What Is A Worship Leader?

A few days ago, I was spending time with a church member from my new church home, Real Life Austin.  This was my first time to hang out with him on a one-on-one basis, so I got to know him a little.  He’s just a normal guy, mid-30’s, single dad who loves his kid, brand new to the faith and the church world, and I love that. Our conversation was unbelievably refreshing.  Since he was new to the church world and was never “religious”, and I was new to his church, he began to ask me a little about what I do.  He got right down to the basics.  “What do you do?  What is worship?  What does it mean to lead worship?”

When it came to worship, his mind was a blank slate, so “uncorrupted” by church jargon and business ethics in ministry.  He didn’t know who Chris Tomlin was, or any other worship leader who Christians have given “rockstar” status to.  And to him, I was  the guy who sang a few songs about Jesus on Sundays, and Chris Tomlin was some sort of Christian celebrity who somehow had the same job title as me.

So I did my best to explain what worship was, that it was ultimately a response to God, not only in music and singing, but in literally every aspect of our lives (Rom. 12:1Col. 3:16-17).  (See more previous blogs for more explanation on worship).

So then the question came, what does a worship leader or worship pastor do?  What does this job title mean?

I found it almost humorous that it took me a second to figure out what to say to him after this long explanation on what worship was.  Mostly because so much didn’t make sense- that when Christians think of the title “worship leader,” they also think of they guy who leads worship or music on Sundays.  Or they think of Chris Tomlin, or David Crowder, or that guy at summer camp last year.  I’ve found no one that has challenged me on the fact that worship is a life we lead, not a song.  In fact, that’s probably not at all the first time you’ve heard that.  The idea that worship is a life we lead seems to be pretty popular, but I rarely see worship leaders lead the way.  That may sound critical at first- and it is- but to be honest, I often find myself pursuing what people, even Christians in the church, think a worship leader should be instead of simply leading these people to worship in it’s true definition.

So if worship is so much more than the songs sang before a sermon, more than an experience at camp, and more than a CD or a title, what exactly is a worship leaders role?

I actually believe it’s much simpler than we often think.  If you are a Christ follower, you’re a worship leader.  A worship leader is someone who simply points to something greater than themselves, something more worthy of attention, affection, or praise.  If you follow Christ and recognize Him for who He truly is, then you can’t help but do this; even more so for a worship leader- someone who shows people the essence of Christ for who he is, and provoks people to respond to Him.

With this in mind, I think the churches view on what a worship leader should be is terribly small.  It’s easy for worship leaders to “get away” with just covering a popular worship song on Sunday morning, getting some people to sing along, maybe even raise their hands and call it a worship service.  Not to say that this is a bad thing, it’s a very good thing.  But to be constantly satisfied with a song each week and call that a response to the God we sing about, if we really believe the words we are even singing, we are selling ourselves short by putting worship in the box of Sunday morning, and it’s worthless (Amos 5:23-24; Isaiah 1:11-17).  Our response goes far beyond the walls of church, beyond the time of Sunday mornings, beyond our church community.  This reminds me of a quote by C.S. Lewis-

"It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased."

Our worship should not leave us satisfied, but in awe and wanting more.

As I travel around and lead worship at different places, I often encounter many up and coming worship leaders.  But their goal in becoming one is often a mud pie.  It’s getting on a stage in front of more and more people, becoming more popular, more CD’s, more time on the road.  All these things are huge mud pies made unbelievably enticing by the enemy.  Not that those things are bad in and of themselves, they are great and God absolutely uses them, but it’s not the goal!  It’s easy to make mud pies our goal when our eyes are not fixed upon the true prize. If you call yourself a worship leader, if your goal is anything but pointing people to the never ending fountain of grace, love, goodness, holiness, righteousness, justice, mercy, power and might of Christ, you’ve missed it, and all you’ll have to show for it is a big fat mud pie.  Worship leader, if your love is music, go be a great musician in Jesus’ name, but don’t hide behind the image of worship leader in doing so.  The simple fact that a holy, righteous God not only allows us into His presence, but let’s a sinner with a guitar get up on a stage and lead the way constantly puts me on my face and puts what I’m really doing in perspective.  So if you’re a worship leader, be mindful of what your title is.

-Thanks for reading