Value #4 Part 1: Jesus is in Control

Have  you ever been annoyed by someone who always seemed to get their way? The kid in school who all the teachers favored? The friend growing up who always got everything they wanted from their parents? The co-worker who can do no wrong in the eyes of their employer? The neighbor down the street who seems to have every circumstance of life play right into their hands?

These things eat at us. We’ve all felt this way because somewhere, deep down, we believe that these people don’t deserve what they’re getting. We’ve seen a different side of them – a side that the teachers, parents, and employers haven’t. And if we’re brutally honest with ourselves, we know that we don’t deserve to get our way either. We may spend our time daydreaming about what things would be like if we had power over our circumstances and control over every situation, but none of us actually believe that we’ve earned that place of authority.

But what if there actually was someone who deserved to get their way in everything? Someone whose perfections, if added up, could never be counted. Life would leave your body and oceans would dry up and stars would stop burning before you finished naming them off. And what if that person not only deserved to get their way, but actually did? Always. In everything, all the time. And what if that person was limitlessly,  universe-encompassingly in control of everything that ever happened? No circumstance or situation was outside his realm of absolute influence. And what if this person was life-changingly, world-alteringly, perspective-shatteringly good? Without exception. Ever. So good that there’s no one you would rather have get their way. And so trustworthy, and so wise, that you never had to second guess what came to pass in your life. Because when he got his way, you benefited. His way coming to pass is always your good. His way is never separated from his love for you.

This is Jesus. He is in control, and he is good.

“Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O LORD, and you are exalted as head above all. Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all.”

1 Chronicles 29:11-12 (ESV)

And in the midst of pain, and suffering, and hurt, and hardship, Jesus is still in control. We cry tears because we don’t understand. We see death and we fear because it’s the end of everything that we know. We grow angry and resent God because we wonder how anything good could come from things so horrible and broken and twisted. Our hearts cry out with the writer of Ecclesiastes – “What is crooked cannot be made straight, and what is lacking cannot be counted” – Eccl. 1:15.

But we can cling to one thing when darkness pushes in on us – that Jesus is good. And he will never deny us his love. He will never hold back from us what is good. Ever.

“If we knew what God knows, we would ask exactly for what he gives.”

– Tim Keller

We are not God. Do we really wish that we were? Would existence be better, would the world be rid of pain and hardship and evil if we were in control? How could it be?

In the furthest corners of our heart, attached to the deepest longings of our being, we ache to know that Jesus is in control. We need to believe that he is good. We need to believe that his love and justice and mercy will conquer everything in this world that brings death and hurt.

And we need to experience this knowledge, this simple trust, this child-like faith in Jesus in the everyday things of life. From our foggy-eyed waking to our dream-drenched sleeping. In our bigger-than-life moments to our mundane, seemingly meaningless blips of rut and routine. We need to know that Jesus is in control of every facet of our lives, whether big or small.

For my worship band and I, we rest in the fact that Jesus is in control of everything we do in worship. We work hard to give our best, and trust Jesus with the outcome. Jesus doesn’t need us, but he has been kind to choose us to lead our students in this season. He will accomplish his purposes every time we lead worship, even if it seems like we’ve made no impact. We sow the seed, and entrust him to produce the fruit. Even if (and when) a worship set is crashing down around us, Jesus’s plans will be carried out, our good will be realized, and his glory will not be diminished.

“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”

Psalm 46:10 (ESV)

We believe that Jesus is in control.

 

— For the past few months I’ve been been writing about ten values that are shaping my students worship band. This post is part one of two covering the fourth value that is shaping our band.

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3 Surprising Things My First Year of Residency Has Given Me

I need regular time for reflection. My sanity depends on it. As I approached the end of my first year of residency at the Austin Stone, I knew that I needed to step away from my usual rhythms and contemplate what had happened over the past 12 months. That’s one thing that the residency doesn’t give you – much time to slow down and process. It’s one reason why I’m thankful for this blog – it’s an opportunity for me each month to take a small step back and reflect on what I’ve been learning.

For the past few weeks I’ve been in my home state of Illinois, intentionally trying to slow down and reflect over the past year. Don’t get me wrong – in some ways I’ve still been busy. I’ve spent lots of time reconnecting with family, friends, and supporters. I’ve been leading worship regularly.  But my mindset has been slower, more reflective, and purposefully aimed at recharging myself for the upcoming year – assessing the last year and taking stock for what lies ahead.

“So,” you might ask, “what has the past year been like for you?”

There are a lot of things that I could tell you. I’ve grown in my abilities as a musician, in my ability to lead a band, to cast vision, and to pastor people from a worship platform. I’ve developed a deeper understanding of the theology of worship and how that theology plays itself out practically in different contexts. I feel like I’ve been well equipped to lead worship wherever God calls me after the residency!

But some of the ways that I’ve grown might surprise you. As I’ve reflected on the past year, these are things that the residency has provided that I didn’t expect. When I came into the residency, I never thought these things would be such a big part of what was in store for me. It’s sort of like opening the refrigerator at a strangers house – there are some things in there that you’d expect to find (ketchup, eggs, milk), but there’s always a few things that you couldn’t have guessed would be there! There are unique things in every fridge – because each fridge is unique to a particular person or family. Similarly, the residency has its own unique flavor. It certainly has provided a lot of things that I expected to find (growth as a musician and pastor), but there’s a couple of things particular to this residency that I couldn’t have guessed would be waiting for me. They are unique to my residency, and they are part of the reason why my residency has been so special.

1. I’ve been surprised by the network of worship leaders I’ve developed. 

Like I said before, it’s not that I wouldn’t expect for this to be a part of my residency experience – it’s just that I couldn’t have guessed that it would turn out to be such a big part of it. One of the cool things about the Austin Stone is their commitment to developing healthy relationships with other churches and other worship leaders from different places. I’ve had the opportunity to meet so many great worship leaders from all over the country – and it’s allowed me to develop and grow a healthy network.

2. I’ve been surprised by my growth in personal evangelism.

The past year has provided me with the opportunity to take a class through the Austin Stone called the Men’s and Women’s Development Program. This class is designed to teach theology in a way that allows students to communicate biblical truth to others in a clear and winsome way. Every time I step out into the city of Austin, there’s a good chance I’ll get into a conversation with someone of a different faith or belief system. People in the city are friendly and generally open about what they believe, and it’s led to a lot of opportunity to develop genuine relationships and share what I believe with people throughout the city.

3.  I’ve been surprised by the close friendships I’ve formed.

Before I moved to Austin, I was unsure about how many deep relationships I’d be able to form. It’s hard to tell whether you’ll “click” with a group of people. Especially since my residency is capped at two years in length, I didn’t know if there would be enough time to form genuine, fruitful relationships with others at the church. I feel like I’ve “clicked” with the people at the Austin Stone from the first day that I started my residency. God has gifted me with great relationships, great accountability, and with lots of friendships that will last a lifetime.

 

Thank you…

The past few weeks of reflection have impressed upon me many ways that I’ve grown during my first year of residency. As I continue to reflect and take stock for what lies ahead in the remainder of my time at the Austin Stone, my mind goes back to you. Without your prayers, encouragement, and support, none of this would be possible – so THANK YOU!!! I am so grateful and so proud to have such a great team of people supporting me and cheering me on.

Here’s looking forward to the remainder of my residency!

Value #3: We Value Character Over Competency

We are fascinated with people of great skill.

As a kid, I remember watching Michael Jordan dance his way around defenders to take the game-winning shot of game 6 in the 1998 NBA finals. I was awestruck. To my young mind, MJ was the greatest human being on the planet, the pinnacle of human perfection. I wanted to be like Mike.

Jordan was the most competent player to ever compete – both in his skill and in his knowledge of the game- and this competency led to his larger-than-life legacy and multi-million dollar status.

Our culture idolizes people of great competency. We love to cheer on the worlds best athletes, to buy from the worlds most pioneering businesspeople, and to send our kids to learn from the worlds best and brightest scholars.

Competency gets you places.

But competency alone won’t get you very far in God’s economy. In fact, it’ll get you nowhere without something that God desires more – character.

“Make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.” (2 Peter 1:5-7 ESV)

As broken humans, we struggle to see beyond outward performance. We value our competency in a particular skill set because it brings us recognition and respect. But Gods vision and understanding goes so much further. He sees and knows the heart. He wants people of character. He wants us to want to be people of character.

It’s only when our competency is directed, shaped, and ruled by God-honoring character that it truly becomes pleasing to God. It’s only when our competency is combined with this kind of character that our skills become sharpened arrows for God’s use.

In the Austin Stone Worship Manifesto, our lead pastor of worship at the Austin Stone, Aaron Ivey, writes:

“Artists tend to focus on skill level over character, but character is a necessity for anyone with influence. The size of the platform doesn’t always equal the size of the inward character. Platform typically illuminates skill sets, but the eyes of the Lord see the condition of the heart. Worshiping teams realize that character always trumps competency.”

My students worship band and I recognize the need to lead from a place of humility rather than pride, from brokenness rather than being “the complete package.” It’s when we take on an attitude of humility that we can see our gifting and skill sets properly – as a gift from God to be used for His glory and the good of others, not as a means of self-promotion or gain.

Although my band-mates and I are broken people, we belong to a holy, overwhelmingly kind and loving God. He sees our hearts, and wants them so much more than he wants our songs and skill sets. As a band, we care far more about the inner person than an outer performance.

We value character over competency.

 

 

— For the past few months I’ve been been writing about ten values that are shaping my students worship band. This value, “we value character over competency” was borrowed directly from the Austin Stone Worship Manifesto.

Value #2: We Choose Servanthood Over Stardom

In the first post of this series, I listed 10 values that are shaping my students worship band.  I’ve loved being a part of this group of musicians, and so I set out to list some of the things that we want to continue to value and develop moving forward. My aim is to develop a culture among us that glorifies God and serves the students that we lead well. In this post, I’ll try to describe our second value, which is taken directly from the Austin Stone Worship Manifesto.

Value #2: We choose servanthood over stardom. 

In an article posted on the Austin Stone Worship website, our Pastor of Worship, Aaron Ivey, succinctly describes what it means to choose servanthood over stardom. He writes:

“Leadership is for service, not status…the only person who deserves a platform, audience, or spotlight is Jesus Christ. We resist the temptation to promote ourselves and we die to a desire to be the greatest.”

My band and I’s purpose in worship is to direct glory away from ourselves and toward Jesus in every way possible. This means that we aim to craft our setlist, faithfully practice our music, and lead with a level of excellence that seeks primarily to serve our people and not our own reputation or ego. In other words, our ultimate aim isn’t to direct our students to notice our musicianship – a screaming guitar solo or a fat drum fill – we seek instead to point our students to Jesus. Jesus alone is worthy of being exalted. Jesus alone deserves our attention and admiration. We seek to point our students to him by the way we plan and execute our music.

But faithful servanthood goes far beyond our ability to make excellent music that points people to Jesus. It reaches down into the very lives of the students that we serve. This means that we are willing to step off of whatever platform we’re on to “get our hands dirty” – by offering a kind word, a helping hand, or just caring enough to remember our students names and form relationships with them. Sometimes it means playing ping-pong with the same girl for the fortieth time in a row. Sometimes it means googling the newest video games so that you can have a coherent conversation with a sixth grader about his hobby. Sometimes it means letting a sweaty kid with grubby hands and a pizza-stained t-shirt play your guitar! Like Jesus took initiative in laying down his life and serving us, we seek to take initiative in serving the students in our ministry.

Ultimately, we are fueled for servanthood by the example of Jesus.

Jesus was the epitome of a servant. The only one who ever deserved to be pampered chose instead to wash his disciples feet. The only one who ever merited the right to live in the lap of luxury had no home on this earth and no place to rest his head. The only one truly worthy to sit on a throne in the presence of royalty chose instead to sit on a dusty floor, eating with sinners and crooked government officials. The only one who claimed the right to ornament himself with the finest that the world had to offer was instead ornamented with the naked ugliness of our sin. And the only one who truly deserved to be lifted up in admiration and praise was lifted up on a Roman cross to be derided and ultimately killed.

I wonder if, in Jesus’s dying moments, his followers remembered these words that he had spoken to them:

whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (ESV) – Mark 10:43-45

Jesus chose this kind of servanthood knowing that it would cost him everything. And he calls us to do the same. There’s no room to clamor for recognition and no space to seek after stardom in God’s economy – there is only one Hero of the story, one Savior, and one King who alone is forever declared worthy of honor and glory.

Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice,

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!” (ESV) – Revelation 5:11-12

We choose to embrace servanthood because Jesus did. We choose servanthood because Jesus is the true star. We choose servanthood over stardom.

Value #1: We Are Passionate Worshipers Throughout the Week

In my last post, I listed 10 values that are shaping my students worship band.  I’ve loved being a part of this group of guys, and so I set out to list some of the things that we want to continue to value and develop moving forward as a band. My hope is to develop a culture among us that glorifies God and serves the students that we lead well. In this post, I’ll try to describe our first value.

Value #1: We are passionate worshipers throughout the week. 

I’ll begin by explaining what I don’t mean. I don’t mean that my band and I are aiming to constantly sing, raise our hands, and expressively gesticulate in a religious fashion throughout the week. I also don’t mean to imply that this value takes preeminence over the other nine values because it comes first on the list. It doesn’t.

With that being said, here’s what I mean by saying that we aim to be passionate worshipers throughout the week:

None of my band members or I come in to lead music for a service and expect to be able to flip a switch to go into worship mode, as if we can somehow summon up a sense of “worshiply-ness” about us that wasn’t there before. Passionate worship isn’t something we muster up in the moment of a song, it’s something we’ve been incubating, fostering, and living out through the entirety of the week. We rightly want to recognize that our time of worship is a weighty occasion (there’s a gravity that comes with singing praises to the Lord of the Universe as a collected body of believers), but we also don’t want to pretend that our lives outside of those moments of corporate worship are any less important to God than the moments inside of it.  We want to recognize that what we are doing is incredibly significant without neglecting the fact that our character outside of corporate worship is just as important as our demeanor inside of corporate worship. We want to passionately worship Jesus in absolutely everything we do, not just in the way we lead through music.

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

1 Corinthians 10:31 (ESV)

All of our lives, every nook and cranny, are meant to be filled in worship to God. My band and I want it to be apparent that we’ve been worshiping Jesus in the way we live throughout the week, not just during a Sunday worship service. We want everything we do to ring out in praise to God – in our private devotions, in the way we conduct ourselves at work, and in the way we treat our friends, family, and roommates. Even the incredibly mundane moments – driving to work, buying groceries, or changing diapers (for some of my band-mates that’s all too real!) – we recognize that every moment of our lives is a chance to passionately worship Jesus in our thoughts, deeds, and attitudes. Ultimately, our Sunday worship service is a continuation of what we’ve been doing all week long.

We are passionate worshipers throughout the week. 

Ten Values That Are Shaping My Students Worship Band

My worship band is special. Seriously. I know that everybody thinks their band is special (sort of like the way a parent always thinks their kids are the best), but I really mean that my worship band has been a gift from God. Shortly after I moved to Austin, I was told that I’d have to assemble a worship band to lead with me at our North Campus Students ministry. I was absolutely clueless – how am I supposed to form a band in a city where I know so few people? 

I prayed for God to send musicians my way. Within a few weeks I had a hodgepodge of guys who had never met each other, but who all seemed to be able to play their instruments, and who all seemed to want to use their talents to worship God. I had no idea of their skill levels, or how long they would want to stick around. I had an audio guy who had never touched a sound board, but who was willing to learn. In other words – we were all faced with a lot of unknowns. I mean really, was this gonna work out?

It did.

I can’t explain why, but by God’s grace that hodgepodge of guys turned out to be a mini dream-team for me. They have proved faithful, hard-working, and talented. But it got me thinking – what about this group makes them special? What attitudes and values have we been implicitly living out that have made us the way we are as a band? 

So I started writing down things about my band that, I think, make us special. I came up with ten things that I think set this band apart with the hopes that, in writing them down, these values would become explicit rather than solely implicit among us. These are some of the things that we want to continue to value and develop moving forward as a band.

In this post, I’ll share the ten values that are shaping my band. Some of them are borrowed from the Austin Stone Worship Manifesto , but have been repurposed for the context of my band.  In posts to come, I’ll try to describe each value in detail.

 

  1. We are passionate worshipers throughout the week. 
  2. We choose servanthood over stardom.
  3. We value character over competency.
  4. Jesus is in control, and he is the true Worship Leader.
  5. We will fight for contentment in every circumstance.
  6. We’re thankful for our roles in the band.
  7. We are primarily brothers in Christ, and then band-mates.
  8. Development is our heartbeat.
  9. We’re passionate about making passionate worshipers.
  10. We strive for excellence in everything we do.

My Ministry is Far From Sexy

I lead worship most Sundays. And most Sundays my band and I look out at a small group of somewhat awkward, glossy-eyed sixth-graders. Okay, I admit it… sometimes they’re painfully awkward. Students often meet our music with blank stares and slumped shoulders. It seems on Sundays our students are way more interested to open their mouths for the next bite of pizza than to open their mouths to sing. It’s something my band and I have had to learn to take in stride.

It’s far from sexy. In fact, it’s a ministry that goes relatively unnoticed. There are Sundays where I wonder whether the work I’m putting in is worth the impact I’m making. And in the midst of a modern worship culture that’s constantly clamoring for a bigger stage, brighter lights, and an ever-widening web of people to influence and lead, my band and I are fighting to believe that God is present and working in our humble little room, on our humble little stage, within our humble little students.

In the thick of it all, some of my bandmates and I have adopted a phrase –  There’s no place we’d rather be.

Don’t get me wrong. Of course there are times when we would love to play on a big stage, in front of big(ger) people. We certainly wouldn’t mind better equipment, a big budget, and a flashy environment to lead in. Of course we’d love to lead people who sing loudly, expressively, and passionately.

But the passionate, Spirit-filled worshipers of tomorrow are awkward sixth-graders today.

And I am privileged to lead those sixth-graders. I am privileged to look out at a group of worshipers whose potential for the Kingdom of God is unburdened by the cares and difficulties of adulthood. In fact, Jesus tells us that these young ones are blessed, because the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs (Luke 18:15-16). They receive the Kingdom of God into their hearts in a way that God delights in – with the humble faith of a child (Luke 18:17). These young ones have their entire lives in front of them – lives that we pray will be entirely spent on Jesus.

They may feel awkward in worship, for now. But my band and I are privileged to teach them what expressive, passionate, Spirit-filled worship looks like. And one day, by God’s grace, I believe many of them will worship without abandon. The thought of it fills me with hope, and joy, and the overwhelming feeling that what my band and I do matters. I love the ministry that God has entrusted to us. It’s precious in His eyes, and it is enough for us. What I mean by enough is that our work is valuable to God, and so we can find contentment, peace, and purpose in it. He could have called us to lead thousands, but He has called us right here, right now –  to a small room in a forgotten corner of the church that smells like sweaty kids.

And so we labor on with joy.

Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised,
and his greatness is unsearchable.
One generation shall commend your works to another,
and shall declare your mighty acts.

– Psalm 145: 3-4 (ESV)

God has entrusted to us the task of declaring His greatness to the next generation. And so we fix our eyes on the little image-bearers before us. We are called to be faithful in selflessly serving these young ones. Our awkward, pizza-wielding kids. Our eternal-souled, brimming-with-potential kids. May Jesus break our hearts for them to know Him in our tiny room, in our forgotten little corner of the church. We know that He is with us there, powerfully working.

There’s no place we’d rather be.

Reflecting on Half of a Year in Residency

Here I sit at my place on Providence Avenue in Austin. It’s a fitting street name.

As I look out the window, the grass is green. Kids are playing outside. It’s like stepping into a different world. I’ve just spent a few frigid weeks back home visiting friends and family in Illinois – and despite the cold, I loved every minute of it! My goal for the trip was to reconnect with many of the people who have been a part of my story in bringing me to the Austin Stone Community Church as a worship resident. I cherish the moments I spent talking with old friends, catching up with my family, and embracing my faithful supporters. I will always look forward to coming home because of the special people that will be waiting for me there.

Believe it or not, I’m halfway through my first year of residency! This means that in a year and half, I’ll be wrapping up my residency at the Austin Stone and moving on to wherever God calls me next as a worship leader. Here’s a few of the big ways that I’ve grown through the residency so far:

  •  I’ve grown in my confidence. 

If you know me well, you know that I’m naturally a timid person. Im an introvert who prefers to sit on the fringes of a party. It’s never been easy to get me to come out of my shell. The support-raising process demanded that I break free from my timidity and walk in confidence. God taught me through that process to lean on Him more than ever before and to find my confidence and strength in Him and in His provision. He’s given me an appreciation for the little tribe of believers who have gathered around me as my support-raising family. Through this residency, God has called me out of my comfort zone into a deeper trust and confidence in Him.

  • I’ve grown in my professionalism. 

The residency requires a high level of professionalism and the ability to carry out a  seemingly never-ending list of responsibilities and weekly tasks. Most of the new residents at the Austin Stone are surprised how much working here feels like working at a fortune 500 company! The culture is fast-paced, productive, and has a high level of energy. I’ve had to develop my skills as a self-starter, and I’ve had to learn to effectively manage my time to maximize its value. I’m thankful to be challenged to develop and grow in these ways! Ultimately it’s better preparing me for the ministry that lies ahead of me beyond the residency.

  • I’ve grown in my abilities as a shepherd and as a musician. 

I’ve spent a lot of time in the residency learning what it means to pastor people through music. I’ve been able to learn from some of the best worship pastors in the world. They’ve taught me what it means to lead a worship band, disciple others, and how to create beautiful music that leads others to authentically praise Jesus through song. I get the chance to lead worship with my band every week for the Students ministry at our North Campus (this is essentially the Austin Stone’s version of youth group), and my supervisor gives practical feedback on how I’ve led each week. It’s been incredibly challenging and helpful! Beyond that, I have time scheduled each day to spend practicing guitar and growing in my skill as a musician. My growth and transformation in these areas has been invaluable. Where else would I be able to undergo this kind of development?!

  • I’ve grown as a man of the Word and prayer. 

As a first year resident at the Austin Stone Community Church, I’m required to take a class called the Men’s and Women’s Development Program. I’ll admit – when I first found out about the class I wasn’t very excited. The idea of class never sits nicely with a guy fresh out of seminary. But I’ve found this class to be incredibly fruitful. The truths we’ve learned and the scripture we’ve studied and memorized in class have hit my heart in a fresh way. I love Jesus more now than I did before I started the residency. It’s helped me to truly become a better student of the Word, and a man more connected to God through prayer.

 

Thank you…

To those of you who have faithfully supported me financially and through prayer – thank you so much! I am grateful beyond words for the way that you’ve stood behind me. My experience in the residency so far has been incredible. It has been, and will continue to be, a transformative experience – sharpening my skills, and leading me into greater knowledge, faithfulness, and fruitfulness for God’s Kingdom. I wouldn’t be here without you. Here’s to looking forward to another year and half!

 

 

How Can I Help My Worship Leader Thrive?

How can the local church help worship leaders to flourish as shepherd-musicians? 

This post is the final in a series I’ve written on the importance of worship leaders serving the local church as shepherd-musicians. I’ve tried to explain in these posts the crucial role that worship leaders have of serving their churches through shepherding their congregations and through excellent musicianship. Having described how I view the worship leader as shepherd here, and the worship leader as musician here, I now want to describe what this means for church leadership and the congregations that worship leaders serve.

Here are a few ways to help your worship leader thrive as a shepherd-musician:

  1. Expect your worship leader to be an artist.

I don’t mean a recording artist. I don’t mean a beret-wearing hipster. Your worship leader loves serving through music for a reason – and it’s probably because they are an artistically minded, creative person!  Be okay with them thinking differently than the other pastors at your church. Allow them to express themselves differently than others in the way that they communicate, dress, and in the way that they lead others. Allow them to have space in their day to dream and to create. Expect them to lean towards aesthetics more than functionality. Foster an appreciation for creativity and aesthetic-mindedness in your worship leader! They have talents, abilities, and ways of thinking about things that others in your church leadership don’t have. Be the type of church where artistically-minded, creative Christians want to be – where they feel honored, empowered, and free to serve in the ways that God has designed them to serve. Your worship leader will thank you, and your church will better flourish too!

2. Expect your worship leader to be a theologian.

Theology is the study of God. We need worship leaders to be students of God and His Word. We’ve missed the mark if we expect worship leaders to be only artists. That would be setting the bar far too low. Worship leaders need to be lovers of God and the Gospel. We need creative-minded, artistically-driven people who have the ability to think well, and think rightly, about the things of God. Worship leaders should be held to high expectations in making sure that the songs sung, liturgy used, and calls to worship given during the church gathering are biblically accurate and theologically helpful. In other words, expect your worship leader to be a pastoral-minded theologian! Allow them time during the week to invest in people pastorally outside of music. Allow them to study, to learn, and to grow in their knowledge of the scriptures and theology. Set the bar high. Expect your worship leader to actually lead the church in these ways.

 

My prayer…

is that this post will help worship leaders and the churches that they serve to mutually thrive as individual members of one body (1 Cor. 12:27). Worship leaders have been gifted by God with unique talents to serve the Church! May our churches be bursting at the seams with worship leaders who are creative-minded, artistically-driven theologians – and may our church congregations help their worship leaders to thrive in their role!

The Worship Leader as Musician

In my most recent series of posts, I’ve sought to explain why worship leaders should function in the local church as shepherd-musicians. In my last post, I tried to explain what it practically looks like for a worship leader to function as a shepherd in the local church. In this post, I aim to describe what it looks like for a worship leader to function as a musician. It’s incredibly important that we have worship leaders who function as both!*

The Worship Leader as Musician

A few things that worship leaders should seek to do as musicians:

  • A worship leader should understand that their primary identity is not as a musician.

Every worship leader is tempted to make music a primary means of their value and worth. It’s often the most tangible, visible thing a worship leader does on a consistent basis. In other words, it’s when most people in the church congregation actually see a worship leader doing ministry. Therefore people typically praise (or admonish) a worship leader based on how they’ve seen them perform musically during corporate worship. The slippery temptation, then, is for a worship leader to place their heart’s desire on good musicianship for the sake of receiving praise from others! It’s a constant battle for worship leaders to remember that the point of producing excellent music in corporate worship is for praise, adoration, and glory to be given to Jesus Christ alone. They must remind themselves that whether they eat, or drink, or whatever they do, they are to do it all for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31), and that all their abilities as a musician are ultimately given to them by God (James 1:17).

The primary identity of a worship leader is as a child of God who has been loved, sought out, and purchased by Jesus. Because they are united to Jesus, His perfect record in life has made them completely righteous, acceptable, and well liked by God (2 Cor. 5:21). His death has spared them from the wrath of God (Rom. 5:9). His resurrection gives them the sure promise that one day they will literally rise from the dead to spend eternity with God (Rom. 6:5). Because this is true, a worship leader is able to put music (and therefore their role as a musician) in its proper place – as a beautiful means by which we praise, glorify, and enjoy our Savior and King.

  • A worship leader should realize that excellent musicianship isn’t about perfection, but rather stewardship.

Worship leaders have to be committed to producing excellent music. Psalm 33 says that we are to play our music skillfully to the LORD. In other words, God cares about the music we’re making to Him. It should be done skillfully, in a manner worthy of His glory! Worship leaders must themselves practice, plan, and oversee their bands accordingly. God is worthy of the very best that we have to offer in every area of our lives – including the music we make in corporate worship.

But the point of our skill in musicianship isn’t perfection.

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace (1 Peter 4:10 ESV)

In 1 Peter 4, we’re commanded to steward the gifts God has given us by using them to serve others. In other words, we are to look at our lives holistically and use our spiritual gifts faithfully, maximizing our ability to use them so that the Church can flourish and thrive. This command certainly goes beyond our spiritual gifts – we are to apply this principle to our God-given talents as well! The musical skill and ability of a worship leader must be stewarded. In other words, we must refine and develop our musical talents and abilities for the sake of God’s glory! The thrust of excellent musicianship in the church is service-oriented and outward-focused. It points away from the glory of the musician toward God for the good of others.

  • A worship leader should know how to set their band up for success. 

A worship leader should know how to adequately prepare their band to succeed in leading worship. Direction will need to be given to the members of the band. How should they instrumentally transition between songs? What should the sequencing of the songs look like, and what should the band be looking to do dynamically throughout each song? Is it apparent during practice that someone needs to change one of their parts, or are any of the instrumentalists clashing or just playing poorly at any point during a song? Ultimately, a worship leader needs to be able to ensure that the music being made is conducive to God’s people authentically worshiping and enjoying Him through song.

Further, a worship leader should have at least a basic understanding of music theory. Music theory becomes the most effective means by which a worship leader communicates with other members of the band. Imagine trying to oversee and teach a crew of people how to operate an aircraft using only the vocabulary of a three year old – it’s unnecessarily difficult to explain simple tasks, and after a certain point it’s impossible to describe anything in detail. Similarly, music theory is the language of musicians. For the sake of efficiency and excellence, a worship leader must know how to speak the language of music theory, and must be able to teach some of those basics to the other members of the band.

Why does it matter?

As worship leaders we must steward our talents, abilities, and knowledge as musicians for God’s glory, in service to the Church, that His people may enjoy Him forever.  After all, it’s our job as worship leaders to produce an environment that invites people into undistracting, authentic worship of Jesus. Not for the sake of professionalism or for the sake of a good performance. Not even for the sake of increased attendance at our churches, but rather for the sake of everyone in the congregation truly worshiping Jesus with all their heart, soul, and mind.

*I wrote a post on why I believe worship leaders are called to be shepherd-musicians here

In my next post, I aim to describe how the local church can help worship leaders to flourish as shepherd-musicians.