On Leading Worship: Four Observations from the Outside

I am not a Worship Pastor. I have no formal training in worship leading, as it is typically defined today. I am not a Music Minister. However, I would like to offer some observations on worship leading. These are the things I like to see and hear in our church, and these are things I like to see and hear in other places as well.

The idea for this post came about as I was listening to the music CD from Together for the Gospel 2008. This was led by Bob Kauflin. I have listened to the music CD several times in the past week and was struck by the model he presented.

1. Congregational worship leading is not a concert. In listening to Kauflin lead the large congregation at Together for the Gospel, there is no hint whatsoever that he is performing for them or trying to cover the singing of the body with his own microphone enhanced voice. In other words, the focus is taken off of the individual leader and placed ultimately on God and penultimately upon the corporate worship of the body.

2. Congregational worship leading must be saturated in Scripture. By this I simply mean that Scripture should direct and inform each and every song that we sing. I do not advocate limiting the songs we sing to Scripture verses put to music. However, if the songs we sing are not directly informed by Scripture, then our worship is flawed. God has revealed Himself to us through the Word. In that revelation, we receive truth about who God is and how He is honored by His people. Therefore, to attempt to worship God with anything other than scripturally informed and scripturally directed singing would be the height of arrogance and probably tantamount to idolatry. A good worship leader is one who submits himself and the songs he leads to Scripture.

3. Congregational worship leaders need to know the songs they are leading. Now, by this I do not simply mean that the leader needs to know the words, the melody lines, and the rhythm of the song he is leading. Much more than that, he needs to know what the song means. He needs to know where the song is going. When he does, he will be able to guide the congregation through tempo changes and vocal inflection and simple volume changes to signal that something significant is coming. In other words, by the way the leader sings the song, the congregation should be able to gather clues that will help them to understand the meaning of the song. This will assist the congregation, who may or may not know the song and may or may not be musically inclined, to grasp and engage in the worship to the best of their ability.

4. Congregational worship leaders should be free to guide the congregation toward specific truths found in the songs being sung. Here I do not mean that the leader should feel the need to do a free style rap during the invitation and speak every line that the congregation just sang. You may have heard examples of pastors doing this during the invitation after a sermon. Instead, what I mean here is that the worship leader who knows the song well (see above) will be able to interject comments that will not distract from the singing but instead draw attention to important points of truth or serve to lead the congregation to know what they should sing next. If this cannot be done as an enhancement to the worship experience then the leader should refrain from doing it. But, if done well, it can be a great aid to the congregation who may not know what part of the song should be sung next. And, certainly, it will be an aid to the congregation who may be so absorbed in simply trying to sing the song correctly that they are not primarily hearing the truth and praise that is coming out of their own mouths. My own personal experience confirms this last point. There have been many times when I was trying to sing a song that I was unfamiliar with and at the end of the song had no idea of the truth I had just been singing.

A few final thoughts. Singing is not the only form of worship. We should strive to avoid putting a dichotomy between the singing portion of our service and the preaching portion of our service (or any other portion, for that matter). Both are acts of worship. Also, I am not suggesting that the “Worship Pastor” is the only pastor who leads in worship during the service. I’m just trying to use convenient nomenclature. There should be at least one Worship Pastor who reads this post, and he should feel free to interact, challenge, and correct me on these ideas.

Jason

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