What's In A Name? (Pt.II)

Featuring Bob Kauflin Posted on August 7, 2008

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 in Part I, 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.

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.