I began leading worship as a young teenager who wanted his youth group to sing. I had fiddled around on the ukulele (Hawaii’s instrument of choice) for a few years, and I was ready to step up my game. My mom had an old nylon string guitar buried in a closet along with a wrinkled sheet of chord shapes. I found some Hope Chapel Hawaii praise songbooks and started plowing my way through them one Saturday morning. Eight hours later, with fingers throbbing, eyes blurry, and brain exhausted, I emerged from my room-turned-woodshed ready to be a worship leader. 🙂
It was only a few years later that I encountered the three books that would put me on a new trajectory. I now look back on the years between ages 18 and 21 as three very pivotal ones because of the paradigm shifts that redirected me toward a general course on which I still find myself sailing as a young thirty-something.
Most young worship leaders are like huge trees with little root structure, as I was. They are full of life, they spread a big canopy, and they look dazzling. They’re brimming with energy, fervor, and potential. But what they often find underdeveloped is the supporting system of tendrils burrowing deep and wide, far underground. When God began fostering in me a desire to love Him with my mind, I began to witness that root structure form, and, in a sense, God “filled out” the emotional, devotional side of my Christian walk with a passion for the life of the mind.
Three books, in particular, summarize much of the paradigm shift I went through as a young, aspiring worship leader. They permanently sit on my bookshelves as old friends, reminding me of tried and true proposals turned convictions. Inasmuch as they were formative to me in my early years as a young worship leader, I commend them to other young and aspiring worship leaders who are looking to whet their intellectual sword.
Some might say that these books aren’t the best books out there on the topics they cover, but they were momentous for me. They hit me with the right message, at the right time, in the right place. I thank God for Moreland, Best, and Sproul.
J. P. Moreland, Love Your God with All Your Mind
This book literally changed my life. It lit a fire under me as a young 18-year-old, and that fire is still burning. In high school, I hated reading. I was (and continue to be) a slow reader, who had to read, re-read, then re-read again just to get it. My comprehension was always low. I sweated those sections of the SAT’s. Love Your God With All Your Mind gave me a passion for the life of the mind by fitting that pursuit into the grand scheme of the Great Commandment and the outflow of devotion to God. It inspired me to think logically and philosophically, and it gave me the rudimentary tools to do so. It not only encouraged me to read, but taught me how, and some of its principles are now hard-wired into my practice (marking up books in the margins, briefly outlining chapter summaries at the top of the chapter’s first page). It nearly instantly transformed my intellectual life from laborious slavery to devotional love. I read this book the summer before I went to college, and it radically altered my college experience and propelled me into a lifestyle of reading and writing.
Harold Best, Music Through the Eyes of Faith
Perhaps this is on here simply because it is the first book on worship that I had ever read, but when I read it, I found it a game-changer. It addressed so many of the front-line philosophical, musical, and theological questions I had as a young worship leader who was encountering planning worship, leading singing, and “dealing with” people in the church. I found it cogent, accessible, inspiring, positive, and challenging. It gave me a framework upon which I could hang many other future ideas, all of which developed into the full-orbed theology and philosophy of worship I now have and continue to hone.
R. C. Sproul, Chosen By God
This book heralded my shift from a generic Arminian, semi-Pelagian outlook to a Calvinistic one. It introduced TULIP to me, and it answered the questions I found most plaguing about the hard-to-swallow Reformed doctrines of grace. This book changed the way I worshiped and led worship. God got infinitely bigger to me, and I started to become smaller in my own eyes–which was a good thing! Sproul lit a passion in me for seeking God’s glory and my disappearance in any future leadership I would have. It gave me confidence in God’s missional enterprise through the broken church, and it introduced me to a whole body of thought–the Reformed tradition of Christianity–which still captivates, fascinates, and invigorates me to this day.
OLDER, MORE SEASONED WORSHIP LEADERS: What have been the books/writings that have impacted you, which are valuable to share with young worship leaders who are just beginning to explore the life of the mind?
Great picks, Zac. "Worship is a Verb" by Robert Webber was formative for me. In terms of Theology, the combo of "Simply Christian" and "Surprised By Hope" by NT Wright have been incredibly formative.
Admittedly not a seasoned worship leader, only 20-something & leading for 2 years. But the two books that made my head spin were Bob Kauflin's Worship Matters and then J.I. Packer's Knowing God. Bob's book was extremely practical for leading worship, but it also baited the hook for the Christian "life of the mind" you talked about. He recommends Packer & Sproul & many others in that book. I'm forever grateful to my pastor for recommending these to me.
"Music Through the Eyes of Faith" was a total game-changer for me. I wish I had read it five years before I finally did.
"Let the Nations Be Glad: The Supremacy of God in Worship" by John Piper, the first Piper book I ever saw, revolutionized the way I looked at worship, at missions, at God; from the now famous opening lines ("Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn't") through the whole first chapter (on worship), a real game changer. Also for many in the world of missions.
"Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace" by James B. Torrance caused another sea change in how I looked at worship, because of his biblical emphasis on Christ as the true Leader of our worship. (I always feel like I have to add a disclaimer about the last chapter; not sure how it got in there.)
"Engaging with God: A Biblical Theology of Worship" by David Peterson. The most thorough and sound treatment of the biblical material on worship. I raised funds and had it translated into Russian, Romanian and Bulgarian.
Meyers, Jeffrey J. The Lord's Service: The Grace of Covenant Renewal Worship. Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2003.
Nevin, John Williamson. The Mystical Presence: A Vindication of the Reformed or Calvinist Doctrine of the Holy Eucharist. New York: Lippencott, 1846.
Chan, Simon. Liturgical Theology: The Church as Worshiping Community.
Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006.
Wainwright, Geoffrey. Doxology: The Praise of God in Worship, Doctrine, and Life.
New York: Oxford University Press, 1980.
Schmemann, Alexander. For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy. 2nd ed.
Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1973.
Kilmartin, Edward J. Christian Liturgy. Kansas City, MO: Sheed and Ward, 1988.
Meyers shows the grounds of Christian worship in Old Testament patterns of covenant renewal and sacrifice more thoroughly than anything I know. His work oriented me to a biblical theology of worship that seeks to draw as fully as possible upon the whole Bible (moving even more fully along the hermeneutical trajectory of many of the church fathers, as chronicled by Jean Danielou's classic work The Bible and the Liturgy). The other works gave me a richly ecumenical vision of the integration of that biblical theology into broader biblical themes of Trinity, Christology, ecclesiology, and mission.
The Reward of Worship was a deep and rich read that was full of truth. It forced me to think about and understand worship in depth.