Band from back  Worship Leader is a term that remains in vogue today to indicate the person responsible for leading music for worship services.  Like one of its derivatives, “Lead Worshiper,” it seems fraught with theological issues that tend to go largely ignored.  Those issues are generally sidelined in order to distinguish worship musicians from an older paradigm in which the leader was called “Minister of Music.”  Of course there are still those whose title remains Minister of Music, while others have changed to some variation of one of these terms.  I admit having wrestled with all these and never really settling on a best practice for a moniker to be applied to those who lead their congregations in the music of weekly Sunday worship, or who give pastoral care and direction through worship planning and leadership in the arts.  I find myself calling our leaders “worship music leaders,” “worship ministers,” or “worship pastors,” when writing or speaking.  I certainly do not desire that anyone would become self-conscious about their title.  This article is not really about the title, but rather seeks to address some practices that seem to have followed along with the verbiage changes that have been made.  Some of the practices can have dire consequences for the worshiping church.

There is a vast difference in seeking to worship with a congregation and worshiping at them.  When planning and leading so as to join with a people gathered for Christian worship, there is a sense of discovery and journey.  Mutual purpose is sought through encouraged common participation and contribution.  I believe this to be reflected in Paul’s writing to the Colossians when he encourages them to speak to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.  This is very different from performing for those gathered for worship.  This performance mentality is a serious danger regardless of music style.  Different music styles simply change the ambiance of the wrongly-directed focus.  Whether art song, Gospel quartet style, choral concert, or modern worship band rock or acoustic style, performance at the congregation or crowd of gathered worshipers is wrong-headed in approach.  I would go as far as to say that well-meaning “worship leaders” can easily border on steering worship toward an idolatrous end.  Whether the performer’s point is to draw attention to themselves, or to give the people what they want, either way the one being served seems to be other than the Triune God.  Gathered worship is never about watching a band “get their worship on” as I once heard a teen describe it.

In last week’s Text & Tune for Today’s Church Conference at Carson Newman College, sponsored by the Ball Institute for Church Music, attendees were reminded repeatedly of the need to evaluate worship from a different perspective than is far too common in present-day church culture.  Dr. Constance Cherry, author of The Worship Architect, reminded us of a powerful question:  “What is worship to be and do from God’s point of view?”  Referencing numerous scripture texts she stated that “Good worship is all about facilitating relationship: vertical (God to human, human to God) and horizontal (people to people).”  She hit a landmine in calling us to stop trying to create worship, but to realize that “worship is.”  In addition to profoundly thought-provoking questions, she gave practical suggestions based on the metaphor of an architect’s job, as used in her book.  (see links below)

Other presenters included UK song-writer, Graham Kendrick, whose songs like Shine, Jesus Shine, and All I Once Held Dear, among many others have been part of worship language and included in numerous hymnals for sometime.  Graham’s gentle demeanor along with his reflections on psalms, as well as his leading of some of his newer songs was encouraging to the artist within, and challenge to those called upon to plan for worship.  Another musician from the UK, Organist/Director of Music at All Souls, Langham Place in London, Noel Tredenik addressed issues related to songs, singing, and creative uses of music for worship from his unique perspective.  Our friend, composer, and writer of modern hymns, Keith Getty, addressed a variety of issues related to songs for worship and their singing, as well as other creative and theological issues related to art for worship.  Keith and Kristyn Getty closed the conference with a grand concert of their hymns and ministry songs in which those gathered sang in the richly resonant acoustic environment of First Baptist Church in Jefferson City, Tennessee, adjacent to the college campus.

The conference presented opportunity for professional and personal growth.  There were clear biblically-rooted challenges for those who lead music for worship, no matter what their title may be.


Explore posts in the same categories: Church Music, Congregational Singing, Leading Worship, Music Ministry, Singing Worship, Spiritual formation through singing, Uncategorized, Worship Leaders, Worship Pastors, Worship Reminders, Worship theology, Worship thoughts, Youth Worship


  1. Eric Benoy Says:

    Amen, Paul! Astute observations. I have a similar question which I posited to Ed Steele (my mind tends to wander strange roads from time to time) — when songwriters write, do they do so with an intent for all to “join in the song” (i.e., impacting how a song is written, how accessible it is for the average person) or is it out of a more personal intent (not that that is bad), that hopefully others will catch on and join, or, as you put it, giving people what they want.

    • That is an important question, Eric. I think it is one to be pondered by both songwriters and worship ministers making selections of songs. We need to ask questions like, “Will this song help us toward community?” “Is this song likely to move us toward isolating ourselves into a singular experience?” I try to ask your question to songwriters when given the opportunity, and get a wide variety of responses. I can tell you through personal relationship and many conversations with Keith Getty that the “artist” for which he writes he would say is certainly the church. Refreshing to know. I am doing a blog on an interview with him soon and this is one of the arenas we will be exploring. Thanks for posing your question and implications.

  2. Yes, the conference was challenging on many levels and spoke directly to me as a leader in worship and a songwriter. May God continue to stir in our souls an awakening to what is required in worship by Him and may we let go of all else. I am thankful for your heart, Paul…I know it communes with and seeks after God.

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