I recently had the privilege of participating in the Cutting It Straight conference in Jacksonville, led by H.B. Charles Jr. and hosted by Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church.
H.B. started this conference, now in its second year, specifically to influence African-American pastors to preach expositionally. I was invited to be part of the worship track. H.B., along with his music pastor, Joe Pace, hopes to see more black churches singing songs that are theologically rich and gospel-centered. Not gospel like “black gospel,” but gospel like “Jesus bore our sins on the cross to purchase our forgiveness” gospel. While our cultural backgrounds are different, we share a passion to see the Word of God proclaimed in song in the power of the Spirit, and to see churches singing songs that enable the word of Christ to dwell in us richly.
For two of the seminars, I was assigned the topic of “What Pastors/Worship Leaders Wish Their Worship Leader/Pastor Knew.” It was a little challenging because pastors and musicians vary widely in terms of their theology and practice. But here’s my attempt to pinpoint “What Pastors Wish Their Worship Leaders Knew.” Although this post highlights areas that might be problematic, pastors should regularly communicate support and evidences of grace in their worship leader before pointing out things that could be better. For the sake of this post, I’m using the term “worship leader” to describe a non-elder who leads the music during the gatherings of the church.
1. Pastors, not worship leaders, will give an account to God for the people in their church (Heb. 13:17).
Pastors are ultimately responsible for the teaching and song diet of the church.
Pastors should know in advance what songs will be sung, and should play a part in choosing them.
If you want a pastor’s trust, you’ll have to earn it.
2. God’s Word to us matters more than our words to God (Is. 66:2; Ps. 19:7-11).
Music ministry is Word ministry.
Don’t underestimate the value of proclaiming God’s Word passionately.
Seek to know your Bible better than your instrument.
Lead us to sing the Word, hear the Word, see the Word and pray the Word.
3. We are what we sing. Therefore, choose our songs and lyrics wisely (Col. 3:16).
You are discipling the congregation through your song choices and words.
For better or worse, our churches will remember more words from our songs they sing than from the sermons they hear.
Build a repertoire of songs that enable us to express the many varied aspects of God’s glory and the many appropriate responses, and make sure we’re singing them.
4. While song introductions can be helpful, the worship leader is not the preacher.
Your primary role is to enable the word of Christ to dwell in us as we sing, not to preach.
When speaking, typically less is more.
Choose good songs, and let the songs do the teaching.
5. Prayers are corporate conversations with God, not filler.
Don’t pray simply because you feel awkward or don’t know what else to do.
Use your prayers to speak for the congregation, not just yourself.
Model what theologically informed, engaged, Christ-exalting prayer looks like.
Don’t mix up the members of the Trinity, and don’t pray as though God has forgotten his name.
6. Your job is to support congregational singing, not overwhelm or replace it (Eph. 5:18-19; Rev. 5:9-10).
Make sure your sound man knows the value of the congregation’s voice.
If you constantly sing harmony, some of us will have a hard time knowing what the melody is.
Don’t assume your instrumentalists have to play constantly.
Pull back from your vocal mics sometimes, stop playing your instruments and let us sing a cappella.
7. Truth matters more than tunes, but that doesn’t mean we should sing great theology to bad melodies or accompaniment.
Choose songs the congregation enjoys singing and can sing.
Occasionally try changing the arrangement, tempo or feel of a song so the congregation can hear the lyrics in a fresh way.
8. Keys that serve the congregation take priority over keys that make you sound good (Phil. 2:3-4).
We don’t come primarily to listen to you sing, but to lift up our own voices.
If you have to sing higher, try occasionally adding fills that heighten the impact and meaning of the lyrics we’re singing.
Congregations get weary if they have to sing a lot of high Ds and Es. If we’re singing F#s they’ll probably drop an octave or faint.
9. Don’t teach us so many new songs that we never learn them and so few new songs that we fail to benefit from them.
Learning about two songs every three months is doable. Learning four songs a month isn’t.
We have access to more songs more immediately than any time in history. Teach us the ones that we will feed our souls for more than a few weeks.
If your aim is to serve us, you won’t have to try to impress us.
10. Blaming sin on being an artist/musician doesn’t make it any less sinful.
Moodiness, over-sensitivity, procrastination, pride, irresponsibility and laziness aren’t due to having a certain temperament but to indwelling sin.
Getting to know non-musicians in the church can provide perspective and encouragement.
If there’s anything in your life that might hinder or disqualify you from serving in your role, please let me know. I want to help you.
11. Your goal in leading isn’t performing but pastoring and participation.
If the people in the church generally aren’t singing, you’re performing, not leading congregational worship.
Your job isn’t done just because you practiced. People have to actually sing.
Leading with your eyes open most of the time will communicate your care and help you gauge how people are responding.
12. You’re not the Holy Spirit, but you can depend on Him.
Music can’t open the eyes of our hearts, illumine our minds and change our lives. But God’s Spirit can.
You don’t have to tell us to “sing louder” or “sing it like you mean it” or exhort us with “C’mon!” Give us doctrinal fuel for our emotional fire and trust the Spirit will do the rest.
When you spend time in prayer asking God to empower what you do, you’ll lead more often with a humble confidence that is easy to follow.
13. Ultimately, Christ is our worship leader, not me or you (Heb. 2:11-12, 8:1-2).
You don’t have to bring us into the throne room. Christ has already done that (Heb. 10:19-22).
You don’t have to feel pressure or be anxious about leading us. Christ perfects all our offerings (1 Pet. 2:5)!
The more you point us to what Christ has done and is doing for us, the less we’ll see you and the more we’ll benefit from the ways God has gifted you.
If you’re a pastor and identify with some or many of these points, don’t keep it to yourself. More importantly, take your musical leader out for a meal and express your appreciation in specific ways. Then talk about what could be better. Who knows what God might do?
What would you add?