We live in a culture that idolizes musical talent. Maybe the most obvious example is American Idol — a show dedicated to discovering and then promoting musical talent. The name says it all, doesn't it? There isn’t anything inherently wrong with enjoying and celebrating musical talent — in fact, the Lord approves of it (i.e. 1 Chronicles 25:6-7). But in a culture obsessed with pop stars, there is a danger that can easily creep into the church: prizing musical skill and charisma over Biblical, pastoral leadership.
Don’t get me wrong — musical skill is a necessary ingredient to a great worship leader. The Bible is full of references to skilled musicianship (i.e. Psalm 33:3, 1 Chronicles 15:22, 1 Samuel 16:16). The danger is to confuse musical giftedness with what really matters in a worship leader: theological conviction and a humble, pastoral heart.
Apart from the preacher, there is probably no one in your church with more opportunity to influence the congregation than the worship leader. Many congregants won’t be able to tell you the names of their lay elders, but you can bet they’ll know the name of their worship leader, if for no other reason than the “air-time” a worship leader gets in a weekend service.
This highlights the need for worship leaders who lead pastorally, which means at minimum a worship leader must:
1) Sing theologically rich songs — For thousands of years, music has served the purpose of reminding God’s people who He is and what He has done. We must sing songs worth singing: Scripturally-based, gospel-saturated, Christ-exalting songs (Ephesians 5:19). Ambiguous, weightless songs with a good melody are fun to listen to, but have no place in congregational singing.
2) Know and care for the sheep — Jesus is our best example of a shepherd leader, and He knew His sheep (John 10:14). While this responsibility is primarily an elder function, worship leaders should seek to know the sheep. Hanging out in the green room until the service starts doesn’t build trust with those you lead. We must grow in love for the sheep: know their needs, fears and joys so that we can minister to them through music.
3) Cultivate personal worship — Effective, loving leadership always flows from a heart that finds its satisfaction in Jesus. A gifted musician with a shallow devotion to the Lord Jesus might make a pretty noise, but he won’t lead anyone anywhere. But a pastoral worship leader will lead from a place of personal communion with God, speaking of what he has seen and heard (Acts 4:20).
In a culture of musical idolatry, may our churches be intent on valuing skillful worship leaders who lead pastorally for the glory of God alone and the spiritual benefit of God’s people.
Ben Haley serves as a Pastor at Calvary Church in Englewood, Colorado. He loves the Gospel, his family, the mountains, and food.