Home Worship & Creative Leaders Articles for Worship & Creative Dear Worship Pastor: It’s Not About You

Dear Worship Pastor: It’s Not About You

Dear Worship Pastor,

I enjoy praise and worship. I really do. And I appreciate the enormous effort and the talent that goes into excellent worship leadership.

I hesitate to admit the following, because it seems like someone with a theology doctorate ought to be motivated by more cerebral concerns, but a significant (major, but not main) part of why I made Perimeter Church my home church is because I enjoy it so much when Laura Story (whose “Blessings” won a Grammy this past year) leads worship there. That woman has an anointing; that’s the only way I can explain it. I am moved by her voice and her worship leadership.

So this is nothing against contemporary praise and worship music, which I genuinely like. And it’s nothing against worship leaders, most of whom I also like. And, by the way, please don’t bother trying to figure out whom this is aimed toward, because (a) you’re wrong, and (b) it’s not aimed toward anyone in particular.

But it has happened so often over the years that I’ve seen worship leaders fail to lead.

And by fail to lead, I mean, “They went where no one could follow.”

And, after all these years, I thought I’d say something.

Imagine the following scenario. A church service begins, and the music breaks in. The congregation warms up, and the music grows more intense.

Yes, we all know the progression by now — the video “Sunday’s Coming” was so funny because it was so true — and yet the progression is there for a reason. It’s rooted in human nature. You get our attention, hopefully with some praise music not entirely devoid of theological content, and then you gradually press us deeper into more profound surrender to the will of God.

And then it happens.

The worship “leader” raises everything an octave, starts launching off into the musical stratosphere, and suddenly he’s the only one singing.

No one else can sing that high.

So everyone stands there watching. They’re no longer participating in worship together; they’re observing a vocal performance. And those who really want to sing are completely thrown off.

I know, I know. I must be completely immature. A wiser and more gracious Christian would surely find some way to continue in a worshipful manner, perhaps praying the words he cannot sing. And a more musically gifted person might naturally slip down to a lower register that works.

But I find both of those things difficult. So, instead, I find myself stewing. Doesn’t he see that 75 percent of the people in the church just stopped singing? Doesn’t he see some people trying to follow him, hearing their voices crack, and then giving up? Most of the men in particular just stand there feeling awkward until the pitch drops back down and they can join in again.

I want to tell the worship pastor, and so I’m telling you now: If no one’s following, you ain’t leading.

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Timothy Dalrymple was raised in non-denominational evangelical congregations in California. The son and grandson of ministers, as a young boy he spent far too many hours each night staring at the ceiling and pondering the afterlife. The questions he asked then carried him on to a degree with majors in Philosophy and Religious Studies at Stanford University, an M.Div. at Princeton Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D. in Religion at Harvard's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. He has also studied at Oxford and two universities in China, has won multiple fellowships and prizes for his essays and teaching, and has published in several international commentaries on Kierkegaard.