Faculty, College of Theology
In many contemporary churches, musical worship leaders are viewed as the somewhat aloof, artistic providers of aesthetically-pleasing and emotionally-rousing religious goods and services. The “performances” (a word St. Paul would consider a heresy when applied to worship) selected each Sunday function as delightful appetizers or desserts to the main entrée of the sermon. It is generally assumed that a preacher must be, in some sense, a theologian or exegete in order to minister the Word.
Amen! This criteria, however, is not usually applied to worship leaders. Rather, worship leaders are often selected primarily on the basis of their musical skill and their fit with the particular congregation in terms of musical style. Typically, adherence to the church’s doctrinal statement is also a part of the interview process, but beyond this, the worship leader is generally not held to the same standards of theological training and acumen as the lead preaching pastor. This makes practical sense, though it would be incredibly amusing to me to see a charismatic worship leader slaying people in the Spirit during a 47-minute Hillsong style music set at a cessationist church that normally only sings hymns. I can, however, begrudgingly see the wisdom in trying to avoid such an oddity (subliminal message: please, someone make this happen and invite me).
The New Testament calls worship leaders to a higher standard. In fact, I would propose that the Bible demands from worship leaders the same standard of biblical excellence as that of lead pastors. Furthermore, Holy Scripture places upon worship leaders the same weighty responsibility of the ministry of the Word as that which falls upon the preaching pastor. Ding! Ding! Ding! Boom! Let’s put on our exegetical, pseudo-pacifistic boxing gloves and step in the hermeneutics ring because ‘dem are fighting words.
In the context of chapter three of Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians he writes this profound statement:
15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, by means of singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
(ESV, though v. 16 is my translation)
Likewise in Ephesians 5:18-21 Paul writes:
18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 by means of speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, by means of singing and making melody [lit. “psalming”; Greek ψάλλοντες] to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
(ESV, though v. 19 is my translation)
Tune in to part II of this series in which I will make a case for these ideas about worship leaders through an interaction with these texts of Colossians and Ephesians.