There are few positions in the local church that can be more confusing to figure out than the worship leader/dude/guy/servant.
Who is the worship leader supposed to be? Is the position merely about singing songs? Should the person in charge give mini-sermonettes? In a good number of churches, the person who leads music operates in limbo. Half rock-star, half-minister, the worship leader doesn’t know exactly where he stands, and the church isn’t quite sure what to think about him. Where this kind of confusion exists, a solution is needed.
I propose a solution: churches, promote your worship leader.
Worship Leaders as Pastors
For a variety of reasons, the worship leader is not viewed as a pastor in a good number of churches. I believe this is a mistake. Leading in worship is not simply a matter of hitting notes and reading music. It is a form of congregational shepherding. It sets the tone for a sacred weekly moment, in which the body of Christ in its local expression joins together to drink deeply from the well of God’s Word.
Congregational music is intimately connected in the apostolic mind with being “filled” with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18). When we’re singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, we’re praising God out of the overflow. The one who leads us in this holy task is not simply a musical director. This person sets the tone, shepherds us through the liturgy of the service, and lifts our eyes to God, readying us for the ministry of proclamation through the sermon.
This means that worship leaders are pastors. They are not half-pastors. They are not deacons. They are shepherds, and their primary medium of shepherding is song. Think about what this means in aesthetic terms. God, who is himself beauty, desires that his people experience the sensory and emotional delight of music devoted to him. God, you could say, is the ultimate aesthete. He wants his people to experience the pleasure of theocentric aesthetics, and so it is right that churches appoint a pastor to lead the people into this joyful experience.
Too Many Worship Leaders Are Languishing
It is my sense, however, that some churches don’t know what to do with their worship guy/leader/director. In some cases, this is understandable. There aren’t always a ton of musically inclined people in our evangelical congregations. This is increasingly true in part because beautiful music has fallen on hard times in our context. Most people frankly aren’t interested in the Western aesthetic tradition. They have no ear for complex and rich musical productions. The church, writ large, doesn’t take the arts super-seriously.
But that is a boondoggle for another day. A bigger challenge is that some churches have not recognized that their worship leader is languishing. Where this is true, a few possible outcomes present themselves.
1. Make the music leader a music leader alone. The role is not a shepherding or teaching role. This move may be best when there isn’t a good candidate for promotion.
2. Promote your worship person to a pastoral role. This, in my view, is an ideal outcome. There’s no role in Scripture for “ecclesial rock star.” Biblical polity promotes precisely two roles in the church: deacon and elder. Elders are pastors. They shepherd the flock. They teach the body in different ways.
This is the direction that Southern Seminary, my employer, has gone (see this Baptist Press report). The worship program here trains men to pastor the flock as worship leaders. I think this is precisely the right way to go for churches who have a qualified candidate. Don’t leave the poor worship guy–and the congregation–stranded. Train up your worship leader in the Word. Mentor him. Then unleash him to pastor the flock.
I bet, in many cases, you’ll see him step up and own the role in a way he previously has not.
Ministry Leaders Should Be Pastors
In general, this principle is a sound one: if a man is doing significant ministry in the body and has teaching gifts, and if he meets the elder requirements of 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, then make him an elder. Don’t leave him in congregational no-mans-land, stranded somewhere between “Eternal Intern” and “Full-fledged Pastor.” Promote him.
This isn’t only true for worship leaders. It’s true for college ministry leaders, Sunday School teachers, and the like. The church must carefully appoint elders. But eldership, as I’ve heard Mark Dever say, shouldn’t be like hitting the lottery. In a healthy, Word-driven church, our expectation should be that elders are developed, recognized, and enfranchised.
I know of a good number of evangelical churches where pastors are not elders. This, in my view, is not healthy. The New Testament offers us a beautiful simplicity when it comes to church leaders. There are elder-pastors, and there are deacons. It’s not wrong to add staff positions–administrative assistants, interns, and the like–but our churches should be focused on filling these two God-appointed roles in the body.
It’s frankly weird how often evangelicals consider scriptural polity, shrug their shoulders, and then say, “Hey, the Bible is great–but I’ve got an even better idea for how we could structure this church!” In my own work in Christ’s name, I’m trying to do my very insignificant part to push against this all-too-common instinct. Instead of creating half-elders and unenfranchised ministry workers, let’s focus on developing pastors. Let’s remind the men in our churches that 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 aren’t only benchmarks by which to consider elder candidates, but are standards of godly manhood to which all men should aspire.
Churches, Promote Your Worship Dude
It’s not always possible, as I’ve said, to make the music leader a pastor of the church. If that’s not doable, then churches shouldn’t feel pressure to do so. Smaller churches in particular will face this challenge.
But I don’t really have that kind of situation in mind. I am aiming at settings in which the worship leader is either a rock star who sings worship songs or an enfeebled note-singer afraid to step on toes. The worship leader is really going to flourish when he is invested in the congregation’s life as a shepherd. He’ll feel free to set the tone for the weekly service, to not only sing with his whole heart but share verses and biblical wisdom that draws the heart of the gathered body to God.
Let’s not be scared of our worship leaders. Let’s not leave them out in the cold. Let’s not make them half-pastors who do half-ministry in the body.
Let’s promote them and in truth unleash them to fuel the aesthetic, emotive, and theological appetite of the church for its God.