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Worship Leaders as Kohathites: Called to Serve in Most Holy Things

Chalkboard Devotionals at Coral Ridge

Every week, I gather our music/worship staff together for some team time.  We devotionally reflect and process different aspects of what worship is and does, and as a new leader in a new context, I find this time invaluable for casting vision and shaping thesanctum sanctorum of Coral Ridge’s worship culture at large.  It starts here.

We recently threw up some chalkboard paint on a wall and bordered it with some leftover trim, and it’s become the retro-cool focal point of our functional, slightly artsy office space.  I end up using that chalkboard during the devotionals, and we leave it up all week.  It ministers to us as we go about our daily duties.

Worship Theology in the Book of Numbers

People sometimes think that the Old Testament doesn’t have much to offer by way of a theology of worship. But they’re wrong.  Robbie Castleman, in a recent book (read some reflections on it here), helped to slay that misconception. We can learn a lot about God’s heart for worship from the Pentateuch–the first five books of the Bible–because in them, God isextremely thorough and very specific about what he wants Israel’s worship to look like.  Just look at how much ink is spilt describing the tabernacle furnishings alone, and you get a sense that God cares a lot about what His worship looks like.  And there’s a lesson to be learned by worship leaders from the early chapters of Numbers.

The Levitical Division of Labor

After God redeemed His people from the bondage of the Egyptians, and as He was preparing to usher them into the promised land, He began assigning specific duties and identities to the twelve tribes of Israel.  He set apart one specific tribe–the Levites–to be liturgical nomads…landless priests whose callings were centered around God’s doxological service.  But even in the setting apart of the Levites, there was a further delineation of sub-groups.  One of those sub-groups was the sons of Kohath–the Kohathites–of whom this is said:

The LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, “Take a census of the sons of Kohath from among the sons of Levi, by their clans and their fathers’ houses, from thirty years old up to fifty years old, all who can come on duty, to do the work in the tent of meeting. This is the service of the sons of Kohath in the tent of meeting: the most holy things.” (Num 4:1-4, ESV)

The passage goes on to describe just what these “most holy things” are: the ark, the table of the bread of the presence, all the cloths, supplies, and accoutrements…basically everything involved with the Holy of holies for the tabernacle. The description ends with this grave warning:

“Let not the tribe of the clans of the Kohathites be destroyed from among the Levites, but deal thus with them, that they may live and not die when they come near to the most holy things: Aaron and his sons shall go in and appoint them each to his task and to his burden, but they shall not go in to look on the holy things even for a moment, lest they die.” (Num 4:17-20, ESV)

The worship of God is sacred, holy, serious.

Worship Leaders are Kohathites

Most New Testament Christians recognize that importation of things from the Old Testament is not an apples-to-apples enterprise.  The Old Testament, though just as Christ-centered as the New, reveals the second Person of the Trinity in veiled form. So, when I say that worship leaders are not only called out as “Levites” and even further “Kohathites,” please understand that this dynamic is more of an analogy.  Every believer is a mini-priest under the High Priest, Jesus Christ–the book of Hebrews makes this abundantly clear.  But that doesn’t mean that God isn’t still in the business of setting apart certain sub-sets of His people for specific callings–the apostle Paul makes thisabundantly clear (Rom 12, 1 Cor 12).  Pastors, worship leaders, worship staff, and worship facilitators really are the modern-day Kohathites–that sub-clan of priests called to operate in the realm of the “most holy things” on a regular basis.  We are the ones who think through the accoutrements of the sanctuary (whether it be a cathedral, cafeteria, or a living room). We are the ones who care for our sonic ambience–the instrumentation, the musical selections, the volume. We are the ones who labor over the most holy “items” of the flow of a worship service–the prayers, the readings, the actions, and the in-between moments.  And, most critically, we are entrusted with the “liturgical discipleship” of God’s new temple–His very people.

Facilitating worship is a sacred, holy, and serious calling.  It is a Kohathite calling.

The Gravity of the Worship Leader’s Call

It’s important for modern day Kohathites to lift their heads from the weekly grind to remember this.  We evangelicals sometimes brand our worship services as “casual,” and I get that. I know what’s intended, and I resonate with the heart behind it. But “casual” probably isn’t the best word, because we can never casually approach God.  ”Authentic” might be a better word if we’re trying to broadcast a come-as-you-are kind of vibe.  The beauty of what Christ has done for us is that He’s set aside the fear that the Kohathites felt by being the Kohathite that no other tribesman could–utterly perfect. And now, we have “confidence to enter the most holy place” (Heb 10:19).  We now can lead others in following Christ into the mystery of the “most holy things” without the haunting heat of hellfire flames.  But this confidence is not casual.  The most holy things, though now completely accessible, have not somehow become trivial.

Worship leaders, lift your heads. Do not think too lowly of your calling. Pause frequently to remember the gravity of what you do when you labor in the realm of the weight of glory. Ask the Spirit to bring your Kohathite identity frequently to mind.  And then rest assured that when you do forget, you have a covering. For the Greater Kohathite is near.

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