Worship Leaders – Purpose, Role and Direction

•December 27, 2008 • Leave a Comment
So much has been written about worship and worship leading, it is perhaps arrogant to suggest that anyone can add to the cacophony of competing techniques, innovations and “flavours” that are constantly clamouring for the modern worship leaders attention. Yet I believe that in the modern church we have become so wrapped up in worship as a kind of vocational study exercise, that perhaps its time to step back a little, review the role of those at the forefront of worship and appraise the justification for it.

If I may summarise what I consider to be the purpose of worship.

1. To Glorify God
2. To proclaim the Kingship of Jesus Christ
3. To Herald the Kingdom of God
4. To witness to Gods revelatory word, both specific (prophecy, words of knowledge, a tongue) and general (scripture, creation, canon, tradition)
5.To release the people into personal interaction and initimacy with God, so that they are fed by Him, not us.

The Role of the Worship Leader
It is actually easier to define what the role of worship leader isn’t, rather than what it is, simply because it has taken many forms over the years. Worship Leading is NOT a scriptural gift. It is not given in either Leviticus or Deuteronomy as a role, neither is it given as a separate gift on the New Testament by ANY of the Apostles. King David created the role (which most worship leaders use to describe what we do) for priests in the temple because that was his particular heart to constantly glorify God, and frankly he had the money and power to do such a thing. No one had done so in previously in the 1000 years or so of Israel’s existence. After Solomon, the role fell into decline, and is largely unnoticed in scripture.

So whilst we can continue the tradition of the role of Worship Leader, we must not confuse it with a Priestly or Kingly role. God has not given it the scriptural authority of either. Therefore, since Worship Leaders are largely

  • Theologically untrained (leading to gross misunderstanding of the doctrines of Grace, Justification by Faith, the sacraments etc)
  • Not scripturally endorsed (There is no formal role description to compare us to, unlike the recognised gifts of say an Apostle, or Prophet)
  • Not accountable before God in the same way as an Elder

we MUST submit under the covering of the eldership; as a consequence, the eldership takes ultimate responsibility for our actions, not us, and so have the ‘right’ or authority to intervene as they see fit. To dispute this general point (although we may get irritated at how this works out in practice sometimes) is rebellion, and has no place in worship at all.

Yet we must accept that many worship leaders appear to demonstrate a particular anointing or gifting from God, and when operating in this anointing are able to move powerfully in the Spirit, perhaps more so than would be expected of every Christian.

The danger of this anointing is that it persuades Worship Leaders of the God-ordained nature of their role, and causes trouble when we feel that it is not ‘respected’ in the same way as the formally recognised gifts. So it is around this anointing that I would begin to define our role. But firstly, what are the formal ‘giftings’ that Scripture does recognise?

  • Pastoral
    Caring for the sheep
  • Prophet
    Witnessing to/declaring Gods word
  • Teacher
    Revealing Gods word with authority
  • Evangelist
    A non-church focussed role of proclaiming the Kingdom of God
  • Apostle
    Witnessing to Kings and rulers before the nation

I have come to believe that the ‘anointing’ that we see on worship leaders is not one that God forgot to mention alongside the above list, but rather it is firmly placed in that list. It is a Prophetic role. Although it is easy to justify the role of worship leader under any one (or even all!) of these giftings, the role of prophet most safely describes what we do. However, I am not claiming that all Worship Leaders are prophets, but simply that they are (or should be!) acting in that role when wearing the mantle of worship leader. We act as a witness to what God is saying, not as a judge of it. (Eric Mumford)

So what is the role of the Prophetic Worship Leader?

Firstly, It is to enable the five purposes of worship to come about. How we do this will vary from person to person and Sunday to Sunday, but it must always remain as a goal.

Secondly, it is to be clear that we no longer live, but Christ in us. We forfeit our rights to our lives in every sense.

Thirdly, it is to exercise great authority and gifting with Godly, clean hands in such a way that we enable, rather than lead.

Fourthly, to maintain our walk with God in such a way so that we are in close communion with him, understanding His will, receiving revelation so that we are always able to stand equipped before the church NOT in our strength or talent, but rooted in Him.

Finally, to move beyond the constant treadmill of unworthiness, and into identity and Sonship so that we are able to proclaim our Fathers purpose and will with confidence.

It has nothing to do with instruments, or singing songs.

Points to consider and pray over as a Prophetic Worshipper

  • The critical nature of prayer, and the synergy between worship and prayer. View the early morning-prayer meeting as the equipping for battle, without which as worshippers we are unready and unarmed.
  • To abandon all agenda, or goal focussed worship
  • The constant submission of our gifting to each other and the Eldership
  • That although we are all different, unity between us (LOVE, not LIKE) is critical, and undermining of each other in any way is no longer acceptable.
  • To move away from the music-based formulae, and into the prophetic unpredictability
  • To ask about every song does this declare the Kingdom of God? Or merely the frailty of man?
  • To see every scripture or prophecy as God speaking, and therefore as a sign of Godly interacting with the body in worship, rather than an interruption
  • As worship leaders we must learn TOTAL submission, and demonstrate this to the people. There is no room for competing opinions…. we must submit to each other constantly.
  • ‘Worship is subject to the Word’ How can what we have to say have primacy over what God has to say? There must be no ‘battle’ between the two.

The Direction of Worship…The Vision of FreeWorship within the Church
In terms of the Direction of Worship in the UK, I believe it is difficult to be proscriptive, since there are so many different churches, denominations and theological outlooks that determine this.

In addition, although I believe that God has given me a clear direction (the beginnings of which are laid out below), He will also give totally different directions to others. Therefore I can see “only in part”, and eagerly look to see how God will work out His plan for worship in other people. The trick is to realise that different is not wrong, and to look for the Kingdom in what others are doing.

For my part, I see the role of Worship Leader in the sense we understand it now as a declining one, rather like John the Baptist saw his. He was a Prophet, proclaiming the Kingdom of God was at hand. But when the Kingdom (In the person of the Messiah, Jesus) actually came, John said ‘As he increases, so must I decrease’

I appreciate that this is not a new sentiment; indeed many people have been at pains to avoid even the term of “worship Leader”. But although they often mean well, the result is almost always people doing the same job under a different title, a meaningless change. I believe a reformation of worship is required, in all areas such as how we produce our songs, how we market them, how we encourage others to worship, the role of worship leader and the role of the body of Christ in worship.

If indeed the Worship Leader’s role, rather than his title, is to diminish what can fill the void? I believe it is Body Worship, where the congregation grows in the influence and direction of worship, including even the choice of songs. “Worship Leaders” become an accompaniment, a harmony to what God is already accomplishing outside of any single individual anointing, ability or musical prowess.

We must humble ourselves and risk the unruly, the awkward and the unlovely breaking out. It may even be that’s exactly what God wants, rather than a slick 5 song set. That’s certainly what happened in out church….but the reward…oh it’s breath taking.

So I see that the more ‘successful’ we are at developing body worship, the smaller our role will become. This will come about as the Kingdom of Christ Jesus becomes established in our churches, and the ‘people’ will seize the worship mantle, as God reveals himself directly to the Church, and we enter in to true ‘Body Worship’.

Body Worship is an uncomfortable concept for worship leaders…it signifies a loss of control, a lack of authority. I have to say that this is exactly right. But taking the picture of the body that Paul laid out in the current model of worship we often limit the body it to what we, as worship leaders, are able to bring. I see what we do at present rather like the church having an alive and active worship mind, where we are in control, but the body is paralysed. Only the coming of the Kingdom will raise the body, but the mind must first permit this to happen.

To illustrate this I believe that we as Worship Leaders must move from being the controlling mind to being the witnessing mouth, proclaiming to the body its function, purpose and identity in Christ Jesus. My hope in Christ is that the body will be raised by the proclamation of the Kingdom, and be the whole bride that we know Christ desires. Ironically however, as we begin to ‘let go and let God’. I sincerely believe that people will discover the most incredible worship times, usually under our enabling auspices.

The difficulty for many is the letting go part. Over the last three or four decades we have built frameworks around worship which we find comfortable, but are not actually laid out in scripture. When God comes, He will not fit these frameworks, nor any pattern recognisable by us. If we cannot accept this point, we do not truly wish God to come, since we wish to limit Him to what we understand or can accept, or the framework we consider appropriate. Confining God in this way is clearly impossible. We must let go of what we consider by earthly wisdom to be our role or rights. We have no rights as worship leaders, none at all.

I believe that this model and approach is for today. It wouldn’t have worked one hundred or even ten years ago, and it won’t work in ten years time…. we serve a dynamic God who is resistant to formulae, as rather like King David, we must constantly “enquire of the Lord”

I believe it is time to be clear about the purpose of worship, and our role within it. I believe that God has been, is, and will continue to move because we have given Him the genuine freedom to do so by declaring His will.

It is time to hand over the reins.