The Gospel Coalition


Rock stars are sexy. They stand on massive stages backed by incredible light shows while performing for people screaming out in worshipful adoration. They make great money, wear hip clothes, have rad tattoos, and get the best-looking women---all this for being able to write and perform music people enjoy.

This is the picture in many people's minds when they set out to be worship leaders, as a result of the emotionally driven celebrity culture we have created and modeled for them in the Western church. When a leader is talented and charismatic, we tend to blur the line between admiration and worship, between imitating them as they imitate Christ and substituting them for Christ. With music, this is all the more dangerous because we are dealing with a naturally emotional medium.

But emotions are not bad in and of themselves. They are quite useful in engaging us holistically in worship. Consider how Jonathan Edwards, the great theologian and pastor, put it:
I don't think ministers are to be blamed for raising the affections of their hearers too high, if that which they are affected with be only that which is worthy of affection, and their affections are not raised beyond the proportion to their importance, or worthiness of affection. I should think myself in the way of my duty to raise the affections of my hearers as high as possibly I can, provided that they are affected with nothing but truth, and with affections that are not disagreeable to the nature of what they are affected with.

It is the job of worship leaders to raise the affections of the people we lead to the highest possible height with the truth of the worthiness of God in our songs. And yet, while emotions are helpful handmaids of worship, the emotional and even sensual nature of music can make it difficult to know whether we are raising the affection of our hearers with the truth or simply the thrill of the song. We may go for the emotional jugular and completely fail to exalt the character, holiness, and majesty of God. The music becomes self-serving.

Prideful Platform


Perhaps the more common and deadly practice, however, is to use even the deepest truths of God to serve our own prideful pursuit of platform and prominence. Because we are in a culture that makes "Idols" out of men and women who can sing, people naturally put talented worship leaders in the rock-star limelight. This is a very tempting place to be as a worship leader, as that sort of public appreciation can be intoxicating.

Some years ago, I was beyond frustrated while serving in a church where I felt I was running on a hamster wheel. Week after week, I would "lead worship," but it never seemed to elicit the response I hoped for. The people stood bored, uninspired, and generally apathetic, hands in pockets and arms folded. I was rarely thanked or encouraged, and it seemed I was wasting my time.

At the same time, I would travel to lead worship for conferences and concerts where my band would be paid well, fed well, put up in nice hotels, and constantly thanked and praised for our great work. When we led worship, people raised their hands and voices and sang loudly. Afterward, we would sign autographs, sell CDs and T-shirts, and take pictures with our "biggest fans." I wanted more.

One day, in the middle of an argument with my wife over the whole thing, I shouted, "All I'm ever going to be is a local church worship leader!" As soon as I heard the words leave my mouth, the Holy Spirit began his work of conviction in me. He brought Ephesians 5:26-27 to mind to remind me that the church is the bride Christ gave himself up for, rather than a stepping stone for my own fame and glory. John 10 reminded me that the church are his sheep and they need a shepherd, not a rock star.

I was undone.

And then, because of his kindness, God used the wrecking ball of Psalm 46:10 to tear down the walls of strife I was experiencing from working toward the exaltation of the wrong name. Finally Ephesians 1 comforted me as an adopted son of God, who was purchased by the blood of Christ and blessed beyond comprehension.

Until that moment, I hadn't realized that I had been searching for worth in things that could not give it, for satisfaction in broken wells. I was subconsciously using people to find validation, trying to create a better identity than the one I had been given in Christ. When people didn't cooperate with my plans, I became frustrated with them, rather than humbly serving them as their pastor.

Okay Without Affirmation


I know many worship pastors are in the same boat. Many of us serve sacrificially, week after week, and are rarely noticed or applauded. We seek acceptance from the people we lead and serve, but instead we find grumbling and complaining rather than the affirmation our souls so eagerly desire.

This is not to say the grumbling and complaining or lack of encouragement is okay. This is to say that we are okay without affirmation.

We will never be more noticed, loved, cherished, accepted, validated, encouraged, and satisfied than we are in Christ. We will never have a greater identity than the one he has purchased for us on the cross. We are created in the image of God, bought with his blood, redeemed for his glory, adopted into his family, given an eternal inheritance, a new family, and the Holy Spirit to dwell in us!

We don't need people to raise their hands and sing loudly in corporate worship. We don't need to have them come to us after and tell us how great worship was. We don't need to grow our platform, have a well-read blog, go on tour, lead worship at the biggest conferences, or have the top-selling Christian album on iTunes. We don't have to be rock stars. We have Jesus. And Jesus is more than enough.


Comments:

[...] http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2012/04/10/worship-leaders-we-are-not-rock-stars/ [...]

Mike Ruel

May 1, 2012 at 02:34 PM

Very well written and humble article. Thank you.

Amen to the church being the Bride of Christ and Amen to Christ centered men who lead us in authentic, transparent biblical worship of our great God!

I pray that people forget about me within a few seconds of me starting a song and fix their hearts on Jesus. May His Holy Spirit enable us!

M

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April 20, 2012 at 01:43 PM

[...] Stephen Miller on Worship Leaders, We Are Not Rock Stars. [...]

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April 19, 2012 at 01:14 PM

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Paul Cummings

April 16, 2012 at 09:37 AM

As a worship leader I am so thankful for this article!

Chris Lord

April 16, 2012 at 04:42 PM

Hi there. Thanks for this. Watch this Video your article reminded me of this!

Enjoy brother!

C

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Andrewtlocke

April 14, 2012 at 07:12 AM

The people of God have ALWAYS used culturally relevant expressions for their music. This is historically undeniable. The "hymns" that the church fathers sang were completely different from the ones that Wycliffe, Cranmer, and Calvin sang. And those were completely different sounding from the ones the American pioneers sang. See a pattern? The question is whether you or I as faithful gospel witnesses are utilizing forms that are relevant to our place and time. Not EVERYTHING that is produced in Nashville, London, Sydney or LA is going to be helpful or appropriate in Duluthe.

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April 13, 2012 at 11:00 PM

[...] 3. Worship Leaders, We Are Not Rock Stars by Stephen Miller [...]

nate

April 13, 2012 at 09:43 PM

pertinent to this discussion and well worth the read:

http://forsclavigera.blogspot.com/2012/02/open-letter-to-praise-bands.html

faithunderfire

April 13, 2012 at 08:28 PM

Amen! That's what I'm seeing too, and they'll be the ones leading all those souls straight he'll, all because of that tired, seeker-sensitive line that starts with, '"music changes, then was then, this is now...and ending with, " I believe the Lord will be pleased with my offering because..." blah,blah,blah. Cover it any way you want, but a Cain offering is still a Cain offering, in the OT and the NT.

faithunderfire

April 13, 2012 at 08:09 PM

Unfortunately, your thought - and a good one - won't fly because they want to believe that to lead worship is an office, and therefore will justify to the death their right to be seen as an "officer-servant." Even the comments I made yesterday were quickly ignored just because I felt that worship people should be as well-versed about the bible as the pastor for they are supposed to be workin g in concert with on Sunday morning. It always seems like it's easier for worship groups to justify their need to become proficient as artists, but you just can't get them to sit thru the classes that truly defined them as leaders. No wonder the public domain is being robbed of hymns written by people with true testimonies.
maybe once pastors start demanding more than a pleasing sound, and good acoustics. .. Till them, then, they should ne standing in the back instead of the front.

nate

April 13, 2012 at 07:52 PM

As was noted in the piece, music is a powerful medium and engages our emotions in a way that nothing else can...a powerful tool that can move us in any number of directions...and bring us into God's presence.

What I've always wondered is, if it's God we're worshiping, why are we looking at people, elevated on a stage, lit up by lights in what is obviously a performance to draw our attention towards them. What if we put a simple cross up front, lit it up with lights, and put the worship leaders behind the worshipers, out of our vision and truly allow our worship to be directed at the One who is worth of our worship.

Carlos

April 12, 2012 at 12:45 PM

Wait. That sounds like preachers to me?
Oh wait. It's a problem for all aspects of Evangelical America?
That's right.
:)
Good points.
I think it is a problem with celebrity Christianity as aopposed to worship leaders specifically.

Paul Ellsworth

April 12, 2012 at 12:35 AM

I would not say that he is *only* a music leader. He is doing more than what a secular conductor is doing, is he not?

So, not just a music leader; it's just that he's not the only, exclusive "worship" leader.

Which, unfortunately, is what the dichotomy of terms implies. It's tricky. And ultimately, it comes down to what is taught about worship. Which seems to not be taught about very often.

Paul Ellsworth

April 12, 2012 at 12:29 AM

It shouldn't give the "rock star" impression anymore than giving a pastor an "office" makes him a rock star.

Regardless of who oversees it, specifically, overseeing a ministry that plays such a big role in corporate worship is important. If that means a separate person, fine. If not, fine. :)

But saying we should get rid of it altogether? Well, there are no "youth pastors" in the Bible, either. But we *are* instructed to oversee and to do that well and to effectively lead, etc. :)

Paul Ellsworth

April 12, 2012 at 12:11 PM

Hi Lewis,

It did not come off as rude or ignorant, and I hope I don't either (nor know-it-all-ish or anything like that).

I agree that many contemporary songs are lot harder to sing due to syncopation and other musical or lyrical composition things. It is unfortunate that this is not taken into account more often. At our church, we tend to "de-syncopate" where necessary, or simply don't do the song.

I agree, though, the polarization or over generalization makes it very difficult. If someone says they like traditional music, they're "old and stuffy." If someone says they like contemporary music, it is "too hard to sing."

Musical culture change. The music of 200 years ago is not as impactful and means less to many than the music of 10 years ago. Which makes sense... so, to me, it makes sense that our music will frequently change, just as our language, culture, clothing, etc., changes. In fact, to me, it's important that the music does "change" in some way, because I want the music to communicate something, and I want people to be able to "communicate" through it (i.e., attach themselves to the music, so to speak). That means it needs to be in a music style that they can "understand." :)

Replacing or rejecting tradition is a two edged sword, just like the rest of these issues. Holding to tradition simply because it's tradition? We are very anti-tradition (nobody wants to be a Pharisee!) in many areas, but not music ;) :) On the other had, rejecting tradition simply because it's tradition is also not good.

I'm rather verbose on this topic since my church just went through a worship series and had two sermons on music. Our particular church tends to be more traditional and has it's roots in traditional music, but there are a growing number of young people (praise God!) who appreciate contemporary music... so we are slowly being blended. What has been the most interesting is that regardless of style, people tend to react to the style rather than the words. We generalize based on our presuppositions of style (traditional hymns = rich theology, modern songs = weak; or, traditional hymns = too hard to understand, modern songs = good) and don't even think about the song if it's not what we prefer.

What seems most important, in this long post, is that the worship/music/song/congregational leader get the congregation to think about Christ and be able to express themselves through the song. That's the point, isn't it? It's not just to sing a song as though we were reciting a poem with no feeling, no emotion, and no "heart." We're not here to be cold singers of boring songs. We're here to express worship - adoration, praise, repentance, thankfulness, etc. - to God through songs that are able to both worship God and encourage those around us because we can express "ourselves" through them, bringing emotion and mind/will together (as Paul said, "I will sing with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also").

So, if the style is old and boring to most, perhaps it needs to be updated. If the style is too hard for most to sing, perhaps it needs to be simplified. The goal is not, as the article said, to be a rock star performing on stage with the band for the congregation to listen to; it's for the congregation to be able to participate in. The person on stage is leading - or, perhaps a better term, shepherding - the congregation in an attempt to bring them to better worship Christ, and encourage others while doing it. That focus, rather than the focus on "We need to get more people in here with our music" or "we need to have 'excellent' music like the Levites in the Old Testament!" brings a lot of different considerations with it. Like the importance of lyrics and the lesser importance of music (not unimportant, just not as important; bad music makes good lyrics sound bad :) ).

Sorry, I am long-winded. :)

(in case someone thinks I'm a young contemporary-music-is-where-it's-at-and-old-music-is-boring guy, I actually love classical music, favorite composer being Mendelssohn, but I enjoy modern music as well, including contemporary stuff).

Paul Ellsworth

April 12, 2012 at 12:10 PM

Hi Lewis,

It did not come off as rude or ignorant, and I hope I don't either (nor know-it-all-ish or anything like that).

I agree that many contemporary songs are lot harder to sing due to syncopation and other musical or lyrical composition things. It is unfortunate that this is not taken into account more often. At our church, we tend to "de-syncopate" where necessary, or simply don't do the song.

I agree, though, the polarization or over generalization makes it very difficult. If someone says they like traditional music, they're "old and stuffy." If someone says they like contemporary music, it is "too hard to sing."

Musical culture change. The music of 200 years ago is not as impactful and means less to many than the music of 10 years ago. Which makes sense... so, to me, it makes sense that our music will frequently change, just as our language, culture, clothing, etc., changes. In fact, to me, it's important that the music does "change" in some way, because I want the music to communicate something, and I want people to be able to "communicate" through it (i.e., attach themselves to the music, so to speak). That means it needs to be in a music style that they can "understand." :)

Replacing or rejecting tradition is a two edged sword, just like the rest of these issues. Holding to tradition simply because it's tradition? We are very anti-tradition (nobody wants to be a Pharisee!) in many areas, but not music ;) :) On the other had, rejecting tradition simply because it's tradition is also not good.

I'm rather verbose on this topic since my church just went through a worship series and had two sermons on music. Our particular church tends to be more traditional and has it's roots in traditional music, but there are a growing number of young people (praise God!) who appreciate contemporary music... so we are slowly being blended. What has been the most interesting is that regardless of style, people tend to react to the style rather than the words. We generalize based on our presuppositions of style (traditional hymns = rich theology, modern songs = weak; or, traditional hymns = too hard to understand, modern songs = good) and don't even think about the song if it's not what we prefer.

What seems most important, in this long post, is that the worship/music/song/congregational leader get the congregation to think about Christ and be able to express themselves through the song. That's the point, isn't it? It's not just to sing a song as though we were reciting a poem with no feeling, no emotion, and no "heart." We're not here to be cold singers of boring songs. We're here to express worship - adoration, praise, repentance, thankfulness, etc. - to God through songs that are able to both worship God and encourage those around us because we can express "ourselves" through them, bringing emotion and mind/will together (as Paul said, "I will sing with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also").

So, if the style is old and boring to most, perhaps it needs to be updated. If the style is too hard for most to sing, perhaps it needs to be simplified. The goal is not, as the article said, to be a rock star performing on stage with the band for the congregation to listen to; it's for the congregation to be able to participate in. The person on stage is leading - or, perhaps a better term, shepherding - the congregation in an attempt to bring them to better worship Christ, and encourage others while doing it. That focus, rather than the focus on "We need to get more people in here with our music" or "we need to have 'excellent' music like the Levites in the Old Testament!" brings a lot of different considerations with it. Like the importance of lyrics and the lesser importance of music (not unimportant, just not as important; bad music makes good lyrics sound bad :) ).

Sorry, I am long-winded. :)

(in case someone thinks I'm a young contemporary-music-is-where-it's-at-and-old-music-is-boring guy, I actually love classical music, favorite composer being Mendelssohn, but I enjoy modern music as well, including contemporary stuff).

Lewis

April 12, 2012 at 11:54 AM

Paul

Of course you are right, 'better' is really in realm of preference and subjectivity (unless you subscribe to objective standards of quality in art and aesthetics as does someone like Doug Groothuis, I seem to recall in his book 'Truth Decay') My point was a silly digression - I'm just reacting a little to a sudden surge of 'old words put to new tunes' that have arrived in my church, and as with almost any attempted transition it is not always easy to see that the new offers anything improved. I suppose the crude polarizations are on the one hand 'if it ain't broke don't fix it', and on the other 'we need new music to make it relevant'. But neither cliché helps us navigate through the complex of ideas and emotions that surround change. I have heard the older end of the congregation say numerous times that the new songs are too hard to sing - I think syncopation and other rhythmic challenges seem to really put them off. Whereas I frequently find myself thinking how on earth can people follow some of these old hymns with their outlandishly difficult melodies and modulations. My point about being too vacuous to sing old tunes was unfairly facetious, and my sentiment is directed against the sense that evangelistic accessibility or youthful relevance can easily become the defining factor in rejecting or replacing inherited traditions. It might be a popular cultural dictum that new equals better, but each thing should be assessed on its own merits. Anyway, sorry if my post came across as rude or ignorant.

Paul Ellsworth

April 12, 2012 at 10:16 AM

Lewis,

Yes, if you write a new song with public domain words, you can get royalties from it.

That said, I have no problem with the general idea. Most old hymns weren't written with music, anyways, so the tune was attached later. Why would you want to exchange the melody for something else? For the same reason we have different melodies for different hymns. We don't sing the exact same thing they did in the 3rd century, even though we sing a song or two from the 3rd century :) Style change, preferences change, culture changes, so music changes, too.

One could argue about whether or not they are replacing it with something *better* ... but when we star talking about what is "better," we start getting into some pretty big preferential arguments. ("No, this one is better, look at all the chord changes!" ... "so, more chord changes = better? Bach is clearly superior to Mozart, then." ... and so on.)

faithunderfire

April 12, 2012 at 10:07 AM

Hi again,

The rules - or laws- state that anything published prior to 1900 is pretty much open to public and can be used in part or whole, but can not be profited from in and of itself. However, if you change the original melody, and/ or in some cases, a portion of the music, words or intent, it then can be published as "your property.". There are a number of artists doing this today-some good, some just loud- but it's definitely the new wave of artistic freedom for the artist who has either not found his voice, or wants to round out the number of songs on his debut album.
don't misunderstand...I don't have a real problem with revising as an homage to someone's life in Christ. I do have questions on the use of someone else's testimony - and I do view it as a testimony - because you lack one of your own.
Some will defend this with the argument "what about our use of the Psalms," but that's a bit different. It's as if the treasury of David has been bankrupted, and now we're moving on to a greener , yet to be fully discovered pasture.

I do believe it speaks to a heart issue, which has been at the center of the "feel-good" "you fill in the blank -driven faith" that driven people away from the emergent to the reformed. Maybe if we could take a step back from the proficiency of music, and started taking a good look at the foundations we've been building , we'd recognize the call to retrain, restore in order to truly see reform.

Lewis

April 12, 2012 at 09:37 AM

I think your point about a sort of hymnal-plagiarism is really interesting and something I haven't considered. At a purely trivial level I generally wonder why you would want to exchange a well loved melody with all the archaic and marvelous modulations and strange metres for some 4 chord coldplay-esque refrain. Are we so vacuous that we can't sing old tunes anymore? (I sound like an old curmudgeon). But more seriously, you pose a real question. Do you know if someone records a new version of a public domain hymn set to new music, are any royalties generated? Although dare we mention the elephant in the room regarding royalties for worship music. I'm not actually sure what I think about that, so I will resist saying anything contentious!

Steve I.

April 12, 2012 at 09:32 PM

In the Lord's providence, the timing of this article was spot on. It encouraged me greatly at this season of my ministry in leading worship at a local church. I resonated with it. Thank you for writing it and sharing your heart!

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Faith Under Fire

April 12, 2012 at 09:04 AM

I totally and completely agree with you Lewis, on every front. Make no mistake, I'm not pointing the finger at worship leaders of today, or even yesterday for that matter. I was one of the many who cheered when the phrase, "Why should the devil have all the good music?"
I'm also one of the thousands who through the years never really "read" the bible concerning worship, but gleaned it for the passages that supported a generations view of what constituted praise and worship. I cringe now at the arrogance, but there was noone to intervene and tell me, "Your take on the subject, though from the bible is out of context. I suggest before coming back to worship, you engage in some serious bible study on what worship is in all its forms."
I've since read the bible from page to page - something I also feel should be a requirement for any leadership - and I am still embarrassed at my errors coming before God during those years.

The whole worship music debate - in my opinion - is part and parcel with the question of what is the body of Christ being taught today? Shallow commentaries, lacking real substance, sound bytes of thought not really explored, but gleaned and then served with a scripture reference, placed gently atop a 20 minute praise set,that upon critical examination says little about God, and more about man's joy over being saved. What's that?

I've also been a part of those churches where the Pastor is trying to grow his body and does not want to hear what you've learned through study and reflection on the subject. As a result, you learn to duck and weave, pick and choose. Pray alot.

What concerns me now is the newest direction of worship, which is going back to the "Old Time Religion" mode. As an artist, I've done it from time to time, and it can be a very special thing, especially when revising and updating music to words that are rich in the praise, knowledge and glory of God. But now, we have albums and groups that are specializing in this, and frankly it frightens me.
They say they're "honoring" the music and hearts of Wesley and Crosby. I say there comes a point when one has to question if they're actually "robbing" the testimonies of those who have prayed, walked and grown from their relationship with the Lord. These are songs that will stand the test of time, they are testimonies of men and women who through life have learned through trial and error that the Lord is good and righteous. But I feel like this musical exodus to the hymnal - with our guitars, drums and vocals in tow - speaks loudly to the fact that Christianity in the last two or three generations has left a legacy of self-anointed, self-appointed worship circles, that really doesn't speak to anyone in particular. Not to mention that the majority of the hymnal songs being revised today are public domain, making them ripe for the taking,re-shaping, and making money.

In Isaiah, he speaks to the Christian gaining knowledge lest his loses the dawn (paraphrase). I can't remember the passage, but he states with great zeal, "To the Teaching and The Testimony!" Tells me that if we're going to come before people in this delicate position, we are should be prepared to present both, and not a litany of another generations growth in the Lord set to pop culture sounds.

I,too have a background in worship, but I haven't had the heart or desire to share in sometime. I actually brought my guitar out for Easter, and though I've been playing in a few groups in my area (Christian jams), I found myself feeling nervous and unsure on Sunday, because for the first time in six years, my focus was more on making sure the words of my mouth and the meditate of my heart would be pleasing and glorifying to him.

I have to assume some responsibility for the way worship music is presented in church today, only because of who we were and what we thought we were trying to accomplish. But that being said, it will be up to the Pastors, elders and deacons to recognize the need to retrain, - and in some cases, restrain - those in the area of worship for the sake of the congregation (James speaks clearly to the issue of additional responsibility to those in authority).

Rich Tuttle

April 12, 2012 at 08:19 PM

Here are Bach's thoughts about it:

http://sounddoxology.blogspot.com/2010/03/worship-leaders-imitate-js-bach.html

Lewis

April 12, 2012 at 08:09 AM

woops there were some funny sentence breaks in there - sorry for lack of coherence.

Lewis

April 12, 2012 at 08:06 AM

Useful article thanks. Given the NT's scant reference to music in the life and practice of the early Christian communities I think we have to honestly confront the fact that when we talk about 'worship pastors', 'music ministries' etc. we are constructing roles and activities that do not have a direct commission or pattern to be followed in NT. Eph 5:19-21 instructs Christians to address each other in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with thanksgiving to the Father in the name of Jesus, and in mutual submission to one another out of reverence for Christ, and this is in the context of a warning and admonition against sinful patterns of behaviour, particularly emphasizing language - obscene and empty, and associated with foolishness, lack of wisdom and drunkenness. But there is in the NT repeat emphasis on the activities of church - pastoral/leadership responsibilities, teaching, exercise of charismatic gifts, mutual provision/giving, fellowship, regular taking of the Lord's Supper, mission (this is not exhaustive). That is not to say that music and creativity as a direct expression of worship in thanksgiving is not appropriate, or that music and/or singing can't be useful in helping direct people's attention and affections towards God, as per Ephesians, and I certainly think we can learn from the content of the Psalms about approaching God through creative means. But it is a big jump to go from this to the models and roles that many churches have adopted today (and in various forms throughout church history, both western and eastern). Again, models and roles are not necessarily wrong, but given western church's tendency to capitulate to the norms and values of the broader culture - to imitate and offer 'Christian' versions of what the 'secular' world already does, and given the inherent risks of idolatry when we put anyone on a platform (musicians or otherwise).

I think we should be prepared to reflect long and hard on whether the compulsive need in so many church's to follow the latest musical trends, to have the band, the leader, the songs,and not to forget the equipment (Thousands of £ or $ invested by churches out of a perceived need to have the best) is healthy and helpful, or whether it is an inordinate obsession that stokes the flames of consumer desire, cult of celebrity and ego-therapy. And yes, in my opinion, that means no one should glibly assume the right to take a paid position as 'worship pastor' just because it is normative in north american or British evangelicalism. I've played guitar for worship groups in a number of my local churches (as i've moved around with university etc), as well as for some Christian conferences and CD releases over the last 11 years, I've also spent alot of time gigging in the so called 'secular' world and have experienced as much weirdness if not more in the church music realm - too much ego, too much expectation/pressure, too much rhetoric from worship conferences and leaders who write short books justifying how they make a living, and ultimately too little committed theological reflection. I love music, and it is a privilege to be able to meet together in a public space and make a noise and sing songs of affection and adoration to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to build one another up with the corporate proclamation of Christian truth - but this has to be weighed constantly against our tendency to confuse the breaking in of God's kingdom in counter cultural patterns of living with creating a sectarian Christian-sounding space where we merely mirror some of the destructive values of our wider socio-cultural context (not to say all cultural values are negative - but consumerism, idolatry, validation through status, over inflated sense of self importance are pretty unhelpful). Certainly in the UK, church music has also taken on a chiefly evangelistic role - if we have good and contemporary music then more people will come to our church. I know some very wise and excellent pastors who adopt this stance, and I appreciate why. The belief is that the end (getting people to hear about Jesus) justifies the means (cool music). I personally find this troubling for two brief reasons 1) It seems to be a sort of bait and switch (for want of a less vile expression). Lure people in with something that looks and sounds like something they already know and love from their ordinary lives, and then confront them with a message that says actually its not about the music and if you don't move beyond that you will be an idolater. (or something to that effect). 2) It further muddles the identity of corporate worship, as confused as it already is in purpose and form. Is it about God? IS it about us? Is it about social appeal? Is it entertainment? Is it therapeutic? Is it mystical? Is it about individual expression? Is it about corporate solidarity? I think if we took surveys in our congregations you would get very different ideas. Yikes -sorry this post wasn't meant to be so long. Again, good though provoking article, thanks.

[...] the year 2050. The office of pastor was now obsolete. Instead the most glamorous office of “worship leader” had taken over the leadership of the seeker sensitive church. This office was more in touch [...]

Ben

April 12, 2012 at 02:13 PM

I wish they had a "like" button on here.

Ben

April 12, 2012 at 02:09 PM

Why have a worship pastor? Because you don't want a worship rock star. The truth is that most elders do not know/understand how music works in the same way that a musician does. So having a pastor that is knows music and is devoted to selecting it and arranging it makes a lot of sense. But he truly has to be a pastor, not a rock-star with a pastor's title. He should have all the same qualifications as a pastor and a heart and gifts that help him shepherd others. Then, and only then, is this "office" helpful, because the musicians are being specifically led in their service to the Lord by someone who both understands the spiritual nature of the gathered church and the practical nature of music.

And while there is not a 1:1 correlation between the Levites and worship pastors, I think the principle that can be gathered from the Old Testament is that God cares about the music that his people sing to him and desires for skilled individuals to be set apart in the service of music. Having a worship pastor as a shepherd among equals is certainly within the perameters here.

Ryan

April 11, 2012 at 12:41 PM

Some songs are not because of preferences but because the song was not meant to sing corporately. It may be a good song that sounds great when a CCM artist is singing all by themself. When you take the same song and ask the congregation to sing only to find it doesn't work. It is not a corporate song style. It happens all of the time.

erin fox

April 11, 2012 at 12:25 PM

that was beautiful... pure humbleness

Jerry Schmidt

April 11, 2012 at 11:31 AM

Joe, I love you brother, and I have to tell you that felt like a very judgmental statement. How in the world can you question what is in my heart or what methods God chooses to draw me to Him?

People are not called to worship in one way. I have a great respect for all kinds of worship - as I said, this is how God moves me. I was saved listening to a song that had deep meanings for my relationship with God; while listening to the song I accepted Jesus. Are you claiming I should have been saved a different way?

I would caution you to not assume these things about your fellow brothers.

faithunderfire

April 11, 2012 at 10:51 PM

I really feel that it's time to stop qualifying the position of "worship leader" as someone who leads. I've been held to that title for 20 years, as an independent artist as well as one of the premier artists of Vineyard in the late 80's early 90's. I've also participated in the International House of Prayer in Kansas City, which had us traveling across the country teaching people to "keep the fire burning." I came to realize that we were distractions, that the congregation didn't know what to do if there wasn't a rhythm, and in most cases, if the music wasn't causing people to "sway in the spirit" they went elsewhere. More and more, it was clear that the more quiet we became, the more uncomfortable people were with their thoughts, they didn't know how to pray or what a worshipful posture was, and so they stood there and waited. Thankfully, my pastor at the time realized he needed to do series of sermons on the difference between worship and praise, and when and where they were appropriate.
I've since embraced the reformed faith/covenant theology, and I've purposed to never compromise the heart of worship -true worship - by working within the mixed messages that are going out today.
As much as I love Third Day, Paul Balouche and the like, there's a place for them, but on Sunday, worship music should serve the purpose of directing the body to reflect on the life, death and resurrection of Christ, and the covenant promise upon which our redemption is built. At a time when sermons have gone lukewarm, giving milquetoast messages of "buddy Christ" who's your best friend, it's clear that something has been lost in translation if you believe worship music of today fills that void.

From the beginning God has stated how He should be worshiped - in reverence and fear. How long before we realize that our offense to God also extends to those we claim to lead into his presence? I can't help but wonder if the title of "leader" also places the worship person in the position as the teacher and elder of the body. If so, - and I believe it is- then we should spend little more time reading God's decrees and prayer.

Mere Links 04.11.12 - Mere Comments

April 11, 2012 at 10:42 AM

[...] Worship Leaders, We Are Not Rock Stars The Gospel Coalition, Stephen Miller We don’t have to be rock stars. We have Jesus. And Jesus is more than enough. [...]

joe

April 11, 2012 at 10:18 AM

Excellent!

Pete Gross

April 11, 2012 at 10:11 PM

Great article on the heart of a leader. Thanks for the honesty.

I am a little concerned (in the comments) about the wholesale acceptance of "worship" pastor being applied to song leader (what everyone called it 30 years ago). Yes, I do believe that singing is a part of worship. One of the pitfalls of our generation is that we have sequestered worship into a 15-20 minute block on Sunday morning, and it is not an every day/all day fact of our lives. If we are really going to call someone the worship leader, then why is his ministry focused on such a small part of worship?

Walt

April 11, 2012 at 10:05 AM

No, I do not believe in 1:1 correspondence between OT Levites and modern worship leaders. I am just pointing out that the concept of someone who is set apart to lead believers in worship has a biblical precedent, and something that we should consider. Nothing more, nothing less.

Trena Boger

April 11, 2012 at 09:48 AM

A true worship leader is one who spends time in prayer and fasting long before the Sunday service, seeking guidance in leading the congregation to go before the Throne of Grace as a unified body. It's not about their sound, songs, or preferred music style. It's not about performing before the congregation or promoting their newest worship song. It's about directing the hearts and minds of the people entrusted to their care away from the thoughts and concerns of this world and offering up praise and thanksgiving to God Almighty. A worship leader is simply one who does with the corporate body on Sunday what he/she does in private during the week---worship.

joe

April 11, 2012 at 09:33 AM

"Personally, the "rock star" method is what I love, and it prepares my heart for hearing God's word more than any traditional service I've ever been to. But that's how God moves ME, and I get why others prefer traditional worship. All parts of the Body."

Is that how God moves YOU, or is that what YOU happen to enjoy most?

Matt Beatty

April 11, 2012 at 09:09 AM

Walt,

So you believe in a 1:1 correspondence between OT Levites and the modern worship leader? Sure, God provided musicianship to accompany all that was going on in OT worship (are you comparing THAT to NT/Apostolic worship, too?), but that's a far cry from establishing that, say, Paul had anything like what we call "worship leader" (forget worship PASTOR) in mind. Perhaps you could make the case biblically and historically that Reformed churches (as a subset of the broader church) should men (women?) called to the office of worship leader/pastor?

Seems on very shaky ground to me.

Jerry Schmidt

April 11, 2012 at 08:51 AM

Congregations get lost in worship despite the method that is being used. What I mean by that is, a traditional music worship service has people reading along and singing without thinking of the meaning in the lyrics, which in my opinion is no different than the strategies used by modern western "rock star" churches.

What I get from Stephen is, what is the intent of the worship team? What is on their hearts? If they're rocking out because they truly love God and want to see Him exalted, why temper them? Kind of reminds me of the Pharisees telling Jesus to temper the crowds... However, if it is about status (which is what Stephen was struggling with), then there is an issue. I think as Christians we should give our worship teams the benefit of the doubt and PRAY for them that they not be prideful. We should also not let these styles of worship cause division among us.

Personally, the "rock star" method is what I love, and it prepares my heart for hearing God's word more than any traditional service I've ever been to. But that's how God moves ME, and I get why others prefer traditional worship. All parts of the Body.

God bless.

[...] The Creator is Still Creating – Mark Altrogge writes “The great Creator is still creating  – making his redeemed more and more into his own likeness every day” and shares why this should give Christians hope. [...]

Jack

April 11, 2012 at 08:48 AM

Leading people in worship is what a worship leader does. If you have a "music leader," then that person is not effectively leading a congregation. A worship leader is not supposed to bring you to God, but to facilitate that through the elimination of distractions and the selection of deep, theoiogical music. When a worship leader worships, they give the people in the congregation an example of what worship is, and lead them in worshipping God. Hence, worship leader.

C

April 11, 2012 at 08:45 AM

I don't think there is any possible way that we can blame contemporary music/anything other than hymns for this mentality. CCM is not a performance based model. This ignorance of what CCM is causes people not to worship. Our church has a blended service. We can sing one CCM song and one traditional hymn that have the exact same message, and half the people don't sing on either. This isn't because of performance or the model of worship, but because of people's individual preferences.

Chris

April 11, 2012 at 08:40 AM

Also, we have to keep in mind that worship pastors are trained and called by God. We know what worship is and God leads us to see the pitfalls of distraction in a service. A poorly selected song set, or a less than skillful musician can distract people from God's worship. This is why I have always been in favor of a worship pastor.

Walt

April 11, 2012 at 08:36 AM

Keep in mind that worship leaders were appointed in the Old Testament -- groups of Levites were assigned to tasks of leading singing and playing instruments, so it is a biblical office.

Christopher Scott

April 11, 2012 at 08:25 AM

Thank you for the article and continually pointing to the sufficiency of Christ and his finished work on the cross. Would that more worship leaders rely on the Spirit to awaken affections and not try to rouse them with pop music or emotionally charged lyrics...but with the unadulterated power of the gospel! It was good meeting you at Worship God this year and myself and my pastor are extremely encouraged by your adoption/story. Praying for you and your ministry and thankful for your example.

Deborah Bierly

April 11, 2012 at 08:14 AM

I am not a "worship leader", but I do sing my songs in church and also travel to sing. I also have noticed more visible reaction when I travel, but part of that, I think, is the awe of the unknown. I struggle with some of the same things you wrote about, so I appreciated the article. If you like, check out my thoughtful original songs on my YouTube channel (search on my name). God bless your work.

TC

April 11, 2012 at 08:04 AM

Thanks for the article - it was a good read. Ambition and pride can be traps for church musicians to fall into, but I'd like to raise another issue for 'worship' leaders relating to their role and function in church which I think might be related. Why do we call them 'worship' leaders instead of song leaders, or music leaders? Is leading singing really the same as leading people to worship God?

I wonder if the importance of leading music is inflated and exaggerated in our minds simply because we use the word 'worship' instead of 'music'. Leading people in Music is important, but it just doesn't carry the same prestige or weight of responsibility that leading in 'worship' does.

If Music is viewed as something which transports us into the presence of God so we can worship him(as is taught in some churches), then musicians have the enormous responsibility of taking the congregation into God's presence and they end up playing a kind of high priestly role. I wonder if this kind of thinking about Music might be giving some musicians an inflated view of their importance?

Only Jesus can bring us into God's presence. Only Jesus is our high priest and mediator. I would suggest that only Jesus should be given the title 'worship leader'. Calling musicians 'musicians' might help with some of these problems of pride.

Michael H.

April 11, 2012 at 07:52 AM

This is very refreshing, and I'll go a step further. I think much of the Church in America has adopted a framework for corporate worship that is basically derived from the secular rock concert. The contrast with traditional CHURCH music--music composed in order to serve the Church and hymns written for CONGREGATIONAL SINGING--could not be greater. You mentioned worship leaders not needing folks to sing louder; what frustrates me is worship leaders who lead in a way that makes following along virtually impossible, then complain about the lack of sound coming from the congregation. But why should we expect participation in the first place? The current model of corporate worship in Churches that use CCM is not a participatory model; it is a performance model, using music that suits the needs of stage performers. I am not criticizing individual worship leaders in this, but dare we suggest that the problem of worship leader celebritism was made possible by the abandonment of hymn-singing?

ForeBarca

April 11, 2012 at 05:21 PM

Someone once told me that Matt Redman set aside his guitar etc when he realized that his worship music had become less about God. A few years passed before he picked it up again. On the other hand, I have been blessed to have great worship leaders at my church in Long Beach, CA. For example, we have extraordinary musicians who are also humble, men I know who'll lay down their instruments if God might be glorified. However, I have to admit that one leader has as much affinity to music as a hippo does to ballet.

Chris

April 11, 2012 at 04:00 AM

Thank you for your thoughtful article, the warning against rock stardom isn't only a temptation for those who lead the singing. The cult of celebrity finds its way in to pretty much anything the Western church does, and did so even in NT times.

Just to pushback a little: why even have the role of 'worship pastor' in the first place? Musical accompaniment to our singing in the church is helpful, but why doesn't the pastor/other elders who lead the service pick the psalms and songs themselves, and simply get musicians to volunteer to help out? The very fact of having a worship pastor role may tend to give that 'office' holder a sense that their position is something akin to resident rock star.

Rick

April 11, 2012 at 01:53 PM

Perhaps we should abandon the term "worship leader" strictly in regard to music/singing, since worship is more than singing and music. On Sundays (and all other days!), we should worship through the hearing of the Word, through prayer and submission to God, through our giving, our service and care for one another - all in addition to our singing. God has established "worship leaders" for the chruch - they are its pastors/elders. The one who leads in the important element of music and singing is just that, a music leader.