Desperately Seeking Worship Pastors

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A strange hobby of mine is to look up job postings for worship leader positions in churches across the country. I’m curious to the pulse of what the Church desires from its worship leaders. What elements are important and essential to their main worship position?

Recently, I conducted one of these searches. Out of this first 25 job postings I read, 24 of them contained these or similar statements: “So and So Church is looking for an innovative, exciting worship leader similar to David Crowder. Must sing and play guitar…”; “So and So Church seeks to find a worship leader in the style of Chris Tomlin. Piano and/or guitar skills essential. Must be able to organize and lead a multiple person worship band…”; “So and So Church is a new and growing church plant. The person who fills this position must be a skilled musician and be able to create a HIllsong type worship setting…”

Only one posting contained the following: “The worship leader for So and So Church must be a devoted follower of Jesus Christ, displaying true discipleship and commitment to the gospel. As the worship leader for this community, this person must have a deep biblical knowledge and a good understanding of the worship of the Church…” By and large, my search revealed the glaring truth that most churches seek style and skill over any other qualities in their worship leadership.

Harvey S. Firestone, industrialist founder of Firestone Tire and Rubber Company, once said, “The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.”[1] I believe this statement to be very true, pertaining both to the body of people under a leader, as well as for the leader him/herself. Certainly in the spiritual sense this is an essential concept. 2 Peter 3:18 urges, “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ…”

Growth is essential to life. Part of leadership is nurturing growth in others as well as in one’s self. As J. Robert Clinton writes, “Leaders will be responsible for influencing specific groups of people to obey God. They will not achieve this if they themselves are not learning how to obey.”[2] Spiritual leaders in the church are faced with an important question: How am I helping my community grow, while at the same time growing and developing myself?

Over the past few years, I have engaged in readings, discussions, online forums, and personal interactions regarding worship leadership. Though the insights, challenges, and convictions gained from these engagements are numerous, there is one important paradigm shift I have made that is worth mentioning in light of my previous comments: I now consider the role of the worship leader as a worship pastor.

Not all leaders are pastors, but all pastors should be leaders. Since high school, my role in worship services has been behind a guitar and microphone instead of behind a pulpit. In other words, my role in worship has mainly been musical. This is the area I felt called, equipped, and gifted to serve in the body of Christ. Everything else in the service was for someone else to do. My job was a supportive role to the pastoral staff. They were the pastoral leaders; I was a musical helper. Thus, I never considered any part of my vocation to be pastoral.

This may be a common mindset in the church today, so let me introduce what is perhaps a new concept: the pastoral musician. The idea of the pastoral musician intrigues me because, honestly, I never hear the two terms used together. Unfortunately, the two are often used in conflict with one another.

Constance Cherry defines a pastoral musician in her book The Worship Architect: “The pastoral musician is a leader with developed skill and God-given responsibility for selecting and employing music in worship that will serve the actions of the liturgy, while reflecting on theological, contextual, and cultural considerations, all for the ultimate purpose of glorifying God.”[3] Considering this description, we begin to see how a musician in the church truly does have a pastoral role. For instance, the pastoral musician: thinks theologically about the functions of every song throughout the service; seeks to move the worshiper from the role of audience to the role of active participant; embraces the breadth of song types while being faithful to the type which their context implies; views music ministry from the larger liturgical picture of designated Scripture readings and the Christian year. These are all areas significant to worship and to worship leadership, and all means by which a worship leader begins to function as a worship pastor. Yet I have never seen any of these considered on a worship leader job posting.

Timothy S. Laniak writes in his book, Shepherds After My Own Heart, about pastors as having a similar role to shepherds. He says, “To be a shepherd is to be both responsible for (the flock) and responsible to (the Owner).”[4] For most of my life, my motivation in ministry was solely out of faithfulness and obedience to God. Indeed this motive is very central, however, it is incomplete. According to Laniak’s description of a shepherd, I also have a responsibility to be faithful to the community I serve. Part of this faithfulness is my own obedience to God. Remembering Clinton’s earlier statement, the other part of this obedience is how I influence others to obey God, accomplishing what Cherry calls, “the dialogical role between God and the people.”[5]

So a word to musicians and worship leaders – take your pastoral role seriously. Know that you are more than a music director or skilled vocalist or instrumentalist. You are a pastor in your worship community.

Church leaders – are you desperately seeking worship pastors? There will only ever be one Chris Tomlin or David Crowder. There are numerous great musicians, though not all of them are pastoral. Perhaps we will find something of greater value when we begin to look beyond skill or style.

 

Jonathan Powers is the worship pastor for the Offerings Community of Lexington First United Methodist Church. He is also an adjunct professor of worship arts at Asbury University and is currently finishing a doctoral degree at the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies. You can follow Jonathan on twitter – @jonboy017 or check out his blog.


[1] Mick Yates, “Looking to Sustain Performance? Start in the Boardroom,” Leader Values, 28, July 2010.

[2] J. Robert Clinton, The Making of a Leader: Recognizing the Lessons and Stages of Leadership development, (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1988), 66.

[3] Constance M. Cherry, The Worship Architect: A Blueprint for Designing Culturally Relevant and Biblically Faithful Services, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2010), 180.

[4] Timothy S. Laniak, Shepherds after My Own Heart: Pastoral Traditions in the Bible, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 248.

[5] Cherry, Architect, 179.

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Jonathan serves with his wife, Faith, and daughter, Audrey, as the director of student ministries for World Gospel Mission at Asbury University. Jonathan is also an adjunct professor of worship at both Asbury University and Asbury Theological Seminary, and assists with musical leadership and worship design in the Offerings Community of First United Methodist Church, Lexington, KY. In 2013, he received a Doctorate in Worship Studies from the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies in Orange Park, FL. Jonathan is the author of 12 Days of Christmas Sermons, and co-author with Jason Jackson and Teddy Ray of Echo: A Catechism for Discipleship in the Ancient Tradition, both published by Seedbed.

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