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Hey Worship Leader, Are You a Theological Lightweight?

I sighed a breath of relief as I made my way off the stage after finishing a worship set at a pastors conference some years ago. I had kept it stripped down, because one, I’ve always been a fairly vocal proponent of keeping things minimal and two…I couldn’t find anybody else to play with me. If I’d had any insecurities about doing a solo set leading up to the conference, a room full of baritone men with their eyes closed singing “Amazing Grace” reminded me once again that it was time to get over myself, because they certainly were.Ronnie Martin

If I was honest, I felt pretty good about how it all came together. I’d included a line from “Preaching and Preachers” by Lloyd Jones along with some other theological quotes that I mixed in with a variety of scripture readings and prayer. No manipulative, overexcited, motivational chants of youth influenced exuberance to speak of here. Just gospel centered focus, mixed with some dry humor and trendy old hymns. As my pastor made his way up to the podium to begin his session, he had a curious smirk on his face. I wondered what was so hilarious before he stepped up to the mic and exclaimed “Can you believe I have a worship guy who actually reads Lloyd Jones?!” He shook his head in disbelief as the place erupted into laughter and I erupted into a molten heap of angry lava in my chair. Ego=bruised.

Look, I got it. You take a quick glance at the library of many worship guys and you’re probably not going to find a copy of Calvin’s Institutes, signed first editions of The Mortification of Sin or Spurgeon’s Ten Volume Sermon Set. I’m guessing that dozens of pro-audio catalogs, songbooks, chord tabs, and CD’s stuffed in between a vast array of  cables, computer hard drives and U2 concert ticket stubs is probably a more accurate picture.

Let’s face it, in the world of vocational ministry, the terms “theologically astute” and “music guy” don’t typically meet, fall in love and get married.

And this is not ok.

I remember a conversation I had with an associate pastor who innocently remarked, “I thought our worship guy just picked out four or five songs he liked and then rehearsed them before Sunday. Is there really more to it than that?” Sadly, there may not be.

In fact, in our day and age of simple, three-chord, anyone-can-play-praise songs, it’s easy enough for any worship leader to draw four tunes out of a hat, add in a couple of “Amens!”, and have everyone on your church staff wondering what it is you actually do all week.

Of course, these are irreverent cliches that certainly don’t apply across the board, but doubtlessly carry much truth for many churches. What I’m interested in is challenging churches and, more specifically, pastors, to stop cultivating such low levels of expectations for their worship leaders. Is there a reason why so many senior pastors continue to maintain such minuscule theological standards and requirements for men who spend almost as much time singing with the congregation as they do preaching to them? Why do we think it’s ok for someone who barely knows God’s Word to lead God’s people in singing the excellency of His Words? Too harsh? Or have we simply produced a generation of worship leaders who are musically adept at singing and playing but spiritually inept at reading and praying? We can all come up with our own answers for this. But here are three things that all worship leaders must cultivate:

– A disciplined pursuit of God’s Word

-  A desire to lead God’s people toward a greater awe and affection for Jesus

-  A devotion to teaching and singing gospel-centered, Christ exalting songs and hymns.

Leading God’s people in the praise of His glorious grace is a task not to be taken lightly or performed flippantly. Worship leaders are responsible in leading God’s people to do what they were created to do, which is glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Let’s make sure they are equipped for the privilege of this work. Let’s make sure their hearts beat with the same pulse as the Psalmist who wrote these words:

“Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.”

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