Why Worship Leaders Should Have a Philosophy of Preaching

Zac HicksWorship and Pastoral Ministry, Worship Resources, Worship Theology & ThoughtLeave a Comment

“John Chrysostom Preaching in Constantinople,” by Ambrose DudleyWhether or not a worship leader is a recognized and “formal” pastor in their local context, worship leaders, by virtue of what they do, perform and fulfill a pastoral function.  In other words, planning and leading worship is intrinsically pastoral.  Whether you like it or not, if you are a worship leader, people are spiritually formed (for good or ill) by the content and form of the worship services you craft and lead. 

Preaching is (rightfully) the domain of the ordained (whether formally or informally), called pastor of a local congregation.  But sometimes that reality makes the worship leader believe that they don’t need to worry about preaching at all.  I would encourage worship leaders to revisit how they think about preaching, whether or not they ever preach a sermon or speak into their preaching pastor’s sermon preparation and execution.  Here’s why:

First, sermons are not stand-alone, isolated “happenings” in a worship service. 

They function as a part (albeit an important one) of the worship service as a whole.  A sermon functions within the flow of the service’s greater story.

Second, sermons are acts of worship. 

Through Christ and by the Spirit, the one delivering the Word of God is engaging in an act of worship, and the ones receiving that Word are worshiping through their attentive listening.  We should cease any notion that we first have “a time of worship” and then the sermon.  That betrays a truncated view of what worship is (usually people saying that equate worship with just congregational music, failing to realize that our prayers, special offerings, receiving the Lord’s Supper, baptisms, scripture readings, and other elements are all worship, too), and it often overly inflates the role of music to near sacramental status.

Third, a worship leader should be actively concerned with how the entire service shapes the people of God from beginning to end. 

You aren’t just concerned with the musical portion of a service.  You’re thinking through how elements progress up to the sermon and leading out of the sermon. 

Fourth, different philosophies of preaching reveal differing (and sometimes competing) ideas of what a sermon is and does. 

Is a sermon primarily pedagogical?  Is its foremost purpose to cause people to know the Bible better?  Is it an exegetical lecture?  A verbal commentary?  Is its purpose to equip people to “live Christianly”?  Is it a motivational talk?  Is it a time of communal story-telling?  Is it replaceable?  Expendable?  How a worship leader answers these questions determines how they see the sermon fitting into the larger context of the worship service.  Just to tip my hand, and as a model for one option on a philosophy of preaching, I believe that sermons exist to reveal Christ to the people of God (and to the world), causing the Church to “worship on the spot,” resulting in change, growth, and mission.  The preached word becomes the pathway on which the Living Word comes to His Bride, and the Bride responds with greater amazement and adoration of her husband.  In short, the sermon is both an act of and catalyst for worship.  A worship leader who gets this knows that part of his or her job is to encourage the people of God to grasp and engage this at deeper and deeper levels.  What the worship leader believes about the sermon becomes especially evident in what they say and do just after the sermon, leading into any other elements to follow.  (Think about that for a while.)

Fifth, a worship leader’s philosophy of preaching affects service planning. 

For instance, if the sermon is the pinnacle of a worship service, then a worship leader should plan sermon-centric services, with all the songs, prayers, and words leading and pointing to that end.  However, if the sermon is a (necessary) part of the narrative of a service but not necessarily its pinnacle, a worship leader thinks differently about the structure and flow of what come before and after.  Under the latter model, a worship leader thinks more like a story-teller than a thematic producer. 

Where to go from here

If you find the above reasons compelling, what are some next steps in honing in on a philosophy of preaching?  First, I’d encourage you to have a conversation with the (other) pastor(s) you work with.  Hammer out a philosophy together, or seek to understand the philosophy already implicitly or explicitly in place.  Second, I’d be happy to recommend a few resources and individuals who have shaped my own philosophy:

  • Tim Keller & Ed Clowney, “Preaching Christ in a Postmodern World” – a FREE seminary course on iTunes U; this truly changed everything for me
  • Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preachers and Preaching – robust, compelling philosophy of what preaching is and does, heavily influenced by the Puritan stream of Christian thought
  • Karl Barth on the “three fold Word of God” – this can get a little hairy for conservative evangelicals, and I don’t subscribe to everything Barth upholds, but I have found his understanding of Christology eye-opening when it comes to the biblical understanding of the logos as it relates to preaching; you can read more about it in the first book of his massive Church Dogmatics
  • Michael Horton’s writing on preaching – here is a good online starting place
  • The early church fathers – interestingly, all the above-mentioned folks trace their theology back to Calvin, who was simultaneously a serious student of Scripture and steeped in the writings and thought of the early church fathers; their philosophy of preaching, especially evident in the way they preached the Bible, has been (quite recently for me) influential in my thinking

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