From the call to arms and the recent cease fire, save a few minor skirmishes, of what is known as the “Worship Wars” within the Evangelical Church one can see that the battlefield has profoundly shaped the ecclesial and ministerial landscape. Perhaps more than any other the office of worship leader has changed the most.
This title of “Worship Leader”, if understood as an individual within the ecclesial community, was often times attributed to the pastor, who also prepared the sermon and the overall liturgy of the church. Thus the art presented within the worship gathering would consist of the overall aesthetic of the church building and the artistic contribution of the church gathered.
However, as the first shots of the Worship Wars were fired a new philosophy of corporate worship was taking root – that being the movement to include “seekers” within the gathering of the worship community. In an effort to welcome the seeker churches implemented a kind of iconoclasm within their buildings, thus stripping away any remnants of Christian images deemed to make the seeker uncomfortable, and they began turning to the prevailing art form—music—to give voice to their new found battle cry.
The Office of Worship Leader
Thus the office of “Worship Leader” was born separate from that of the pastor and a proper job description was given. These responsibilities required one to be an expert within contemporary art and a charismatic evangelist as well—for the art was the medium in which the seeker would be welcomed into the worshiping community.
Unfortunately this re-centering of the worship gathering upon the perceived needs of the seeker created a counter-narrative to the ecclesial body and to the tradition of the church. It is in this re-centering that both the office of worship leader was removed from the pastor and the goals of worship were redefined towards the seeker.
The goal of this brief synopsis of the conception of the office of Worship Leader and its subsequent ministerial philosophy is not meant to critique this newfound office. Instead, in order to recapture a philosophy of ministry for the Worship Leader, I propose that a new job description, and perhaps a new title, be given—that is one of Storyteller.
Worship Leader as Storyteller
One of the earliest Worship Leaders that we find in the Biblical text is that of the prophet Miriam, the sister of Aaron. Upon receiving salvation from the Egyptian oppressors Miriam breaks into song along with others from the community:
“Sing to the Lord,
for he is highly exalted.
Both horse and rider
he has hurled into the sea.”
This song re-tells the story of God’s salvation for the people of God and it is this song that is sung again and again throughout the Bible, especially within the Psalms, which reminds the people of God of the narrative of God’s work within their lives.
The people of God, which is the gathered community in worship, are a people of narrative who are shaped and centered on the work of God in their history.
This theme is present as the people of God remember and re-tell the acts of God within their history. When preaching from Solomon’s Portico Peter reminds the Israelite people of the God of their heritage and declares that Jesus has been glorified by the God of their ancestors (Acts 3:13). Paul too re-tells the story of God multiple times throughout his missionary travels, always culminating with the work of Christ in their midst (Acts 13:13-41, 22:1-21, etc.). Thus the people of God are a people of narrative and it is this narrative that shapes and gives voice to our worship today.
As we re-imagine the role of the Worship Leader within our post-Worship Wars, ecclesial culture the responsibility of Storyteller must be included. It is also vitally important that the protagonist of this story be that of the person of Christ.
The Role of Story in Worship
For the Worship Leader the goal of corporate worship should be to remind the people of God of the story of God’s redemption through Christ, thus leading this redeemed people into the worship of this active, living God. This corporate memory must be rekindled by connecting the local congregation to the acts of God in history, by singing songs and reading Scripture that recall these acts. Along with this ecclesial history it is important that the Worship Leader call the congregation to recognize God in their midst within their contemporary setting. Thus the presence of Christ in both the community and in the Table must be acknowledged along with the opportunity for the congregation to share with one another regarding the acts of God within their lives.
This fundamental shift in the narrative of the worshiping community will also supplant the ambiguous seeker with the person of Christ as the central figure in worship and will call the larger community to the realization that God is indeed present within their midst.
Perhaps now that the embattled Evangelical Church is becoming wearisome from this conflict a new, more robust understanding of the role of both the Worship Leader and corporate worship will emerge; one that reflects and enacts the story of God in the lives of the people of God with Christ as the head of both the Church and the narrative of the worshiping community.