Dear Worship Leader,
You have an extradordinary job with high stakes and grand opportunities. You aren’t just a song leader. You aren’t just a lead musician. Your setlists aren’t just an inspiring medley of well-glued songs. You aren’t merely on a stage, and those people out there aren’t merely the audience. They are Christ’s Bride, God’s Beloved, gathered in from the four corners of the world that they might be reclaimed, re-aimed by and toward the Author and Perfector of their faith. They are disciples, followers. What you do and how you lead have a direct and formative impact on the faith-journey of the people of God. In short, whether you know it or not, you are pastoring them.
Each and every week, you are helping people answer the question, “How do I approach God?” You may not realize this, but every worship service, every song set, subconsciously but faithfully trains people on how human beings connect with God. How do we access God? How do we enter into His presence? How do we approach Him? Do we approach Him with joy? Do we approach Him with reverence and awe? Do we approach Him on our merit or Christ’s? Whether consciously or unconsciously, you are answering this line of questioning for the people of God every week, and in doing so, you are informing and shaping the very core of their faith by answering the question of how their relationship with God is forged and maintained. And faith-shaping is pastoral work. Ready or not, you’re a pastor.
Each and every week, you put words into people’s mouths which become the language they will use to relate to God the other six days of the week. People should be reading their Bibles regularly. People should be in ongoing, formative relationships with other Christians. And these things inform and shape the way they talk to God, relate to God. These things fill up their “spiritual glossary” of words, phrases, and ideas…all of which become the language of their faith. But, the reality is some, if not many, Christians aren’t availing themselves of these blessings. The reality is the words of the songs you chose function as the people of God’s primary dictionary-builder. What are those words? Are they deep enough, broad enough? Do they give sufficient language to withstand the broad spectrum of life-experiences–joy, blessing, trust, suffering, discord, doubt? The worship songs, being the corporate prayers of the Church that week, teach the people how to express their private prayers. Prayer-shaping is pastoral work. Ready or not, you’re a pastor.
Each and every week, you shape the theology of the people who gather. Your songs don’t just inspire; they teach. They help people answer fundamental faith-questions like: Who is God? What is He like? Who am I? How do I look at this world? What is God’s agenda for the world…for me? In short, your songs shape people’s theology. If all the Church had were the worship songs you led (which isn’t far from reality), what would they know about God? Would they know He is Triune? Would they know He is sovereign? Would they know He is holy, all-powerful, all-knowing? Would they know His name is Love? And if all the Church had were the worship songs you led, what would they know about themselves? Would they know that they are made in God’s image? Would they know that they are sinners, fallen from grace? Would they know that they are dearly bought, highly esteemed because of the merits of Another? Would they know that they are called to be a people on mission? Or is their understanding of God and themselves bland, generic, and nebulous? Teaching theology is pastoral work. Ready or not, you’re a pastor.
Each and every week, you are informing people’s knowledge of what mediation between God and humanity looks like. Weekly, you are answering for God’s people a fundamental human question: How am I ushered into God’s presence rightly? Your actions and leadership (not merely your songs) answer this. Do you believe that you usher people into God’s presence? Do you believe that it’s your job to, as some say, “lead people to the throne room?” If so, you have bought into the lie that you mediate God’s presence. And your actions will begin to show it. You will feel the burden of trying to get people “there.” You will feel pressure to create “that moment” when the veil is torn and the heavens come down. And when you stand there, center-stage, and the people are looking to you for that assistance, you are teaching them that you are the mediator between God and humanity. Yikes. But we know that our job isn’t to broker the deal between God and His people. That’s Jesus’ job. So our job description changes, then. We don’t usher people into God’s presence, but we stubbornly, insistantly point to the One who does. Worship leader, do your leadership, countenance, prayers, and song-selection point people to the one Mediator between God and humanity? Or do you say, “Look at me; I’ll lead you there!” You see, a pastor’s principle job is to point people to Jesus. Ready or not, you’re a pastor.
Each and every week, you are looked up to as an example and leader. You have a sphere of immediate influence. In a small church, it is probably the whole church. In a medium or large church, it is probably the circles of other leaders and members you work with. By virtue of the fact that you stand in front of people and lead them in God’s holy worship, there is conferred on you, whether you like it or not, a status of leader. People watch your life. People look at how you conduct yourself. They see how you live when you succeed. And they see where you go when you fail. They look to you for answers when they’re hurting. In short, they confer on you certain pastoral traits–mentor, guide, leader. Do you undersand this? When you exit that stage, do you view the Church more as your fans or Christ’s disciples? All disciples of Christ look to mentors and leaders ahead of them to lead them, pastor them, and help them grow. Because you regularly stand in front of people, you are one of those people. Ready or not, you’re a pastor.
You see, as you sit each week and plan your selections, transitions, prayers, and setlists, you are engaging in pastoral work, whether you like it or not. You can’t get away with thinking too simply or too lowly about your call of duty. It’s a high one. So take a deep breath, then take some inventory. Ask important questions of why you’re in the role you’re in and how you’ve been led there. If this post is an awakening, consider it a grand moment of choice. Are you called to this? If you feel ill-equipped and unqualified, don’t take that as a sign you’re not called. God is in the business of pouring Himself out through weak vessels. Partner with your lead pastor or other worship pastors in the area, and begin the journey anew! God will give grace for the journey and He’s certainly capable of covering up your deficiencies. But please don’t waffle any longer in the self-deception that the pastoral work is all being done by the actual folks with “pastor” in their title. You may not have that heading on your business card, and you may not want it, but that doesn’t change the fact that your work is inherently pastoral. And the people of God need you to understand that.