The Worship Leader: Pastor, Theologian, Musician (Part 2 of 2)
Having discussed in Part 1 that a Worship Leader fulfills a pastoral role in the local church, and as such should be trained in theology and pastoral ministry – I must also address the other “half” of the picture. Just as I would call for a solid biblical and theological education to prepare the Worship Leader to pastor the flock, I would also call for solid talent, education, and preparation to lead musically. The Worship Leader must be a musician as well.
The Use of Music to Teach and Admonish
The general guidelines for the use of music in Colossians 3:16 fall under the responsibility of the Worship Leader: “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you [i.e., the corporate gathering], with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
Note that there are basically two purposes in this verse for the word to dwell within the community – teaching and admonishing. The avenue, or vehicle, to carry teaching and admonishing is the music, specifically singing. Which is more important, the purpose or the vehicle? I would say they are both important in varying degrees. My point here is not to argue the importance of music, but to show that teaching and admonishing are pastoral duties. So whoever is doing this within the community must be equipped to do so – as a pastor might teach and admonish through preaching; a musician would teach and admonish through music.
I bring these thoughts together to indicate the necessity of having people in that role that are qualified both as pastors and musicians. For the Worship Leader/musician reading this point it seems like a lot of work. What I seem to be saying is that someone called to be a Worship Leader must not only hone his or her skills as a musician, but also become educated in the role of a pastor. Well, yes, that is exactly what I am saying. The Worship Leader is to be a pastor-musician. This is a dual role requiring parallel and complementary fields of study.
Some might think that I am way off base in suggesting this; however we can look at some of the most significant accomplishments in regards to music in the history of the church and see that the most influential of musicians have been well grounded biblically and theologically. Such people as John and Charles Wesley, Isaac Watts, and John Newton are examples in recent centuries. Even further back we see the influence of Martin Luther and J.S. Bach. And beyond that even further, St. Francis of Assisi, or St. John Chrysostom and Ambrose were among church leaders that were both theologians and musicians. There are many more and what we can see evident in those men, that we seldom find today, is a balance of theology and music in which the music is the vehicle for sound teaching and admonishment such as described in Colossians 3:16.
If musicians who are filling Worship Leader roles felt picked on in the previous paragraphs, they might feel a little better once they realize that I will be picking on pastors and theologians in the following ones. Raise your hand if you are a musician that has ever been told by a pastor how to lead a song, what the tempo should be, how loud or soft to sing, what should happen with the “mix,” who would make a “great” soloist or band member, or any other suggestion, request, or mandate that infers their expertise on the subject – when, in fact, they demonstrate weekly (or weakly!) that they have little musical expertise at all.
This is a baffling phenomenon that occurs regularly, but I believe that pastors, having shared their spiritual authority, should allow Worship Leaders the latitude needed to serve the church in this role. As a pastor-musician, there is a certain sense in which the Worship Leader will have a broader perspective on the Worship Service itself than the pastor does, unless that pastor is an equally talented musician.
You see, in the same way that it is inappropriate for a Worship Leader to be unbalanced by having a limited understanding of theology, it is just as inappropriate for a pastor who has little, or limited, musical ability and experience to be unbalanced. Although many pastors and theologians have written and taught about corporate worship and music, I must say that I find their presentations lacking when they admittedly lack the musical “chops” to speak authoritatively about music and the disciplines of musicianship.
Music, by the very nature of what it is, is more than a talent. Music is a discipline and a craft. It is an art requiring both talent and skill. There may be a few musicians out there who have never needed a lesson and seldom practice, but the huge majority spend hours learning and practicing the craft and art of making music. It takes discipline, and when someone has “paid the price” of years and years of practice and performance, they deserve the credit for a certain expertise in that area.
This means that pastors and their boards must give credit where credit is due and allow musicians to do the music. This is not a game to a musician, and the idea that we should let anyone and everyone on stage as part of a worship team is really “loony.” Experienced musicians place high demands on themselves, and I believe there should be a certain expectation of skill for those joining in the leadership of worship. The fact that music is a discipline and a craft means that there may be times when someone has to be told that they are not welcome to perform or participate musically because they do not possess the required skill level to do so. I understand the need to help people with their self-concept, but this is not the right solution.
Of course, there should also be places for those who have basic levels of musical skills to serve the church and work to improve their abilities. Entry-level groups can be formed to rehearse basic repertoire and perform it as a “special” during a service. When the congregation knows that it is a teen group, children’s group, or entry-level adult group there will be an appreciation of the effort without expectation of the highest quality. This really is OK. Not everyone is really good at performing, and everyone knows that.
It is in these circumstances that the Worship Leader must draw from both streams of understanding. As a musician, to understand how to lead musically and, as a pastor, to know how to care for those he is tending. There is a balance that must be sought by both the individuals filling these roles, as well as the churches calling them into these levels of responsibility. In these articles, I hope to have at least brought the issues into a clearer focus so that they may be discussed and considered.
(Original Post on August 7, 2012 at the Worldview Church: http://www.worldviewchurch.org/worshiparts/articles/18264-the-worship-leader-pastor-theologian-musician-part-2-of-2)