This article was originally published in Worship Leader magazine (May/June 2016). For more great articles like this one, subscribe today.
It’s a bit interesting to think that you can now get a degree in worship. The fact that we can even create techniques for leading worship is good, but could become problematic if we are not careful. What is the problem? Focusing on skill training—putting all the emphasis on the musicality and gifting of the worship leader—and missing the important work of helping them steward their hearts to a kingdom-focused perspective. We forget that our worship leaders have hearts that need safeguarding against the vicious attempts of Satan to capture them in a trap of self-promotion. It’s sad, but it’s real. We make a distinction between pastoral training and training for worship as if the end goals were somehow different. They are not!
There are worship leaders, and there are worship entertainers. Sit through any Sunday service and you can quickly tell the difference. For the entertainer, his or her musical gifting comes first, and the worship platform is a stage to live out the dream of being in a band, writing songs, and using the congregation as an audience. Songs choice by the worship entertainer is done for an emotional effect, or to best showcase the ability of the worship band. The worship entertainer is focused on his or her image and places a high priority on stage decor, clothing, and attire. The sound, look, and feeling are everything. There’s a real need to entertain, and response from the audience is paramount. They live for the applause. The heart of the worship entertainer has no room for pastoral ministry.
Kingdom-focused worship leaders, though highly gifted and still operating with excellence, place all priority on drawing people closer to the heart of God. Songs chosen by these worship leaders reflect gospel truth, are sung for their powerful spiritual application, and have the sole purpose of enabling transformation. Their worship is an act of prayer. Their song is a delivery method. The only response they seek from the congregation is one of that looks to the Lord.
The kingdom-focused worship leader follows a holistic worship approach, understanding that his or her role impacts the mind, body, heart, and spirit of the congregation. They understand the spiritual impact and power of worship and use it to shatter strongholds by declaring God’s truth. When believers partake in such a practice of worship, it provides a Godly environment for the Holy Spirit to engage and renew their hearts. It lifts depression, conquers fear, and imparts hope. Worship then is not simply a performance, but a lifeline for all who seek to live a life in obedience and awe of God’s wonder and glory.
These two worship leader examples stand in stark contrast and illustrate the sad truth of what could happen in worship ministry in this day. Thank God for worship schools and pastoral teams that oversee the worship ministries and understand the need for these leaders to serve and act, not just through musical gifting, but within their true spiritual authority.
Can you imagine what would happen if a worship team was so in tune with the spiritual needs of their congregation that they base their songwriting and song choices on these very needs? The impact of hearing a song about freedom to a man who struggles with a porn addiction or hearing a song of hope to the mom that is going through a rough time with a teenager or hearing a song of providence to the man who lost his job is earth shattering. The art of joining prayer, music, and Scripture is the very essence of worship, and should be the very goal of any worship leader.
When the worship leader adopts a kingdom-focused mindset, they start to operate with real spiritual authority. God will increase their discernment to understand the spiritual needs of the congregation and enable them to lead, teach, and apply God’s truth, powerfully, through music. Their ministry now is more than just the 20 minutes before the sermon is preached. It becomes a real, valid, and authoritative ministry tool that allows for healing, repentance, freedom, and transformation.
For that reason, a church should allow for freedom in the musical worship time, for if the team walks in God’s kingdom purpose, God will reveal to them things during worship and this time of revelation, inspiration, and transformation that needs to take place. Once the pastor and worship leaders get this, their efforts are joined, and their goals will be aligned. There is then no distinction between a between a pastor, whether in a teaching role or that of worship. Ministry remains ministry with one aim: to serve, teach, edify, equip, and ultimately allow God’s Word to change lives.
Hein van Wyk is the Co-Founder and President of Sharefaith, where he innovates, leads and spearheads technology solutions for churches.