Leading worship – service vs. ministry

I was having coffee a few months ago with some local worship pastor friends and one of the guys, a friend I have a profound respect for and who inspires me on a lot of levels, turned the conversation to the topic of whether leading worship is a service or a ministry. He was talking about how he has begun to see his pastoral role more in terms of the the things he does that are “hands on” or primarily relational in nature. At the same time he has begun thinking of his job as a worship leader more as a service to the church – or put another way, simply a way to serve a need within the body, really no different than the way a volunteer serves the congregation by cleaning toilets. His point was that a lot of times there is an elevated expectation for those who lead worship to “minister to” the congregation through our song selection, musical arrangements, anecdotes on stage, prayers, etc – whatever it may be. And while pastoring can certainly take place during the time of corporate gatherings, the reality is that our ability to minister to the church through the use of music has definite limitations and has probably been overemphasized in the landscape of modern worship – there’s only so much you can do to change a person’s life with a song.

I would agree with him – to a point.  I think it is true that the act of leading a congregation in singing praises to God is much simpler than we have often made it out to be (see Bifrost Arts video from my previous post).  Can authentic worship take place in a church where a volunteer simply shows up Sunday morning, picks out a few songs and gets up and leads the singing?  Absolutely.  Can volunteer, lay-led worship be musically and technically excellent and contain all elements necessary for a God-honoring corporate gathering?  Sure.  So then, is there justification for a pastoral position in a local church devoted solely to the oversight of congregational worship?  I would say, emphatically, yes.

At the risk of overemphasizing a distinction that may simply be semantics (the word for “minister” used most often in the Bible simply means “to serve”), I think the words ministry and service BOTH fall short when fully describing what I(we) do week in and week out – because they are both necessary components.  Over the past year or so I have been gravitating more and more towards the term “shepherd” to describe my role in the church.  A shepherd does many things – he leads, protects, serves, nourishes and ultimately devotes his life to the sheep.  Those called to be shepherds in the church have the noble yet terrifying responsibility of carrying out all these same tasks within their congregations.

So it is true that as a part of my shepherding “niche” I have the responsibility of helping the people in my church develop life-habits of worship.  And because of this, one of the ways I serve the church is by leading the singing each week.  This doesn’t mean that every worship set I put together will have people in tears.  This doesn’t mean I necessarily even enjoy every set that I put together or that I’m always pleased with the results.  But part of my job as a shepherd is to get people to regularly sing to and about Jesus.  As mundane as it may seem at times, there are few things better than simply leading a host of voices in praise to our Savior, knowing that each intentional act of faithful worship, if enacted with authenticity and for His glory, pleases God and helps shape the faith of His followers.

At the same time, I also minister before God and for the church as a shepherd by knowing the sheep – knowing how to uniquely lead this flock to which I’ve been called, teaching what true worship looks like, knowing how and when to lead the church in times of confession, thanksgiving, praise, and adoration.  This is all borne out of relational interaction, and plays a vital role in directing how the corporate gathering ends up looking/sounding.  Or, maybe put another way, my role as a minister shapes and informs how I serve the church.  The two are inextricably connected.

So both are necessary.  The church can certainly be served well by someone who simply gets up each week and leads the singing, but true shepherding really takes place when those times of worship can be led by someone who truly knows the heartbeat of the congregation.  Ultimately the church needs worship pastors who are more than just song leaders.  It needs shepherds leading a flock – the living, breathing, worshiping organism called the Church.


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