Monday, September 19, 2011

What Bothers Me About Worship Leaders

One of the new inventions of the modern church is the "Worship Leader". It kinda morphed out of the old fashioned invention of the "Song leader" who led the church in singing by waving his hands to the music tempo. Martyn Lloyd-Jones didn't even like that "new office in the church" as he mentioned in His book "Preaching and Preachers". He was on to something back then. Modern "Worship Leaders" bother me for several reasons:

  1. Some don't even get what worship really is. They wouldn't even take that title if they did because it reduces the idea of worship to singing "prom songs to Jesus" as Mark Driscoll puts it. The church has given up so much ground, and now it seems that worship has been given up too. It used to be that the pastors were the expert Biblical counselors, yet most pastors today will say that counseling is something for professionals and they send God's people off to shrinks because they gave up true discipleship a long time ago. If they understood discipleship, they would never have given up on counseling. The same goes for worship: if pastors understood what worship is, they wouldn't hand it off to some starved for attention musician who thinks he's a worship expert because he can bang on a guitar. Although I don't like a lot of his music, Bob Kauflin's book "Worship Matters" has a good chapter at the beginning to help straighten out the worship leader's understanding of worship - it's not just singing: it's all we do in response to God's grace for His glory!

2. Some often have their own agenda. Dan Lucarini was a worship leader who led church music in the typical modern Christian Rock style of worship music. He wrote several books on his experiences and why he left the entire worship leader scene. In his book "It's Not About the Music" he mentions from his own experience that many worship leaders have aspirations that are not about building up the local church, but rather building up their own reputation as an effective showman who are hopeful of landing a record deal and producing their own albums. I have experienced a similar thing with some worship leaders. Some don't respect the authority of the pastor or elders they work with. They think that the music/worship is something that they have authority over and they will do with it whatever they feel is going to draw out the best response from the congregation.

3. Many try to create an artificial experience.  Music is powerful and can be used to have tremendous power over people because it has the ability to move the emotions by bypassing the mind's rationale. This doesn't always have to be the case, but in modern worship music, it often is. I have to admit that I really enjoy a lot of the worship songs written by Matt Redman such as "Blessed be Your Name; This is How We Know; You Alone Can Rescue; Facedown" and others. But when I listen to one of his albums, I really hate it when he repeats the chorus or one line in the chorus endlessly for five minutes, while he gets louder, the drums beat harder, the guitars strum louder until it climaxes at the end after having put you in a trance. It is really an abuse of music when the worship leader tries to get people high on an emotional trip. Thus, the closing eyes, waving hands around, and gyrating body movements that are identical to what happens at a Lady Gaga concert.  I wonder why people don't get that worked up when they hear the expositional preaching of God's living and active Word which we know has REAL Power! No, most of the people who demand 45 minutes of standing "worship" experience also demand to keep the sermon short and sweet so they can get home before the kickoff starts! Part of this artificial worship experience is this strange fascination with turning down the lights and turning on moving colored stage lighting. I really wonder how in the world the church worshiped for 2000 years without these things! It's all a show: man-made artificial moving of the Spirit so that people can feel that they were close to God while turning their brains off. (With the best of intentions of course...we're not allowed to judge their motives as we are so frequently reminded.)

4. Many lead by following fads. When a worship leader says: "Oh that song is soooo old!" even though it was written three years ago, you know you have a problem. Three years ago, he couldn't wait to rock that song out at the church the moment it was released on Skillet's newest album! They are so often led by passing fads that they have no sense of appreciating the songs of the past unless of course one of their favorite groups re-recorded an old song with a new spin thereby giving it new hipster creds.

The truth is, whether the modern church likes it or not, worship is to be elder-led! They lead everything! They don't just deliver a sermon. That doesn't mean they have to do the singing or play the music, but they need to be the ones who call the shots and set the agenda for the music and lead the church from the beginning of the service to the end in worship - worship in fellowship, worship in song, worship in giving, worship in service and worship in the preached Word. Even in Revelation 4, the worship in heaven is going to be "elder-led" worship. So, if you have a "Worship Leader", consider changing his title because it is not a good term. If you're a pastor, then YOU are the worship leader and your musicians need to be led by a man who knows how to theologically lead people in worship through music, not a man who is led by the latest CCM fads that he saw at the latest Hillsong video.

8 comments: said...


One of the hardest steps we took in merging our congregations was in telling our "worship leader" to step down. He assumed that it was because we wanted to replace him, but in point of fact, it was because there is no office of worship leader in the Church - if we're following that pesky little thing called the New Testament.

The way we explain it to people is that too much of modern worship is structured with God as the prompter, the worship leader(s) as the performers and the congregation as the audience. This is upside down. God is our audience, the musicians are the prompters (we actually call them the congregation's back up band) and the congregation are the performers.

We sit with our musicians and regularly remind them, "The instrument God wants to hear is not yours. It is His people lifting their voices to declare his worth."

We have upset more than a few musicians and vocalists with our attitude, but that's the way it is.

Being a musician myself, I am able to take a very active role in our music. It allows me to keep the musicians' focus on Christ and weed out the emotionalism (not that emotion is wrong) and musical tricks much of modern worship uses to simulate an attitude of worship.

We've been blessed with an disproportionate number of excellent musicians in our congregation, so we take our music pretty seriously - but it is always about Christ.

Joe Cassada said...

Curiously, how does a church sing congregationally without a song leader? I'm assuming instruments do the "leading?" Right now I'm the song leader, and if it's possible, I would love to not have to "wave my arms" at all...just let the congregation sing out. But I cant mentally digest that picture - how it works, how it would sound, etc.

Baptist Mike said...

Hilarious when people use the excuse of that is not in the"pesky little thing" called the New Testament to say no Song Leaders, but ignore the fact that instruments are, quite obviously, also NOT in the "pesky little thing" called the New Testament. Stop blaming the Bible for what you personally don't like.

William Dudding said...

Nothing against song leaders, we need them. My whole point is that we don't need them to think that they are the "worship" leaders. They need to follow the lead of their elders in how they choose music, sing it, play it, etc...

Erik D said...

Baptist Mike,

There are all kinds of instruments and snging in the New Testament. Or haven't you read the Revelation?

I am not talking about people leading music. I am talking about "worship leader" in the way that Will defined it. There is no office of worship leader in the New Testament church. The elders are responsible for guiding the worship of the congregation. That motif is ALL OVER the New Testament.

Michael said...

Thanks for your insightful article. It seems that the worship leaders are often young hipsters and a bit theologically green (as evidenced by the Christianity-lite lyrical content of the songs). Much of the music is what I would describe as a bit effeminate.
There are some good new songs out there to be sure. But let's not try to sound like some easy listening radio station with Debbie Boone singing "You Light Up My Life".

Anonymous said...

Remove the title of pastor too please, because one pastor leading church is not biblical, but a number of elders appointed (not by their theological qualifications) but by the Holy Spirit and the apostles based on their spiritual maturity and God's calling to the work of the ministry.

Yale Wall said...

Man, some of you guys must work with some horrible worship leaders. Everyone in the church should submit to the authority of the Pastor, there shouldnt even be a need for this article. If you dont like your worship leader, get a new one.