Apr 24th, 2014 · Categories: Christianity · 4 Comments

Worship interrupted

At some point during my last term on our church’s Session (Presbyterian board of elders), I got a little testy about the title Worship Leader. I said we should quit using the term because it is a cancer on the Church. I don’t think many in the room understood what I was so worked up about. That was more than a year ago; nothing has happened to change my mind about the misleading, anti-Biblical message contained in that title.

A Facebook friend recently posted information about a conference named LIFT: A Worship Leader Collective. Naturally, the title caught my attention, so I had a look.

The intended audience is “worship leaders, songwriters and musicians”. There was an impressive list of names associated with the event – Louie Giglio, Chris Tomlin, and others, worthy evangelical superstars all. The site didn’t really define Worship Leader, so I poked around to make sure I understood what the event organizers (Passion City Church) meant.

Other than Pastor Giglio, all the presenters are musicians, so that’s a clue. A FAQ confirmed my initial impression:

Do I have to be a worship leader to attend? Songwriters, band members and musicians may attend but the main focus and programming for LIFT is created for worship leaders.

That’s pretty clear. No teachers (except maybe some lyricists), preachers, liturgists, readers, or anyone else not involved in music need apply. So it seems that the conference organizers agree with the common use of the term – a Worship Leader is the person who leads the music in a worship service.

When the music stops …

But if the Worship Leader is indeed leading worship, what happens when the music stops? Is worship finished? Does someone who is not the Worship Leader lead the worship, thus becoming a new de facto Worship Leader? If so, why doesn’t this person who is now leading worship have the title? Or does worship proceed without anyone leading it?

Or is what follows the music something other than worship? Are the sermons, prayers, creeds, Scripture readings, and celebrations of the Lord’s Supper not worship? Are they just activities that fill in the space between “worship experiences” (i.e. songs)? Do these things interrupt worship? Do they even belong in a worship service?

But if these non-musical activities are part of worship, what is the Worship Leader’s role in them? Does the Worship Leader “lead” the sermon? Does the pastor submit the message to the Worship Leader for approval? What about the Scripture readings or prayers? If such things are part of worship but not subject to the Worship Leader’s approval, what exactly does it mean to be the Worship Leader?

Clearly, the title Worship Leader is confusing at best . But far worse, bestowing the title on someone who leads only the musical part of a worship service conveys a message that is as clear as it is false: Worship is music; music is worship; we worship God by singing. Everything else is, well, something else, not worship.

What I find puzzling is that this myth is propagated by people who should – and almost certainly do – know better. It is hard to believe that Louie Giglio and Chris Tomlin don’t understand that true worship is much more robust and varied than the title Worship Leader connotes.

For example, in his book, Real Worship: Playground, Battleground, or Holy Ground, Warren Wiersbe observes that

worship involves both attitudes (awe, reverence, respect) and actions (bowing, praising, serving). It is both a subjective experience and an objective activity. Worship is not an unexpressed feeling nor is it an empty formality. True worship is balanced and involves the mind, the emotions, and the will. It must be intelligent; it must reach deep within and be motivated by love; and it must lead to obedient actions that glorify God.

It seems to me that prayer, Scripture reading, preaching, and the Lord’s Supper meet this description and qualify as worship. Do these things fall under the direction of the Worship Leader?


Vaughn Roberts, in his book True Worship, expresses a popular theme in the contemporary church:

Worship cannot be limited to what we do in church on Sunday. Worship means submitting to Jesus Christ in every area of my life.

Where is the Worship Leader the other 167 hours of the week?

Passion City Church declares on its web site that

More than outward forms, theologically informed worship must encompass our entire existence whereby in all circumstances our words and actions bring glory to God.

How does the Worship Leader lead us through “our entire existence”?

Christians need to understand what it means to worship God in spirit and in truth; loving God with our minds (Mark 12:30) demands it. We need to know when we are worshipping and what we are doing when we do it.

Whether we consider worship in the context of a Sunday service dedicated to the purpose or in the sense of an all-encompassing individual commitment, the title Worship Leader detracts from that understanding. It would be a service to the Church to abandon it immediately and use the occasion to clarify the meaning of Christian worship.

Note about the book links: Both books are available from both CBD and Amazon. Amazon also offers Kindle editions of both books.

This entry was posted on Thursday, April 24th, 2014 at 2:52 pm and is filed under Christianity. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

4 Responses to “Worship interrupted”

  1. M. Kisker Says:

    May 13th, 2014 at 9:15 pm

    I could not agree more with the points you make. Worship shouldn’t start or start at any predefined time or day. In addition, most of today’s churches don’t view it this way but worship can and should happen in complete silence whether there is one, two, or two thousand people together. Lastly, is anyone should be given the title of “Worship Leader” let it be the Holy Spirit.

  2. Grumpy Says:

    May 13th, 2014 at 9:48 pm

    Thanks for the comment, Mike. You make a great point – the only person qualified for the title is the Holy Spirit.

  3. Grumpy Says:

    May 26th, 2014 at 1:43 pm

    UPDATES: I sent this blog entry to Passion Church requesting comment or correction but received no reply. If you like this sort of thing, the LIFT conference sessions are available for download at http://allaccess.passioncitychurch.com/lift2014/

  4. Featured post | The Curmudgeon's Progress Says:

    March 20th, 2018 at 3:22 pm

    […] Featured post from the past: Worship interrupted […]

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