To My Fellow Worship Leaders

Reflecting back on 10 years of ministry, this excerpt from the prologue of The Worship Sourcebook resounds with truth to me:

Worship Planners as Priests and Prophets

As worship planners, we have the important and terrifying task of placing words of prayer, as well as other words, on people’s lips. This happens every time we choose a song or write a prayer. As worship planners, we are like priests as we shape the prayers of God’s people. Just as Old Testament priests would represent the people to God, so we help shape the prayers that God’s people offer today.

We also have the holy task of being stewards of God’s Word. Our choices of which Scripture readings and themes will be featured in worship represent a degree of control over people’s spiritual diets, how they feed on the bread of life, the Word of God. As worship planners, we are like prophets as we select which texts and themes from God’s Word will be central in public worship. Just as Old Testament prophets declared God’s Word, so we also shape how God’s written Word is heard in congregations today.

Worship planners are thus called to a task that is part priestly and part prophetic. These roles are formative roles in Christian congregations. They shape people’s view of God and the kinds of responses that are appropriate to God. While theologians write the books that shape the theology of the educated Christian, worship leaders plan the services that shape the theology of all God’s people.

For these reasons, planning worship is an awesome responsibility. It de- mands our best attention and efforts. Some make the mistake of thinking that a worship service can be planned in a short phone conversation. Perhaps it can. And it might even be a good service in some sense or in a certain context. The problem is that this approach doesn’t do justice to the importance of worship. The question to ask is not “How quickly can we put together this service” but “How can this service faithfully and imaginatively bring this scriptural text alive?” “How can this service invite faithful and meaningful participation of everyone present?” “How can we faithfully and imaginatively serve as prophets and priests for our particular community at worship?”

Catch the weight of this:

* Worship leaders place words on people’s lips
* Worship leaders exert a degree of control over people’s spiritual diets
* Worship leaders shape the theology of God’s people

And so the main question is this: How can we faithfully (accurately) and creatively carry out our role?

There are many roads of thought to follow out to catch the fullness of the answer to this question, but I’d like to start at the foundation:

If we would help people know God rightly, we must know him rightly. And as I’ve said elsewhere, the foundation of this is sound theology. We must know our doctrine, believe it, and live it.

Worship leaders must have a firm grasp of systematic and biblical theology.

Worship leader, you must study theology.

You must study rigorously, continually, and deeply. Otherwise you are not qualified for the task of leading worship. (Though perhaps you might be qualified to lead the singing of a song, chosen by another who is qualified in this way.)

* If you would insert a devotional thought between songs… (“I just really feel that God is saying…”)
* If you would read a scripture that is fitting for the context… (“David says in the Psalms….” “Jesus told his disciples…” “Paul wrote in his letter to the…”)
* If you would select a song to be sung regularly by God’s people…

…you must know what you are talking about. You must be able to tell when a song is saying true things, saying false things, or (maybe worst of all) saying nothing! You must have accurate devotional thoughts, you must rightly apply the scriptures. Otherwise it would be better for you tie a millstone around your neck and throw yourself into the depths of the ocean.

Do not lead God’s people astray because you are unable to discern truth from error.

We must study theology. Or maybe to put it more palatably: we must know God. We must know accurately who He is, what He is like, what His Gospel is. We must know what The Bible says, and we must know it accurately. We do not have the freedom to mis-handle this.

We must also study Church history. For 2000 years, faithful, Godly, Spirit-led men have been seeking to carry out the task of guiding The Church in worship of Her Lord. We are arrogant to ignore their reflections and conclusions. What a vast resource of knowledge, insight, and wisdom gleaned from centuries of trial and error, success and failure!

We must also study the worship practices of our brothers and sisters across the nations, across the denominations, and across the ages. That is to stay, we must be familiar with and appreciate all the different “styles” of worship, so that we might know our place in Christ’s Body. Why do we use guitars and drums while wearing blue jeans and standing in a room that feels like a rock club or living room, while our brothers down the street wear robes and sing hymns to an organ (or a cappella!) while standing in a cavernous cathedral?

If you are unable or unwilling to search these things out, humbly and in community with others, then you must place yourself under the direction of someone who does and who can, and submit to them fully. However, I have a hunch (knowing myself) that you really don’t want to do that. :)





Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *