Monthly Archives: August 2013

The Worship Leader: Pastor, Theologian, Musician (Part 1 of 2)

A serious case can be made for corporate worship being one of the many avenues to challenge and inspire the church, as well as to teach and admonish.  No doubt, corporate worship is about our thankful praise to the God of gods and Lord of lords, but only in part.  It is, in a more balanced approach, an interplay of the God to Us and Us to God vertical aspects and the Us to Others and Others to Us horizontal aspects of interpersonal interaction.  That means there is much more to leading worship than what is commonly thought.

In this two-part article, I will help us think through a trend that must be addressed in the life of the Christian church.  I seek to address overall trends within the larger Christian community, and there are exceptions in local congregations.  If your church is an exception, then be thankful.

Pastor and Theologian

As congregations grew in total attendance in America throughout the 20th Century, church staff positions grew to meet the challenge of administrating the greater number of people, programs, and larger facilities inherent in this type of growth.  Part of this pattern was for pastors to bring musicians to the staff who would take care of the musical aspects of worship.  Admittedly, pastors with large congregations have many responsibilities, and many pastors have little musical ability to manage a growing worship program.  Thus, the addition of music staff only makes sense.

It seems, however, that as pastors continued to get busier and busier that they began to not only rely on the musicians for the musical leadership of worship, but also – in many ways – the spiritual leadership of worship.  Rather than retaining an overall spiritual leadership as the pastor and leader of the congregation, they had to begin sharing this responsibility with others due to the overwhelming size and complexities of these ministries.

This is not necessarily a bad thing.  I do not doubt that many gifted musicians are spiritually fit to lead a congregation in corporate worship.  My question would be whether or not that is their appropriate place or responsibility; given the preparation they have received to fulfill this kind of role.  Due to the broadened implications of a biblical and balanced approach to corporate worship, one must realize that the great load of responsibility which lies on the shoulders of the “Worship Leader” may be greater than their training.

To get straight to the point, I suggest a re-evaluation of the kinds of requirements placed upon a candidate and eventual staff person who might fulfill this role of Worship Leader.  Whether the trend began this way or not, what has become of this position is something that more noticeably resembles the role of a pastor than anything else.  Call the position Associate Pastor, Worship Pastor, Pastor of Worship Arts, or whatever – but call it what it is.  It is much, much more than leading music, and I think you could ask anyone who has filled this role to verify that reality.

Pastoral and Theological Training

This being the case, what must also come along with the title is the expectation of the preparation as a pastor.  I think what is called for is Bible College, seminary, or some kind of higher education that focuses on Scripture, theology, and pastoral education.  Many of those filling these roles have plenty of experience in order to lead music, but what I have discovered over and over is that they sorely lack the skills to function as a pastor to the people they are seeking to lead.

For those seeking to be Worship Leaders, rather than opportunities to learn pastoral skills and theology, there seem to be a plethora of opportunities to learn the “skills” of worship leading.  In reviewing the class schedule of various of seminars, camps, and even college/university degree programs, what is found is a very basic (i.e., short) review of Bible and Theology, in contrast to a long, long list of music classes, as well as the modern aspects of multimedia – sound, lighting, computer, recording, video, etc.  What is the real focus of this training?

What I find most puzzling is that churches (I am referring to what I see as overall trends that may not be true in all cases) accept this as the appropriate training.  Yet, this is non-pastoral training for a person who has almost as much time to address and lead the congregation during a worship service as the pastor – and sometimes even more!!

The position of Worship Leader is one that is first of all spiritual and pastoral.  This must be established as the central focus and those filling these positions must be aware of what that means, as should the churches that hire them and the colleges, universities, and seminaries that train them.  This means that the requirements placed on spiritual leaders in the Pastoral Epistles (1 Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9) will also be expected of the Worship Leader. Impeccable character, the ability to lead with spiritual wisdom, and the knowledge of doctrine and theology to refute error are the hallmarks of the elder, pastor, and deacon – as well as any spiritual leader of the church.

In Part 2, I will look at the music side of worship and the role of Worship Leader as a musician.

(Original Post on July 30, 2012 at the Worldview Church:  http://www.worldviewchurch.org/worshiparts/articles/18224-the-worship-leader-pastor-theologian-musician-part-1-of-2)

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Using Memory to Inform Worship

I shall remember the deeds of the Lord;
Surely I will remember Your wonders of old.
I will meditate on all Your work
And muse on Your deeds. (Psalm 77:11-12)

Coming fresh from the Memorial Day weekend and July 4th Holidays, we have been encouraged to remember those that have fought and died defending freedom and liberty in this country.  Many of us visited cemeteries during these holidays, attended services, and it’s probable that our Sunday worship had some mention and recognition of veterans and their sacrifice.  In all of these situations we were called to remember.

Moving beyond these National Holidays, I realized that our memories should also serve as an impetus for worship.  Memory can inform our worship and make it richer in both depth of understanding and in experience.  Let’s review a few of the ways that this can happen.

As we see in the text above, the Psalmist (Asaph) makes a deliberate decision to remember the works of the Lord, and His deeds among men.  Why?  Simply put, Asaph and those with him are discouraged. The Lord seems to have abandoned Israel, and they find themselves in difficult circumstances.  Having been disobedient once again, the Lord has allowed (or orchestrated) the situation of the nation of Israel to be a source of discipline.  And they were feeling the pain.

Asaph, however, chooses to battle this discouragement with memory.  As the chief of Worship Leaders, he makes it a priority to point to the faithfulness of God. How does he do that?  By bringing up the stories of God’s deeds and works.  He wants to remember the “wonders of old” – that is, the stories of the Joseph, of the Exodus, of Joshua leading them into the Promised Land, or any of a number of narratives that show God’s work on Israel’s behalf.

These stories are part of the communal memory of the nation of Israel.  They have told these stories for generations, and each time they are told they bring comfort and reassurance.  These memories remind the people of Israel that they are not alone, even in the difficulty of the circumstances in which they find themselves.  After all, what could be worse than the captivity in Egypt?

Today, we sometimes have too short of a memory.  This Psalm of Asaph is only one example of many in which the biblical writers use memory to jar themselves (and others) out of despair and self pity.  We have these memories, too, but we’re often caught in looking for the newest, latest and greatest ideas and programs.  We forget, rather than remember.

What might your worship service be like if you made a deliberate effort to remember God’s faithfulness to your congregation?  Use the gift of your memories to incorporate these Divine reminders into the consciousness of the people of God in your church, and allow Him to bring comfort and encouragement even in the most difficult of times.

(Original Post on July 9, 2012 at the Worldview Church:  http://www.worldviewchurch.org/worshiparts/articles/18111-using-memory-to-inform-worship)

Considering our Purposes in Corporate Worship

Psalm 95

O come, let us sing for joy to the Lord, Let us shout joyfully to the rock of our salvation.

2 Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving, Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms.

3 For the Lord is a great God. And a great King above all gods,

4 In whose hand are the depths of the earth, The peaks of the mountains are His also.

5 The sea is His, for it was He who made it, And His hands formed the dry land.

6 Come, let us worship and bow down, Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.

7 For He is our God, And we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand.

The verses quoted above from Psalm 95 encapsulate some of the purposes that are inherent in the practice of corporate worship. Let us consider the ideas presented in these verses, while remembering that this is not an exhaustive treatment.  We simply want to glean from this short passage some clear understanding of where the modern church is doing well, as well as in what ways today’s church could improve in approaching worship holistically.

First of all, the Psalmist calls the people of God to lift their hearts and voices together in praise and thanksgiving (vss 1-2).  Singing and joyful exuberance should be characteristic of our praise and worship. We can sense the Psalmist’s smile and his attitude of anticipation as he describes the assembly of the faithful.  In modern settings, the church does well at energetically praising and capturing the joyfulness evident in the words of this Psalm, as well as many other passages.

Secondly, we are to lead the congregation in celebrating the greatness of God in the world around us and in our own lives (vss 3-5).  Corporate worship is the place to declare God’s activity in His created realm.  This no idol that we worship, which sits motionless on a shelf or pedestal, but the Living God – active in creation, in preservation, in caring for His world.  As the Creator, He is the King and ruler over all things, yet He keeps them in His loving hands.

He also provides for us, as the epitome of His created world.  It was to humankind that He gave the responsibility to care for what He had made, as the very representatives of God Himself.  Created in His image, and given authority to rule and subdue the earth.  In this area, too, today’s church often does an exceptional job at drawing the attention of the gathered community to the reality of God as Creator and Sustainer of His creation.

Finally, we also see the Psalmist desiring to lead God’s people into humble obedience as we recognize our need for Him, for His care, for His provision and for His leading (vss 6-7).  This is the place in which the church (I am speaking in general terms) must be clearer in its teaching and worship.  Many post-modern believers, though giving feigned obedience to God and declaring their willingness to be under His Lordship, in practical terms act as though life is completely dependent upon their own plans and their own skills to bring those plans to fruition.  They pay lip-service to the ideas of submission and obedience, invoking God to bless the plans they have already determined are necessary.  In this scenario, there is not much room for the voice of God to be heard and followed.

Let us reflect carefully on the words of Psalm 95 – and reflect these ideas within the worship of our churches from Sunday to Sunday.  For praise and thanksgiving, as well as in humble obedience.

(Original Post on May22, 2012 at the Worldview Church:  http://www.worldviewchurch.org/worshiparts/articles/17854-considering-our-purposes-in-corporate-worship)

Beyond the Practical: Theology as the Basis for Worship

In many discussions on worship in the Church, there is tendency to begin the discussion in the wrong place. What I mean by this is that many articles, websites and books look at corporate worship from the perspective of methods: what songs to sing, how to manage worship teams, how to create the flow of the service (or liturgy), what instrumentation to use, how to incorporate technology, and any number of methodological issues that are pertinent to the corporate worship of the church.

Although many of these discussions on methods are important, and must be the concern of pastors and leaders, there is very little evidence that these discussions are based on a solid foundation of theological and biblical thinking. Often, due to little theological reflection in regards to the various methods being employed, the solutions end up being no more than pragmatic Band-Aids to prevent failure in “pulling off” a worship service.

I recall an opportunity I have had to be part of an online forum centering on worship. Primarily, this forum was a place for younger worship leaders to gather, share ideas, and especially post threads regarding the methods I listed earlier. Not unexpectedly with the younger generation, much of the focus was on technology and how to utilize it in corporate worship.

With this in mind, I once posted a thread that suggested a discussion of the biblical and theological justification for the use of modern technology in the worship of the church. The response was overwhelming and many readers posted comments regarding the topic. But, the response was also disappointing because many of the posters failed to see the connection and need for solid thinking to back up their practice and method. They simplistically thought that we could use it because it was there. Thankfully, there was one technology leader that had spent some time thinking and posted a thoughtful response that touched many good, foundational ideas on why it was important for us to engage our modern culture with modern technology.

Scripture is clear that our practical, outward lifestyle expressions begin with our inward thinking regarding life itself (1 Peter 1:13-16; Romans 12:1-2). It is only when our inner thinking is grounded in a solid, biblical, theological understanding that our outer lifestyle will reflect a biblical, Christian life. This is also true in the worship of the church. The outer expression of the congregation in worship (their method) is only as solid as their inner understanding of WHO they worship and why (their theology).

So my point, if it is not yet clear, is that theology must be the basis and foundation for corporate worship. We must have a proper view of God in order to worship Him with wisdom and understanding. We must understand the biblical view of man to see ourselves, and those around us, in the proper perspective in the worship of God. We must view worship as proclaiming the biblical drama of creation, fall and redemption to holistically represent the gospel so our congregations can be transformed by Christ in the inner man, that their lives can be changed in the daily outward expression of living life.

This is no easy task. Because much of corporate worship has degenerated into a form of entertainment, asking the congregation to think more clearly about worship itself is difficult. We often run into the argument from preference (“I like that song”), which for many is the end of the discussion. Asking them to think, and then making changes to the methods based upon a new set of foundational principles from good thinking is a process that will take time.

But, it is worth the investment of time and energy. A renewal of corporate worship will only come from a renewal and transformation of the minds of people – beginning with self. Right actions (practices of worship) will proceed from good thinking (a solid, biblical foundation of worship), and so our primary need is for clear, biblical thinking!

(Original Post on April 7, 2012 at the Worldview Church:  http://www.worldviewchurch.org/worshiparts/articles/19322-beyond-the-practical-theology-as-the-basis-for-worship)

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