music
to magnify the worth of God and the redemptive work of Jesus Christ,
thereby motivating the gathered church
to join him in proclaiming and cherishing the truth about God
and seeking to live all of life for the glory of God.

Today I'd like to talk about "motivating the gathered church."

Ideally, as I stand in front of the church to lead them in singing God's praise, every person is ready to sing with all their might - minds focused, hearts engaged, wills set to proclaim God's glory.

Unfortunately, it's a fallen world, and people often come into a Sunday meeting bearing the battle scars of their war against the world, their flesh, and the devil. In that situation, how do I help them worship God? What do I do when I sense that people aren't benefiting from this focused time of remembering God's greatness and covenant mercies?

Well, maybe I should start with some of the things I DON'T want to do (but have done many times over the years"¦).

First, I don't want to demand that people worship God. "Sing it like you mean it! I want everyone here to raise their hands. Come on, people!" God never commands us to praise Him without including reasons why we should do it. Psalm 117 is just one example of many:

Praise the LORD, all nations! Extol him, all peoples! For great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever. Praise the LORD!

When I expect people to instantly respond to my direction without giving them biblical reasons to do it, I'm often just arrogantly thinking that people aren't as spiritual as me.

Second, I don't want to manipulate people into some response that doesn't spring from a clear view of God's glory in Christ. Some of the potential ways I can seek to manipulate are through music (This beat ALWAYS gets the crowd going!), insincere emotion (Put a smile on your face like me!), "mystical" experiences (No one really understands what I'm doing, but hey, I'm worshipping) and performance (We'll WOW them into worship with that cool synth sound behind the video.)

Third, I don't want to project guilt on the church. This is when I draw attention to the fact that they're doing a lousy job worshipping God. I remember one night years ago when I was leading a small, very unresponsive youth group in worshipping God. I stopped cold in the middle of a song and said in tense, measured tones, "You have no IDEA who you're singing to! How can you stand there with your hands in your pockets and apathetic looks on your faces and claim to be worshiping God? Do you think this honors Him? No! Now let's go back to praising God."

As you might expect, I didn't exactly inspire anyone to greater passion for God. (By the way, I did ask the forgiveness of the youth and parents later.)

If I'm magnifying the worth of God and the work of the Savior myself, I'm in the best place to motivate others to worship God. They'll see it on my face, hear it in my voice, and observe it in my physical expression. I'll work hard to paint a compelling picture of God's glory in Christ, depending on the power of God's Spirit to open our eyes to His beauty, His greatness, and His goodness. As I give myself to THAT task, people will be motivated by God's grace to do the same.

What Does a Worship Leader Do? Pt. 14
Yesterday I talked about the issue of motivating the church to worship God. Judging from the comments yesterday, I'd guess that this is an issue for more than a few leaders.

Kevin asked, "If you're leading worship and the people don't seem motivated to respond in worship, is that your fault?" The simple answer is no. It is every individual's privilege and responsibility to give glory to God regardless of what they're going through or who is leading them. But leaders can do things to hinder people praising God or refrain from doing things that could encourage them.

But first, we want to be careful how we define a "successful" time of corporate worship. Here are some potentially unreliable indicators:

"¢ The people seemed excited.
"¢ The music really flowed.
"¢ Everybody was in tune.
"¢ Everyone was raising their hands.
"¢ No one was raising their hands.
"¢ We nailed that new arrangement of Blessed Be Your Name.
"¢ Everyone sang at the top of their voices.
"¢ Quite a few people came up to me afterwards and said they were really blessed.
"¢ No one complained.
"¢ The joint was jumpin'.

Many of these statements MAY be an indicator that people are worshipping God, but none of them contain any objective standard that we can use as a measure. People can be excited for all the wrong reasons. Music can excite emotion apart from truth. Musical excellence isn't the same thing as worship in spirit and truth. People can act a certain way simply our to rote or because they fear man.

My goal when I lead people in worshipping God is to display, as clearly as possible, the magnificence, greatness, supremacy, and grace of the one true God, revealed to us in Jesus Christ. I want to use music, words, and physical posture to draw attention to His Word, His deeds, and His worthiness. That's something that I can purpose to do, prepare to do, and evaluate after I've done it.

If I'm seeking to draw attention to the greatness of God and people don't respond in a visible way (enthusiastic singing, physical expressiveness, obvious engagement), there could be a number of reasons. First, I might not be doing a good job of keeping the main thing the main thing. That is, I might be allowing secondary elements (music, video, sound) to distract them. Second, they might not be well taught on the place of expression and engagement in corporate worship. Third, they might be a large number of non-believers present. Fourth, musical settings or execution might be hindering or distracting people (music is too loud, playing is sloppy, etc.)

These are just a few thoughts that come to mind. Next Tuesday, I'll move on to the next part of the definition I've been unpacking. Maybe some day, I'll even finish this series.

What Does a Worship Leader Do? Pt. 15

If you're just joining us, I'm currently describing what I think is the biblical role of someone who leads the church in congregational worship. We've covered this in the first 14 posts:

An effective corporate worship leader, aided and led by the Holy Spirit,
skillfully combines biblical truth with music
to magnify the worth of God and the redemptive work of Jesus Christ,
thereby motivating the gathered church...

Today, I'm going to unpack the next phrase: To join him in proclaiming and cherishing the truth about God.

As I mentioned last week, an effective corporate worship leader invites others to join him in what he is already doing "“ exalting the Savior with his whole being. That truth has led some use the term "lead worshipper" to describe the person who leads public praise. We aren't leading others out of theory, or guesswork, or pointing them to something we have no experience in. We are inviting them to join us in what we ourselves are doing.

Proclaiming what is true about God is often underrated. We think we know enough facts about God and now just need to "experience" Him. Or maybe we think that we don't need to be reminded of what we already understand.

Our hearts reveal something different. Every time we give in to fear, anxiety, envy, lust, anger, or any sin, we are functionally saying that we've forgotten who God is. Proclamation helps set our minds and hearts right, and reminds us of the convictions and realities that guide and govern our daily lives.

The world is constantly proclaiming lies to us "“ "God doesn't exist. It's all about you. Sin has no consequences. This is all there is. The more you own, the happier you are." We gather to declare to ourselves, to each other, and to God what we KNOW to be eternally true. There is one God. We have rebelled against Him. He sent His Son to die in our place for our sins. We have forgiveness and peace with God through Him. He is sovereign over the universe and the details of our lives.

Biblical worship always contains an element of proclamation.

O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds. (Ps. 71:17)

But our aim isn't simply to proclaim the truth about God, but to be passionate about it. We aren't simply aware that Jesus is our Savior, we are amazed. We aren't just checking in with God; we are cherishing our relationship with Him.

I was talking to a friend today about this very topic. When I stand in front of a group of people, I don't want to look or sound like I'm just reading some prepared script, or making sure I'm doctrinally correct (although preparation and biblical faithfulness are both important!) I want my voice, my posture, my words, everything about me to say, "I am in awe of this God we are praising right now. I am undone by His mercy, overcome with gratefulness for His kindness, and sobered by His holiness. His steadfast love is better than life itself!"

That kind of emotion isn't something we put on or work up. It springs up naturally as we take time to reflect on this amazing God Who has created us for His glory. One of the common mistakes I think we can make as worship leaders is to pack our time together so tightly that no opportunity exists for reflect on or be affected by the truths we're proclaiming. That's one good reason for short musical interludes between verses or songs. Both proclaiming and cherishing are important.

John Owen, a Puritan pastor from the 17th century, wisely wrote: Where the light of revelation is not accompanied by spiritual experience and power in our souls, then it will end either in outward formality or atheism. (John Owen, The Glory of Christ, pg. 115)

May we never be satisfied with either mere intellectual knowledge of God's greatness or ungrounded enthusiastic passion.

What Does a Worship Leader Do? Pt. 16
One more time, this is the definition for a congregational worship leader I've proposed:

An effective corporate worship leader, aided and led by the Holy Spirit,
skillfully combines biblical truth with music
to magnify the worth of God and the redemptive work of Jesus Christ,
thereby motivating the gathered church
to join him in proclaiming and cherishing the truth about God
and seeking to live all of life for the glory of God.

Today, I'm going to share a few thoughts on that last line.

Worship doesn't begin when the singing starts, nor end when the music stops. We don't "do worship" in a meeting, nor compartmentalize it to the singing section. Romans 12:1 clearly says that worship is what we do with our lives.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

Biblically speaking, there is no sacred/secular distinction in our lives. All of life is meant to be lived in the presence of God, for the glory of God. Our words and actions should constantly proclaim the sovereignty, worthiness, and mercy of our crucified and risen Savior (see also 1Pet. 2:4-12 and Heb 13:15-16).

Many church services begin with a "call to worship." In one sense, we're telling people to focus all their energies on declaring, magnifying, and savoring the riches of God in Christ through song, prayer, and the Word. But Harold Best makes this insightful observation, in his book Music Through the Eyes of Faith:

There can only be one call to worship, and this comes at conversion, when in complete repentance we admit to worshiping falsely, trapped by the inversion and enslaved to false gods before whom we have been dying sacrifices. This call to true worship comes but once, not every Sunday, in spite of the repeated calls to worship that begin most liturgies and orders of worship. These should not be labeled calls to worship but calls to continuation of worship. We do not go to church to worship, but, already at worship, we join our brothers and sisters in continuing those actions that should have been going on "“ privately, [as families], or even corporately "“ all week long. (p.147)

My goal as a worship leader is not simply to magnify God at the moment, but to inspire worshipers to spread the sweet aroma of the Savior's glory in the church and beyond through their everyday words, actions, and choices.

So how do we help people see that worship is more than a meeting? One way is to reference ways other than singing that we can bring praise to God. Serving, giving, and evangelizing, to name a few, are all acts of worship that take place outside a Sunday gathering. Often, at the end of a time of singing, I'll ask God to help us remember every day the realities we've been proclaiming. We might also draw attention to the fact that God doesn't change when we're in the midst of challenging times. While acknowledging the struggles, problems, and weaknesses we all deal with, we must remind ourselves that God is a very present help in time of trouble. (Ps. 46:1) God is just as worthy of worship when our car breaks down as He is when we meet on Sunday morning.

We can also choose songs that talk about the moment-by-moment worship in daily life to which God calls us. The hymn "Take My Life" is one example that comes to mind. Finally, those who lead on Sundays can refer to other parts of the meeting as worship. "Let's continue our worship through our tithes and offerings." "Let's prepare our hearts to worship God as we hear His Word proclaimed." Comments like these help people realize that every act can be done for the glory of God. David Peterson comments: "Church meetings should not be regarded simply as a means to an end "“ a preparation for worship and witness in everyday life "“ but as "˜the focus-point of that whole wider worship which is the continually repeated self-surrender of the Christian in obedience of life.'" (Engaging with God, p.220)

Sundays are not an escape from the world, but an affirmation of our faith and an encouragement to maintain our confidence in Jesus in the midst of an unbelieving world. For God is worthy of worship not only when we gather, but at every moment of time, by every creature in creation, for all eternity. That mindset should be the goal not only of our corporate worship leading, but of our entire lives.

What Does a Worship Leader Do? In Closing...

I was going to entitle this post "Final Thoughts," but that's probably not going to happen. One of the reasons I started this blog was to explore this role in an ongoing way. But this does mark the end of the series on the role of the corporate worship leader. Really.

If you're a musician who is responsible to lead others in praising God, I pray you've been served by this series. I'm grateful for those of you who have taken the time to post an encouraging comment, expand upon my thoughts, or ask questions. We need to continually ask ourselves if what we're doing is lining up with Scripture.

On most Wednesday mornings I have the joy of meeting with the 19 men who are currently in the Sovereign Grace Pastor's College. These men have moved to Gaithersburg, Maryland to spend 9 intense months of study preparing for future or continued pastoral ministry. Each week, one of the guys is assigned to lead us in corporate worship for about 25 minutes. We then take 15-20 minutes to evaluate how their leadership was effective, and where it could have been better. It's always a rich time.

Some of the students have no musical ability. One is actually tone deaf. And yet I have each one of them lead the class at some point during the year. Why do I do that?

When it comes to exalting God, musical skill is a valuable, but optional, component. Yes, God often commands us to sing His praises. Yes, the longest book in the Bible is a book of songs. Yes, singing is referred to over 400 times in Scripture. Yes, but"¦

We gather to magnify the glory of Christ, not the glory of our music. We can still tend to think of worship and music as synonymous. They're not. Anyone who knows the Savior, loves God's Word, and has some gift of leadership, can lead a congregation in thanking and praising God for His character and His deeds. They can recount God's mercies, describe His great power, and pray for God's name to be exalted in our lives. They can share testimonies of God's faithfulness, lead us in confessing our sins, and remind us of the glorious Redeemer who endured the wrath of God in our place. All of that can be done with zero musical knowledge.

Music simply helps us remember and respond to who God is and what He has done. But the object of our affections is to be God Himself, not our songs. To extend a John Piper quote, people are starved for the greatness of God, not the greatness of our music. My prayer is that God would raise up many more leaders of congregational worship who understand the difference.


Source: Worship Matters

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