It hit me right between the eyes. I picked up my bible and began searching for my gift, my calling, the thing that I had devoted my life to. But no matter how hard I looked, it wasn’t there. I searched all the popular passages on spiritual gifts and still couldn’t find it – WHERE WAS THE GIFT OF LEADING WORSHIP? It seemed obviously missing from the various lists in scripture. Was there even a biblical justification for my position in the New Testament church? I soon found out that I wasn’t the only one asking this question.
So, why is this calling of the Worship Leader missing in the New Testament? The answer, although pretty deep, is fairly simple. The gift is missing because it’s only a small part of a larger calling that we have in leading God’s people into an awareness of His presence. I found my true calling as a worship leader, a worshipper, and really as an everyday follower of Jesus in Ephesians 4:1-13. It reads;
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit–just as you were called to one hope when you were called, one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says: “When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.” (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
The gifts in this passage are generally referred to as the “Leadership Gifts” in the church, (Hmmm, they do call me a Worship LEADER, don’t they?) an area that musicians many times stay away from. But if we are to look at this passage honestly as the person up front doing the music we have to acknowledge that all five of these gifts are in effect as we lead our congregations in worship. Let’s look at these gifts listed in verse 11 one at a time. That specific verse says; 11It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers.”
The Apostolic aspect of Leading Worship
In the most general sense an apostle is a leader of leaders. If we are looking for a parallel to our 21st century worship team in the Old Testament, it would be the Levites. All the musicians in the temple were chosen from the tribe of Levi. All were priests (Spiritual Leaders), but only a few were leaders of the musicians. Likewise in the 21st century, part of our calling is to be a leader of leaders. We lead the musicians (singers and instrumentalists) to aid in the process of connecting our people with God during our services. We invest in the worship musicians, training them up to be in service to the Lord. But it doesn’t stop there. In many cases the worship leader is giving more leadership to the congregation than even the senior pastor does during the actual service. During our time of singing to God, the worship leader is leading the pastor, the elders, deacons and others serving in ministry, into a face to face encounter with the Lord. Certainly this is part of the apostolic gift.
The Prophetic aspect of Leading Worship
The word prophet in today’s culture can scare people a bit. So let’s start with a definition. In the most general sense the “prophetic” is that which connects people to God, brings them into an awareness of His presence, and allows God to speak to individuals through His Holy Spirit. (You can interpret the practice of this through your own denominational, biblical or cultural viewpoint). I cannot tell you how many times people have come up to me after a service and thanked “me” for giving them an experience with the Lord. Now, of course, that’s nothing that I did, but God Himself sees fit to use our time of prayer, preparation and leading to speak to individuals in the congregation. What an awesome privilege it is to have the Lord use us in this way. Now another way the prophetic is released in and through our ministry is when God touches a leader during worship and stirs his/her heart to share a word with the leadership or, at times, the congregation. This isn’t always done publicly, but I know many occasions where the pastor was stirred to make changes in his message, because God prompted him in some way as we were singing. Certainly this is part of the Prophetic gift.
The Evangelistic aspect of Leading Worship
In the same way that the Apostle Paul acknowledged that non-Christians would be present in their gatherings in the first century church (I Cor. 14:23), we must acknowledge the same thing in our gatherings in the 21st century church. Many times we have people visiting our services who have not made a commitment to Christ, or perhaps have never even heard of Him. To many of you over 35, this doesn’t seem possible, but I have recently been ministering with many between the ages of 18-30, whose friends have never even heard of Jesus, read the bible, or for that matter even know what the bible is. To many Christians this seems impossible, but our world has drastically changed over the last 30 years. We need to realize that we are evangelists to those who are within the walls of our own church. Yep.. even some of our regular attendees! When we lead worship we are modeling (or should be modeling) an authentic expression of our relationship with Jesus Christ.
The Pastoral aspect of Leading Worship
One who “pastors”, is one who cares for people, and there is definitely a pastoral function in the act of leading worship. The word “care” in the last sentence was intentionally chosen. One of my favorite quotes that I heard a long time ago was something along the lines of; “We are the care-giver, Jesus is the Cure-giver.” We know that people need God and they need to meet with Him. This should be a major motivation in our worship leading. Looking at this aspect of leading worship should drive us to our knees knowing that only God knows the specific needs of the people that you minister to every week. Many years ago I would get information on a weekly basis on the overall state of our congregation. In order for me to be an effective worship leader of the people that God had entrusted to us, I needed to know the general background of many who were a part of our church. This may sound like we were more interested in pleasing people than worshipping the Lord, but actually, the opposite is true. I did not want to do anything that would be a distraction or cause people to be confused as to what we were doing in our services. For this reason, you have to care for people, you have to know the people, you have to see Jesus walking with His disciples and building relationships. Then our pastoral calling in worship leading becomes clear.
The Teaching aspect of Leading Worship
In the book of Colossians Paul writes; “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.” (Col 3:16) When we sing we teach in a variety of ways. First the words of many of the songs we sing are instructional, sharing aspects of the life of Jesus, or God’s character. We also teach by modeling worship. As we lead, our people will learn from us. A student becomes like his/her teacher. Wow! That’s a pretty heavy responsibility to have, but nevertheless a real one. I am constantly asking myself if what I am modeling is worth following. Are the songs we sing an accurate expression of who Jesus really is, or are they centered on who we want Him to be? Are the words of the songs really expressing our hearts desire for the Lord, or are they feel good words that are not really in line with our reality? It’s important to look at these things. We are not only teaching Jesus’ followers, but those who are still deciding whether to follow Him or not.
As worship leaders in the 21st century Christian church, we desperately need to see the magnitude of our calling. I remember several years ago when I was worship leader at a fairly large church in Northern California. During this time we started a video ministry and began recording our services. One Monday morning we were watching the previous day’s service when our Senior Pastor walked in. He was immediately mesmerized by the video of the congregation during worship. After a few minutes he said, (holding back tears) “Look at our people worshiping the Lord!” Now, I had to admit that his sense of surprise seemed a little odd to me until I realized that he sat in the front row every week and was a true worshipper himself. Not looking around at the other worshippers, he was just focused on the Lord and never saw the passion that our people had for God. It was at that moment that I realized what an honor it is to be a worship leader. Just by virtue of what I do, I get to see something that only God and a few chosen others get to see. That’s His people, worshipping Him. With great responsibility comes great reward!