The Difference Between a Lead Musician and a Worship Pastor

Zac HicksWorship Leading Tips, Worship Theology & Thought24 Comments

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? 

24 Comments on “The Difference Between a Lead Musician and a Worship Pastor”

  1. Zac,

    You post resonates with me. As a young guy in worship ministry I would also add that a worship pastor needs to have mentors from inside his/her church, outside his/her church, and also, that which is lacking the most, older mentors in the worship field to teach and train in the specific discipline of worship pastoring.

  2. Zac –

    Excellent article. This articulates quite a bit of what Ive been trying to figure out for myself over the last two years. For almost a decade I was a "Worship leader" but not the main guy – just part of a worship band. I loved it and was dedicated to it and felt the Lord use me and change me in that role.

    Ive lived overseas for almost 3 years and the lack of talented musicians on the mission field means that Im teh de facto "Worship Leader" – I've tried to explain to the group that I hate being the worship leader and that it takes a lot of work – work that I dont necessarily have time to do because of balancing 2 jobs and a full time ministry… plus freak'n living in a culture that isnt my own. I feel strongly that if I didnt hae the time to do these things I shouldn't be the called upon worship leader… because I DO take all the mentioned aspect of a worship leader very seriously.

    Ive tried to go through theological studies w/ the group on worship and an appropriate understanding and approach to worship with no real progress.

    This put me in a position of having to give up the role completely because I feel ill-equiped for it… but in their eyes I'm simply a talented musician who should give his gifts to the body.

    It's been quite a journey for me and I really appreciate seeing these thoughts and thinking through them – they very much resonate with me


  3. Well thought out: arises from both a heart and mind sensitive to the Word, God's Spirit, and God's people. Thanks. I'll be passing this on.

  4. As someone who has hired many a Christian musician and seen a lot in Nashville in the area of worship I highly commend you on this list and count it a real blessing that the leader at my church has these qualities and more.

    Care to make one of these lists for pastors?

  5. Zac, I agree with you 100%. The church definitely needs more worship pastors. Funny thing is our schools are more designed to raise up lead musicians than worship pastors.

    You may have touched on this, but worship pastors are more concerned with the worshiping heart of the church rather than just excellent services.

  6. God can speak through anyone willing to lead especially if the goal is to lead people to worship, revere and praise a holy God. My dad had no formal training and led music for over 40 yrs. I HATE seeing and experiencing "worship wars" ! Sometimes it is caused from lack of direction and lack of heart, spiritually. Some people lead as a performance, which is not in my comfort area OR how I view what worship should be. Music selection can and should be theologically and biblically sound. There should be a mix reflecting God's creation. Quiet, Peaceful, Abundant Praise, Glory, Holiness, Giving, Thanks, and sometimes Silence. "Be Still and Know that I am God!" and a passage I think of when it comes to worship is Isaiah 6:1-8. Many churches where I have attended taught Music from preschool on up. Public education has cut Music programs, so many people "learn" their music education from MTV…not the most Godly source.
    A good written help is Lovelace and Rice's book, Music and Worship in the Church. It may be out of print but is still available.

  7. you are so far off it's not even funny. just what the church needs, more qualifications and segregation. last time i checked, the bible was full of God using the least qualified individuals for his glory. you need to rethink where you're coming from with this..

  8. I agree completely. In my college experience, the professors think of music jobs in churches as great opportunities for money. They promote it that way rather than it being your calling and having to be a Christian to do it. It's like getting the same amount of money as someone and doing half the work at the same job. Or in this case, more than half the work going by your list.

  9. I agree with nearly everything you said and I pray more churches will follow the worship leader model you propose. However I would challenge you on one area: the role of pastor/teacher in the church is clearly laid out in Scripture as the responsibility of men. How can women fit in this model when the whole of Scripture is considered?

  10. Sounds like j- courageous as she/he is without signing a name- needs to read a) the post more clearly- zac explicitly addressed theological training and b) 1 Timothy 3- the bible has qualifications for church leaders. Don't brandish the bible unless you make direct support. Your divisiveness exemplifies the very thing you decry.

  11. We are in the middle of a transition like the one you've described and I've been looking for the words that would explain how I was feeling God leading us for the future. Your description of the difference hit our situation in many ways. I believe that a church that is interested in moving forward will need to look at these qualifications and step into a new way of understanding worship, worship leading and the heart of the worshippers. Thank you!
    Shine On!

  12. I like where you're coming from Zac. I think God deserves excellence. The stakes are high. I'm the worship arts coordinator at our church. I'm not a musician, but have been asked to oversee and protect the weekly worship – all elements including songs, series', and other elements. Although I'm not a musician, I do feel God has gifted me with creative artistic abilities. I design things. I manage the teams. Ultimately our goal is to strive for excellence in all we do. If we do things "halfway," then we are not honoring the one who created all things.

  13. Thank you for this. Great post. I am going to be interning with School of Worship in Garden Valley, TX and this post of yours definitely aided in equipping me and it definitely brought a lot of clarity to my role as a worshiper.

  14. Interesting article. I wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that when I was in Seminary (SWBTS) that "preachers" and "educators" couldn't just take any course in the School of Church Music. They had to take "Introduction to Church Music", but I could take any course in the School of Theology or Education that was available?

    Sure, you need to be an excellent musician, but you also need some theological education. Music in our schools and music in our churches are two different things.

  15. Ok, for the most part I agree with most of what he said except for 1) Is equipped in and engages in classical pastoral duties, either formally or informally—visitation, preaching/teaching, catechizing.Romans 12 6-8 1 cor 12 4-14 and 28-30. All the verses talk about different spititual gifts. What Zac is talking about here is that if you are called to be a music pastor you must then be called to have these gifts. Paul says that not everyone will have these gifts but that it will be spread out through the whol body of beilevers. If we adopt this kind of thinking we start to think that it is only the pastors job to do all these things because they are the ones with the "title" and we forget that it is the bodys job to discover what Gift God has given each person and then to use that gift for his kingdom. Just my thought…

  16. Pat,

    You've made a valid point. I wouldn't want the post to insinuate that such "classical pastoral duties" are restricted to ordained/called clergy. That's part of the reason I used the word "classical" rather than just saying "pastoral duties." At the same time, I wouldn't want the post to insinuate that such a worship pastor must engage in all of these duties. The tenor of point (1) was simply to say that their ministry should be characterized in a pastoral manner, represented well by many of the "classical pastoral duties." But, in deference to the good point, you'll notice I've changed the statement from:

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


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

    I think I know where you're coming from (an Alan Hirsch-ish model of ministry, probably), which means you won't be fully satisfied with my interaction and slight change. Still, I appreciate your point and hope others will read the comment thread to see the interaction.


  17. Zac,
    I loved this post. I especially appreciated the words you have for understanding the worship service as an integral whole, and for thinking theologically about every aspect of the service. This post relates very well to one of my recent posts. I'm going to put the link here. It's called "True and Proper Worship." I'd love to hear what you think. We should trade notes. I recently taught a search committee and deacon body about what Christian worship really is. Our two lessons would probably fit well together.

  18. Zac, Thanks for this, it really resonates with me. Whats the chance of you providing the 'fleshed out notes in great detail with a lot of explanation and first-hand stories' to us??

  19. I like J's comment on the ability of God to use even unschooled men for His noble service. I do, however, very much agree with your approach on he matter- the need for growth as we worship God in our congregations.Music is very central to holistic worship and I would definitely advocate for the need of a worship pastor in any congregation…

  20. Do you have to be part of a church to be a Worship Pastor or would you be considered a Worship Leader.. I ask this because I have a worship ministry that travels and I refer to myself as a Worship Pastor because we are suppose to lead people as Shepards into the Presence of God

  21. Jeb, it sounds like you engage what you do pastorally, so it makes sense to me that the title is appropriate. Some pastors are called to a more itinerant ministry, which, to me, it sounds like you have. Pastor on, brother!

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