Why Worship Leaders are the Primary Practical Theologians of the Church

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This is a series of posts for worship leaders, a term I define broadly to include anyone who has anything to do with planning, preparing for or leading a worship service. At the same time, it would be encouraging to all who would bear the name of Christ and aspire to live a worship-filled life.

So why are those who serve the work of worship so important? Good question. After all, most worship looks pretty simple. Sing some songs, pray, read Scripture, listen to a sermon and go home. Those involved must be somewhat gifted and called to this work, but what more is needed?

THREE BOLD ASSERTIONS

Permit me a few bold claims. Bold Assertion #1: Nothing is more central to the people of God than the practice of worship. Bold Assertion #2: The pratice of worship expresses and forms the personal and collective faith of the people like nothing else. Bold Assertion #3: Those who shape, order and lead the practice of worship wield perhaps more influence over the people of God than anyone else.

THE BIG IDEA

Following on these three bold claims, I offer this revolutionary statement. It is my primary thesis and reason for writing; the big idea: Worship Leaders are the primary practical theologians of the Church. While they may not need a theological degree, training in a theological vision for worship is essential.

First, what is a “Practical Theologian?”

Theology comes to us from two Greek words: Theos, meaning God, and Logos, meaning Word. Look at the rich range of connections. God-Word, Word-God, God of Words, Speaking God, God who speaks, Words about God, Words of God. “Theology” is a word too long abused by agendas, held hostage by the so-called “wise and learned,” and relegated to books with words noone can pronounce much less understand. Theology, what began as the playground of awe- inspired Saints has become the labyrinthine lair of specialized scholars. Don’t hear me wrong. I do not mean to eschew the work of academic scholars of theology. With the exception of a few well intentioned heretics, their speculative searching and systematic laboring blesses the church in myriad ways. I offer a corrective. Academic scholars cannot be the sole proprietors of theology. Theology belongs to the whole people of God.

Practical theologians as living translations, show us how knowledge becomes wisdom, faith becomes understanding and mourning becomes dancing. They translate theology into edible words. “Eat this book,” says Yahweh to Ezekiel. “When your words came to me I ate them, for they were my joy and delight,” says Jeremiah. “People do not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God,” says Jesus. Practical theologians translate theology into food for the hungry, clothes for the naked, medicine for the sick and friendship for the lonely and imprisoned. With soil-stained hands, they superintend the process from a seed of wheat to a harvest of grain to the mill for flour to the fire for baking to the people for eating and to the streets for sharing.

They incarnate the paschal mystery through practical ministry, journeying with us from an “earthen altar” to the very Table of the Lord: water and bread, oil and wine.

Second, who are “Worship Leaders?”

For purposes of this series I want to define worship narrowly and leader broadly. One rightly points out the vast scope of a word like worship. Properly speaking, anything one does for the glory of God qualifies as worship. This series, however, aims to talk about worship in the frame of what happens when God’s people assemble for the explicit purpose of “worshipping” Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I hope to convince you that what happens in the gathering will determine what happens after the gathering. To be sure, worship is a “lifestyle,” but before it is a lifestyle it must be a distinctively patterned practice. The lifestyle is learned from the liturgy.

So who are worship leaders? I define the term broadly to mean anyone who works in a servant capacity to plan, prepare for and lead the people of God in corporate worship. The preacher or pastor? Yes. The bass player? Yes. The sound guy? Yes. The girl who makes slides and runs pro-presenter? Yes. The team that designs the plan for the services? Yes. The organist? Yes. The choir? Yes. The lead vocalist in the worship band? Yes. The announcement makers? Yes. The team responsible for the environment? Yes. The altar guild? Yes. The songwriters? Yes. The Scripture Readers and Prayers? Yes. The drummer? Yes. The dancers? Yes. The Ushers . . . . . . . ? Absolutely!

Why must worship leaders be practical theologians?

People learn their primary theology not through reading but in worship; the spirit of gathering, the invocation of Deity, the songs sung, the manner and mode of praying, the Scriptures selected and heard, the witnesses’ sharing, the sermons preached, the responses evoked, the approaches to the Table and the way of sending forth. These are the elements of worship. Regardless of what one calls them, or whether they are written down or not, this list captures what happens in most any worship service. All of these elements work together over time to profoundly shape a person’s and a peoples’ image of God, their vision of self and others and their sense of purpose and work in the World. Who prepares for and puts all of this together week after week after week? Worship leaders. But all of these elements listed above are only the “motions” of worship. What worship leaders of all stripes must understand is how the motions of worship connect to the movement of the Kingdom which flows out from the mystery of God; namely the mind of Christ.

I consider worship leaders the primary practical theologians of the Church because through their work they translate theology into doxology (i.e. God Words into Glory Words). Their every labor must be leveraged for the passionate cry of the living liturgy,

“Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”
The ONE who was and is and is to come.

So, how does this challenge you? Where would you push back? What am I missing? Let’s chat it up in the comments.

Visit our Worship Design Collective for more resources like this one.

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Farmer. Poet. Theologian. Jurist. Publisher. Seedbed’s Sower-in-Chief.

1 COMMENT

  1. Very well written! There are some great thoughts here. The North American Church has become quite lazy, overall. We certainly need a real refreshing of the excitement of this glorious gospel, and to re-educate ourselves, our brothers and sisters, and children, what true PRACTICAL worship looks like. Thanks so much for this article!

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