In 2008, I suggested in Worship Matters that the title of “worship leader” needed to be defined to be helpful. So I defined it this way:
A faithful worship leader magnifies the greatness of God in Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit by skillfully combining God’s Word with music, thereby motivating the gathered church to proclaim the gospel, to cherish God’s presence and to live for God’s glory.
I still like that definition, but I’m less sure the term “worship leader” is serving us. It’s taken on a life of its own and continues to be associated with stardom, predominance, the spotlight, good looks, hipster-ness and in some cases, the ability to mediate God’s presence. It can refer to someone who leads full-time, part-time or on a volunteer basis.
Most people I talk to fall into the last category. They faithfully serve their church week after week for free or for a small stipend, and are being used by God to lift up the name and glory of Jesus in song. If you’re among that group, I thank God for you.
But an increasing number of musicians have full-time worship ministry in their sights. They hope that one day they’ll be able to make a living playing their instrument, leading people in songs of praise. That’s a great goal. But I’m not sure it’s the best one.
If you believe God’s called and gifted you to serve the church with your music vocationally, I want to suggest that you consider whether God’s calling you to be a pastor as well. A musically gifted pastor. Of course, not every musician who leads congregational singing should or will be a pastor. But if you hope to join a church staff some day, I want to suggest six reasons why preparing to be a pastor who’s also a musician is better than simply aiming to be a worship leader.
1. Your job description is actually in the Bible.
A worship leader might describe someone who plays a guitar on Sundays, a musician with a traveling concert ministry, the person on stage with the loudest voice, anyone in the band, the senior pastor or someone who sings Christian songs. In contrast, God tells us what a pastor is supposed to do. He’s responsible to shepherd God’s people, lead them, teach them, protect them, equip them and be an example to them (1 Pet. 5:1-3). That’s why when I’m asked what a worship leader should study beyond music, one area I suggest is biblical counseling. Leading worship in song is an opportunity to care for people’s souls, to teach them how the gospel addresses their sin, to protect them from the deceptions of the world and to display the heart-transforming glory of Jesus Christ. In other words, to do the work of a pastor. While singing is an emotionally expressive activity, leading congregational singing is a pastoral function before it’s a musical one.