Book Review: ‘Worship Leaders, We Are Not Rock Stars’ by Stephen Miller

Stephen Miller. Worship Leaders, We Are Not Rock Stars. Chicago: Moody, 2013. 128 pp. $13.99.

How do worship leaders in local churches remain humble servants when an entire industry has been built around self-promotion, record sales, and concert tour dates? In the last 20 years, American church culture has weathered a transformation of the “minister of music.” The platform has become the stage, and the servant has become the celebrity. In the aftermath of these storms, many worship leaders are left wondering what’s required of them as servants in the local church. More than mere song leading, worship leading is commonly viewed as a position of teaching and shepherding the congregation through song (see chapter 4).

This is the conversation to which Stephen Miller contributes with Worship Leaders, We are Not Rock Stars. In the book he broadcasts concern for those who lead churches in song. Through intentional thought and conversational writing, Miller speaks to those who have been influenced by the constant winds of the music industry. He pleads with those who lead congregational worship to listen not to the sirens of culture, but to the timeless Word of God (75).

A worship leader at The Journey Church in St. Louis, Miller also leads worship for various conferences and writes and records his own songs.

Servants, Not Celebrities

In 2002, John Piper delivered a warning call to pastors with his book Brothers, We Are Not Professionals. Miller uses the same meter of this hymn but aims his verse at worship leaders, as evidenced by the title Worship Leaders, We Are Not Rock Stars. The book works at chipping away the façade pop culture has sculpted within the walls of our own church buildings.

As a thinking practitioner, Miller writes out of his own experience of wrestling with idols and striving for biblical perspective in this war. Avoiding a deconstructionist tone of what worship leaders are not, he attempts to construct a framework by which we can grasp the importance and function of what the worship leader is. Instead of aimless grenade launching, his aim is to help build up the body of Christ by exhorting those who lead it.

Miller talks of the dangers of idolatry within the church:

When a leader is talented and charismatic in personality, we tend to put them on the proverbial pedestal and blur the line between admiration and worship, between imitating them as they imitate Christ and substituting them for Christ. (17)

The contours of the book are shaped to help pastors, worship leaders, and musicians understand how to think of the role of the music leader in a church. To widen the lens on the subject, Miller reorients the worship leader’s identity, showing how worship leaders are worshipers (chapter 2), redeemed and adopted (chapter 3), pastors and deacons (chapter 4), theologians (5), storytellers (liturgists) (chapter 6), evangelists (chapter 7), artists (chapter 8), and Christians (chapter 9). Each chapter ends with a series of questions for small groups or pastors and worship leaders to review together.

Both pastors and worship leaders alike battle the idol of self-glory. In an age where the majority of pastors are using social media, they must wrestle between self-promotion and serving God’s people. What begins as an endeavor to serve and equip people can quickly slip into an exertion to receive the glory that belongs to God.  Miller warns, “Fame and glory are well-trained assassins, and they have slain many who have pursued them for themselves” (17).

The exclamation point of the emphasis is reserved for the final chapter, where Miller pleads with worship leaders to remember they God’s children before they are his servants:

We say we exist to make the name and glory of Jesus famous, but in practice much of our time is spent exhausting our efforts to make our own name and glory famous. Many times we are not seeking to tell and retell the story of Jesus. We are seeking to write our own story where we are the heroes. . . . We love our names. We love our glory. We love our fame. We want to be rock stars. (122)

Where the Conversation Needs to Go

Some worship leaders aren’t articulate theologians or intentional liturgists. Others may faithfully lead churches in song but aren’t defined as “pastors” or “artists.” The thrust of each chapter assumes worship leaders are already operating in the framework prescribed, which may seem presumptuous. While I agree with Miller’s thesis, more work needs to be done for those who would find some of these to be foreign concepts in their local church.

Also, is there a way to pursue cultural influence without embracing idolatry? Is it possible to have the influence of a rock star while maintaining a humility of heart? While Miller does a good job enhancing the conversation, a conclusion offering a better way would have been useful.[1] Likely, this is where the questions for review and further conversation will be helpful to most readers.

The Profit of Reading

While Worship Leaders, We are Not Rock Stars won’t likely find its way into hardy academic conversation, it will rightly be used by a generation of young worship leaders who are attempting to discern their role within the body of Christ. In reading the book I was again reminded of the importance and influence of those who lead congregational worship.

There are some who attempt to underemphasize the role of the worship leader within the church. This is a sad estimation. Other men have realized the influence of the worship leader—for better or worse. In the wise words of Walt Kaiser, former president of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, “What’s the difference between a worship leader and a terrorist? You can negotiate with a terrorist.” This kind of perception stems from those who have known how troubling it can be having “rock stars” leading their worship.

With the amount of church plants budding across the globe, continual training as to why and how the church gathers to worship will be needed. The more theological our gatherings are, the more missional they will also become. When a pastor considers who will lead his congregation in song, Scripture reading, and prayer, it’s vital he choose someone who is qualified. Worship leaders should be as equipped to defend sound doctrine as well as they sing it.

I’m praying with Miller that God would raise up a generation of worship leaders who faithfully lead in local churches—not as rock stars, but as faithful servants of Christ.

[1] Al Mohler’s Conviction to Lead is a wonderful example of such a book.

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