13 Differences Between a Lead Musician and a Worship Pastor (Repost)

Zac HicksWorship and Pastoral MinistryLeave a Comment

Five years ago around this time, this blog started with the goal of encouraging theological reflection, biblical depth, historical engagement, and cultural relevance in worship and worship leading. It has gained a steady readership, especially in the last two years, and I want to re-introduce new readers to important old content that has the ability to get lost unless you happen upon it via Google or search posts by topic. Throughout this year, I will offer reposts of what I believe are the more significant articles written in the last five years.

This post struck an immediate chord with its readers and traveled farther than most. I have conversation after conversation with the young, aspiring worship leader who wants something more than rock stardom out of their job. They want to engage their role pastorally. This is a 10,000 foot view of that reality.


A sister church of ours recently gave me the privilege of coming out and speaking to their Wednesday night group about the differences between a “lead musician” and a “worship pastor.”  They are looking to formulate a job description and begin searching for a new person for this position, and they are wanting to shift models from the former to the latter.  Of course, I fleshed out the notes below in great detail with a lot of explanation and first-hand stories, but I still think the bullet-points are valuable, even if they are not quite complete.

Many churches have lead musicians.  They know how to rehearse a band or choir.  They know how to draw up music in Finale and Sibelius.  They know “music-speak.”  They can confidently stand in front of people with a commanding presence, either with their voice or with an instrument.  He or she is a good musician and a coordinator of musicians.  He or she also usually believes in and loves Jesus.  In short, their assumption (which may be validated by their job description) is that they get paid to make sure things are artistically and musically satisfactory on Sundays and at other important events. 

A Worship Pastor should be all of the above and much, much more.  A Worship Pastor…

1) Is equipped in and engages in aspects of classical pastoral duties, either formally or informally—visitation, preaching/teaching, catechizing.

2) Views the worship service—music, preaching, prayer, sacraments, etc.—as an integral whole, and he or she therefore works with others in leading and facilitating all those elements.

3) Strikes a balance between comforting (a pastoral role) and challenging toward growth (a prophetic role).

4) Views their musicians as a form of a small group, and sees the musician-base as a potential mission field.

5) Is deeply committed to the church and its purity and peace.

6) Plans worship services like a “spiritual dietician.”

7) Engages conflict pastorally (rather than in a defensive, reactionary manner).

8) Is sensitive to those who feel disenfranchised and alienated in worship.

9) Is strong enough in the Gospel to receive criticism and engage in honest, constructive dialogue.

10) Is open when it comes to authority and decision-making.  He or she is a team-player, is willing to submit himself or herself to their (sometimes fellow) pastors, elders, bishops, etc., and believes in the wisdom of the plurality.

11) Is not only a musician, but a theologian and a student of the Bible.

12) Thinks about how worship shapes people into the image and likeness of Christ.

13) Thinks theologically about worship, from song-selection to worship’s purpose(s).

These points aren’t exhaustive, but they cover a lot.  I am convinced that the church needs more Worship Pastors.  It’s not that there is no place for a lead musician to have a primary role in the musical leadership of the church, but I wonder whether there are too many lead musicians out there with little pastoral oversight and vision.  Do Worship Pastors need formal theological training?  Not necessarily.  But they need the heart of a pastor and a willingness to think and study up along the same lines as someone who is formally trained.

What else would you add to this list and discussion? 

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