A New Kind of Worship Leader: Why the Doxology & Theology Conference Encourages Me

Zac HicksHistory of Worship and Church Music2 Comments

For the past three years, this blog has been dedicated to (among a handful of other things) encouraging and heralding the turning of the tide of evangelical modern worship.  The first decade of the new millennium was the season of sowing, and I believe that this decade will be the season of sprouting (and maybe some reaping).  The overwhelming age demographic at the Doxology & Theology conference last week in Frisco, TX was twenty- and early thirty-somethings. 

Throughout the times of worship, the keynote lectures/sermons, and the breakout sessions, three emphases kept rolling out again and again:

  • The worship leader is a pastor (or performing a pastoral function)
  • The worship leader is a lover of Christ and His gospel, first and foremost
  • The worship leader is a student of the Scriptures

Notice two things.  First, this was very much a modern worship conference, stylistically speaking.  All the headlining worship bands were in-your-face, Gretsch-plus-pedal-board-weilding, kick-and-tom-pounding, rock leaders.  At one time, while Mark Dever was being interviewed by Matt Boswell, Dever mentioned his church’s organ, and Boswell jokingly paused to explain to the crowd what an organ was [laughter].  Dever followed up by pointing to one of the rock keyboards on stage, quipping, “It’s a keyboard with pipes” [lots of laughter]. The second thing to notice, though, is that the above three emphases have nothing to do with musical style.  This could very well be a first for a sizeable (there were around 400 people in attendance), industry-sponsored modern worship conference.  Style was very secondary, maybe even tertiary.  There were no breakout sessions on sound, lights, or how to improve your electric guitar tone.  Preeminent were the qualifications, heart, and theological zeal of the worship leader.  (Wow.)  These observations are corroborated by the handful of conversations I had with young worship leaders I met, as I heard what impacted them most about the conference.  Of the many folks I talked to, nearly all were wide-eyed about the weight of their role, and they were eager to wrap their hearts around a biblical vision of what they do as worship leaders.

What we’re seeing is a new group of worship leaders come of age who are dissatisfied with the model they’ve been given by their modern worship forbears.  We’re seeing a sloughing off of some values associated with the modern worship ethos and a reclaiming of other ones in their place.  And in ten years, many of the folks at this conference, I suspect, will be the movers and shakers in modern worship, at least within the sphere of mainstream conservative evangelicalism.

Historians always caution against making big historical observations from a temporally proximate position.  The distance of time opens up some of the best vantage points.  Ignoring that important observation, I still believe that what we’ve seen over the last decade comes awfully close to a bona fide shift of values in modern worship and that the Doxology & Theology conference can be looked at as a point-in-time marker—maybe even a hinge.  Of course the industry rolls on.  Of course the mainstream modern worship bandwagon and events like the National Worship Leader Conference will continue to be heavily attended and populated.  But something’s happening, and I praise God for it.  

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