Recently, we caught up with Stephen Miller to talk about his new book Worship Leaders, We Are Not Rock Stars. Stephen is the worship leader alongside pastor Darrin Patrick at The Journey in St Louis. He also travels with his band to lead worship all over the world.
TONY: What made you decide to write the book?
STEPHEN: There have been a ton of changes in the way the church worships over the last few years, and as a result, many churches have begun to look a lot like pop culture – more like rock concerts than worship services. Many people would argue that this in itself is inherently the problem. However, the contextual style of music and production, or the format of the services is not what concerns me as much as the character and qualifications of those leading.
What was once a pastoral role is now usually filled by whoever is the most musically and vocally talented. Along with that often comes the applause of man, which can be very intoxicating and even addicting. I know the struggle of trying to find my worth and identity in my abilities and I think that most worship leaders can identify with that struggle to some degree. So rather than cynically criticizing or aimlessly launching grenades, I wanted to contribute something helpful to the discussion and encourage worship leaders to aspire to something greater.
I wanted it to be for the “everyman” worship leader, not just the academic type, and make it short and conversational so that pastors and their worship leaders, as well as worship leaders and their teams could begin discussions about how they could better strive towards Christ-exalting, Gospel-saturated worship ministry.
TONY: We know what worship leaders do on the platform. What should worship leaders do off the platform?
STEPHEN: In Matthew 6, Jesus warns us of the dangers of public ministry and reminds us that we should be worshiping in private more than worshiping in public, as to be seen by men. If worship leaders are only worshiping from the platform, they should probably stop leading worship. At the same time, worship has an all-of-life-ness about it that can’t be relegated to just singing. As worship leaders, we are everyday, ordinary Christians who lead out in community and mission, growing in intimacy with God as we spend time in his word, prayer, and submitting to the Holy Spirit’s guidance. We should be making disciples through sharing our faith and living lives that can be seen and emulated by the people in our churches.
TONY: Healthy conflict is a part of healthy teams. With that in mind, there’s bound to be conflict between the teaching pastor and the worship leader. Where do you typically see that conflict? And, how can it be processed in a healthy way?
STEPHEN: Worship leaders need to understand that our lead pastors are the lead worship pastors of the church and we are under their authority. Lead pastors will ultimately be accountable to God for their churches, and we should gladly and humbly submit to their leadership and strive to support them as they carry such an immense burden. That can look like anything from asking for input on the order of worship, to not complaining when you need to cut a song on the fly because they preached long.
When conflict arises, we ought to first check our own hearts for ungodly pride, anger, immaturity, and authority issues. It is likely that one or more of those is there. Also, the time where the word is being preached is not a time to sit back in the green room, but rather to be sitting under the teaching of God’s word by our lead pastors. We need to hear the Gospel as much as the rest of our church, and that is one simple, practical discipline that demonstrates respect, while nourishing our own souls.
Similarly, pastors can really earn the trust, respect and allegiance of their worship leaders by simply being a friend to them. This doesn’t mean they have to join a bowling league together or share family vacations, but in the same way that they shepherd the rest of the church, they should be shepherding their worship leaders. Check in on them and know what’s going on in their lives, marriages and ministries. Worship Leaders are not just hired hands, but rather co-laborers in the gospel who need their pastors to lead them and take an interest in their lives.
Finally, the time of corporate singing is a time for pastors to lead by example through actively and expressively engaging in worship with their congregations. In doing so, pastors really are a blessing to their worship leaders as well as their people. Then when pastors come with critiques or changes, worship leaders can know it’s coming from a genuine heart of worship, and will be more constructive rather than destructive.
TONY: One way worship leaders can avoid the “rock star” syndrome is by equipping others and sharing the platform. What’s your encouragement to worship leaders with this in mind?
STEPHEN: It takes a great deal of humility to give up one’s platform to equip others for the works of ministry, and yet it is one of the greatest ways we can invest the talents entrusted to us, and fight the pride that so easily entangles us. Ephesians 4 tells us that it’s the very reason God gives us spiritual gifts! Not to hoard our gifting and grow our platform, but so that we can make disciples who make the name of Jesus great in this world. This is the difference between fleeting fame and lasting legacy, and requires a major shift in mentality and methodology.
It means being intentional about spending time with people to teach, coach, and mentor them. It means giving some of your best opportunities to others. Yet, this is what grace is all about. The more we recognize the grace that has been shown to us, the more we can humbly and joyfully pass it on. Freely we have received, and freely we should give.