Sunday, December 23, 2007

What Does a Worship Leader Do?

By Bob Kauflin
Director of Worship Development, PDI Ministries

Worship Matters -- Bob proposes a definition for the role of a worship leader.

PDI Ministries - This year marks a quarter-century that I’ve been leading worship – in one form or another – and how things have changed! Twenty-five years ago the first release from Integrity’s Hosanna Music was almost a decade away, “worship artist” was an unknown concept, and brief Scripture choruses (repeated many, many times) were the hottest thing going. No one could have predicted how worship and music styles would become such a pervasive, and often divisive, issue in the church.
Today, in the midst of this “worship explosion,” we’re better off in many ways. We have an ever-increasing number of contemporary songs that express the truths of our faith in powerful and moving ways. Churches and church leaders are recognizing the importance of worshiping God in every aspect of life. Many people, especially teens and twenty-somethings, are flocking to Christian concerts and buying CDs that point them to worshiping the Savior rather than the singer.

All these changes have heightened the significance of the worship leader. While we used to think that anyone who knew how to play an acoustic guitar (and owned one) could do a great job leading worship, we’ve realized there are a few more questions to consider. What’s the difference between a song leader and a “lead worshiper"? Is the goal actually to “lead” or simply get out of the way and let God do His thing? Does a worship leader need to be a skilled musician?

I do not assume that everyone who reads this column is a worship leader – I know some of you aren’t. However, every Christian can benefit from understanding what our goals ought to be as we gather to exalt and give glory to God in public worship. Who knows – this series may even cause you to think about whether or not you SHOULD be a worship leader!

Churches have taken a wide variety of approaches to the role of the worship leader. Choir directors, accompanists, rock bands, soloists, and organists have all been included in that category. Regardless of the title, those who lead the singing and the worship of God play a prominent role in most Christian gatherings. At every meeting they have significant opportunities to teach, train, and encourage Christians in giving God the glory we were created to give Him.

The New Testament gives us little to go on to establish the specific job description of a worship leader. However, it’s apparent throughout Scripture that singing is important to God, and that it is usually led. Ephesians 4:11-13 tells us that God has given gifts to certain leaders in the church for the maturing and building up of His people. Some of those gifts are pastoring, teaching, prophesying, and evangelizing. In a corporate worship leader we have a leadership role which combines aspects of these and other New Testament gifts in the context of music.

More specifically, I believe the role and goals of a worship leader can be described in this way: An effective worship leader is 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.

We’ll spend the next few lessons unpacking this definition, and gaining a clearer understanding of God’s purpose for the role of worship leader in the church today.

It's not just "worship leading." It's leading people. The question is, in what direction?

An effective 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 it mean to be a leader? When someone takes a position in front of a group of people, he or she will, to one degree or another, be leading, whether intentionally or not. Romans 12:6 says leaders must lead with zeal (ESV), or govern diligently (NIV). Both phrases speak of faithfully seeking to direct a meeting. The first duty of a worship leader is to take on that responsibility cheerfully.

Congregational worship in spirit and truth doesn’t just “happen.” God can at any moment choose to manifest His presence in our midst, but He has identified specific activities and attitudes to which He generally responds. Critical words, for example, quench the Spirit, while praise invites His activity and involvement. Thus, there must be intentionality and purpose behind what a worship leader does.

Everything ultimately GLORIFIES God (for example, all sin and rebellion is eventually judged by God, thus magnifying His holiness)…but not everything WORSHIPS God. Worship is all I know of me RESPONDING to all God has shown me of Himself. This response involves a choice, and the use of my mind, will, and emotions. Thus, everything a worship leader does should encourage that response in the people he is leading.

Since we’re leading people (and not just “leading worship”), we need to be clear on what direction we’re taking them in. It’s easy to overuse vague phrases that sound good but don’t necessarily define where we’re going or what we’re doing. For example, In recent years “entering in” has become synonymous with the corporate worship experience. But what do we mean by that phrase? Are we entering in to some mindless, automatic-pilot state of ecstasy? Are we perhaps passing through the outer courts of worship to enter in to the holy of holies?

Both concepts are commonly voiced today. But did you know that neither one finds support in Scripture?

First, worship is neither automatic nor mindless – it’s intentional, purposeful, and very much involves the mind. And second, Jesus has already entered the holy of holies for us (Heb. 10:19-22). The purpose of worship is to enter in to a fresh awareness of who God is, what He has done, and how that affects our past, present, and future.

Finally, a worship leader’s task involves leading people effectively. We should expect good fruit from our labors. Worship leading is not a hit-or-miss proposition. God desires to bless us with His manifest presence when we gather to worship Him.

When we moved into our new home several years ago, my family’s yard was a wasteland. But each fall I aerated, fertilized, and planted grass seed. In the spring I applied fertilizer and weed killer. For a few years it seemed like not much was happening. But here we are five years later with a full lawn. What happened? I sowed, and tended, and then I reaped.

So it is with worship. If we want God’s people to glorify Him, we must sow to His glory. We must paint a compelling, attractive, grand, biblical picture of our great God and Savior.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Next time we’ll look at the importance of the Holy Spirit in leading worship effectively.

We’re in the midst of a series on the responsibilities and goals of a worship leader. Last time we looked at what it means to lead effectively. The second phrase in the definition I proposed is this: an effective worship leader is “aided and led by the Holy Spirit.”

Apart from the activity of the Holy Spirit, it is impossible to worship God. Paul 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.” Gordon Fee writes, “For Paul, the gathered church was first of all a worshiping community; and the key to their worship was the presence of the Holy Spirit.” (Gordon Fee, God’s Empowering Presence, pg. 884) But what does it mean to worship by the Spirit of God?

In his 1980 book, O Come Let Us Worship, Professor Robert Rayburn sheds light on the relationship between our worship and the Spirit of God. “The enabling of the Holy Spirit, so essential to true Christian worship, according to the Scriptures, means that worship is not just an act of man alone, but in it man is moved and enabled by the Spirit of God. If worshipers are not consciously dependent upon the Holy Spirit, their worship is not truly Christian" (Robert Rayburn, O Come, Let Us Worship, pg. 22).

If we don’t recognize our need for the Holy Spirit’s involvement as we worship Him, what we’re doing can’t be defined as Christian worship. Certainly if Christians in general need the Holy Spirit to worship God, it must be true of the one who is leading them in public praise.

In practice, this involves listening for the direction of the Holy Spirit before, during, and at the close of the meeting. This is not about whether you consider yourself charismatic, nor is it about tossing scriptural principles to the wind and trusting your “spiritual knower.” Rather, this is what the Bible clearly teaches. We MUST in some way be aware of the Holy Spirit’s presence and active involvement in what we do as we gather to worship God.

Some worship leaders excel at having every song, transition, arrangement, and word planned out before the meeting begins. Others thrive on the spontaneous aspects of corporate worship, disdaining all advance preparation and study. The truth is, planning and spontaneity are both important. We must be diligent to plan – without being ruled by our plan. The Holy Spirit wants to be involved in all aspects of our worship. This marks the difference between simply singing songs and expecting God to interact with us.

To be aided and led by the Holy Spirit is also to resist the urge to become familiar with what we do, as though our actions were totally responsible for what transpires during our time together. We need a better reason to do a song than “it really got people going last week.” While songs, format, settings, and sound are important, none of them make the involvement of God’s Holy Spirit any less crucial.

Similarly, leading worship is more than uttering all the right phrases. It involves responding to God’s spontaneous initiatives and promptings. A phrase that inspired faith last week may sound flat and uninspired this week. What part of His truth and character does God want to bring to the forefront of people’s minds THIS week, and what is the best way to do it? That is the question we seek to answer as we are aided and led by the Holy Spirit.

Until next time, may you be freshly aware of God’s kindness in sending His Holy Spirit to apply to our hearts all that Jesus secured for us.

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