The Worship Leader’s Central Musical Task: Build Up the Body

Zac HicksWorship and Pastoral MinistryLeave a Comment

My time at the Doxology and Theology Conference two weeks ago was rich and filling. My team and I were inspired by the messages, leaders, conversations, and camaraderie. In many ways, I felt my vocation come full circle, especially around one man, Harold Best, whose influence on me can’t be overstated. His was the first book on worship and music I’d ever read. This morning, I cracked open Music Through the Eyes of Faith (my version is the sweet “vintage” edition with the dated fonts and 80s haircuts on the cover), and I scanned through the markings of the 19- or 20-year-old me and came across this, underlined:

When a Christian musician goes about making music, the concept of the community/body should drive every note and every moment in which every note is heard. And the only object for every Christian musician is to build the body up into the stature and fulllness of its head, Jesus Christ.*

Could it be that this vision rings just as true today as it did when it was published over two decades ago? Maybe even more true? This statement is clarifying and crystalizing. It cuts through the sea of “tips of the trade” found in books, posts, seminars, and workshops. 

Pastoring Through Music

This little statement says many things (even beyond the Christian musician’s task in the worship service), but what should not be missed is that the worship leader’s job, when it comes to music, is first and foremost a pastoral one. The objective, for music in worship, is ultimately not great art or flawless production (as important as those things are to strive for), but formed disciples. If this is true, then a bunch of dominoes fall from this first push, and we then must have an ordered set of priorities. Though I won’t answer the questions here, what follows are the types of questions one begins to ask when one thinks of music-making and music-leading as a pastoral enterprise:

  • How shall our music serve the emotional maturity of our congregations?
  • What is the relationship of congregational music to its texts?
  • Is there a place for instrumental, presentational, or “performance” music in a worship service, and if so, what is its function?
  • If “building up” is part of a spectrum of both challenging people and comforting them, how can music serve that vision?
  • How much should the music feel familiar and cultural versus different and other-worldly in any given context, and how might that balance/tension be a part of disciple-making?
  • How does music assist the end game of pointing to and exalting the body’s Head, Jesus Christ?

How the Pastoral Objective Covers a Multitude of Sins

Yesterday at Coral Ridge, I was blessed yet again to sit under the preaching of my favorite elder statesman of all things grace-filled and Jesus-saturated, Steve Brown. He reminded me of this simple yet profound statement of the apostle Peter (1 Peter 4:8):

 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.

Now, our temptation with verses like these is to jump through several theological hoops when we read the words, “covers a multitude of sins.” We want to go to Jesus, the cross, and atonement. And we should. It’s there. But before we arrive at Calvary, Peter would have us stay a while in the nebulous, messy reality of Christian community. By “covers a multitude of sins,” Peter means more than that our sins are forgiven and “covered” (a Greek word with Hebrew atonement-overtones, for sure). He means that when we put loving others at the top of the playbook, we avoid several lesser skirmishes that often plague a church’s body-life, and we start to get at, I think, what Best is implying about the objective of our music-making.

In short, if in my music-making as a worship leader, I am aiming at loving God’s people, I will avoid a whole host of pitfalls, dangers, snares, and landmines that often plague the worship leader’s life and labor. When love becomes the overwhelming aroma in a church, it really has the power to cover up the lesser smells, which aren’t gone, but overpowered. 

Congregants can tell the difference between a worship leader who leads out of self-love versus one who leads out of church-love. And when they do, they’re just flat-out more tolerant, forgiving, and forgetful of all the big and small mistakes you and I make. 

So, music-leaders, consider what you do as a dietician considers meal planning for their clients. Plan and lead so as to build a healthy, strong, functioning, high-capacity spiritual body, and love the mess out of them!

*Harold Best, Music Through the Eyes of Faith (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1993), 36.

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