The 27 Best Practices of a Pastoral Musician

By Constance Cherry

What does the pastoral musician look like in worship leadership? How is it different than simply leading the music of worship? In essence, how is the role of pastoral musician practiced? As we can see, it involves more than the music, though strong musicianship is presumed. In practice, pastoral musicians are persons who:

1. Have a solid understanding of biblical worship and its meaning.

2. Are able to theologically reflect upon worship in light of present culture.

3. Are captivated with pursuing God’s view of worship.

4. Have an awareness of the historical significance of two millennia of Christian worship.

5. Embrace the dialogical nature of worship as revelation/response.

6. Reject the predominance of anthropomorphic worship in favor of Christo-centric worship.

7. Understand that worship is to primarily be relevant to God (while connecting to the people).

8. Recognize that biblical worship is both vertical and horizontal in nature.

9. Understand biblical worship to be primarily corporate in nature.

10. Embrace, encourage, and love the persons in the community God has given them to oversee.

11. Reject passive worship done for the community and strive for participative worship done by the community.

12. Understand that worship always forms us, explicitly and implicitly.

13. View the core content of worship to be the story of God—what the triune God is doing from creation to re-creation.

14. Celebrate the Christian Year so as to proclaim the story of God in Christ.

15. See worship as a bigger entity than exclusively music.

16. Understand the inter-relationship between music and all of the other acts of worship in the whole service.

17. View music as a servant of the text.

18. Select and employ music not for its own sake, but to serve a greater purpose—the purpose of enabling conversation with the triune God.

19. Embrace a wide breadth of congregational song—drawing from psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.

20. Prayerfully arrive at a canon of song appropriate to their community by applying standards of theological, musical, and lyrical integrity.

21. Understand that excellence is a journey, not an end.

22. Seek to help their God-given community discover its “worship voice” (their meaningful way of communicating with God that is expressive of their culture).

23. Strengthen and balance the worship style that is normative for their community.

24. Help worshipers view their worship as connected to the worship of sisters and brothers all over the world.

25. Help worshipers view their worship as eternal worship—worship that has been and will always be ongoing—on earth as it is in heaven.

26. Connect public worship and pursuing justice for others here and now.

27. Connect public worship with private worship.

This list of “best practices” (though incomplete) helps us flesh out the comprehensive nature of what it means to function as a pastoral musician. Notice that it involves not only doing, but also being. Becoming a pastoral musician is about who you are more than what you do.


Rev. Dr. Constance M. Cherry is a regular contributor to Worship Leader and much-loved speaker and workshop leader at NWLC. An associate professor of worship and Christian ministries at Indiana Wesleyan University in Marion, Indiana, she is also a permanent part-time professor for the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies. Cherry is known for her definitive exploration of worship in The Worship Architect, and her latest book Special Service Worship releases this month. She has served local churches as a minister of music/worship and as a United Methodist pastor.


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    3 comments on “The 27 Best Practices of a Pastoral Musician

    1. Glad to see Constance Cherry contributing this to Worship Leader. I find most of the list items to be tremendously important ideas, even if they’re not exactly concrete “practices.” The great problem with this and other lists I’ve seen which are geared towards evangelicals is that they constantly talk about “biblical worship.” Not only have I experienced that phrase to be infrequently defined in articles and blog posts dealing with worship, but as a liturgist, the whole concept of “biblical worship” is baffling. One is prone to remember that many core Christian liturgical elements developed simultaneously with the New Testament, not in response to it, much less regulated by it. Nonetheless, the overall pastoral and theological tone of this list is so very positive; I would like to see a followup on how worship leaders can put these ideas into concrete practice. Perhaps a list of resources to accompany the ideas?

    2. This is a nice list but would be nicer if more simplified-Can we have further explanation of #5 and 6?
      5. Embrace the dialogical nature of worship as revelation/response.

      6. Reject the predominance of anthropomorphic worship in favor of Christo-centric worship.

    3. Hey Christy,
      I hope this helps:

      5. Embrace the Scriptural precedent that worship is a conversation between God and his people.

      6. Popular culture has placed human beings as the focus of congregational worship, the pastoral musician steps out of the spotlight and restores Christ to the center.

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