Shepherding and Serving
As those who shepherd God’s people through musical worship, there are many principles and convictions which need to drive us. Of these, one of the most important is serving. To serve the congregation by facilitating their worshipful engagement with God is the core driving principle in the pastoral musician’s role.
Like any pastoral ministry, worship leading is serving. We know our task is to serve the congregation, but every so often, amid the hustle and bustle of week by week planning, we need to be reminded of this. We may be busy knocking out the to-do list, but part of the foundation underneath it all is the servant’s heart of our role. We work for, we prepare, and we give God’s people that which will prompt, facilitate, and encourage them to engage meaningfully with the Lord.
Analogy: Cars and Transport
Think about a starving college student trying to buy a cheap car. What is the one fundamental thing he’s looking for? There is one essential matter: Can the car get me where I need to go? If the windows don’t work, or if it can’t play music, those are secondary to whether the car can get him where he is going. The car has to go! It’s a super-simple analogy, but sometimes even the essentials can slip our minds. In worship music leadership, there is one similar fundamental, essential matter. We serve God’s people by facilitating their engagement with God. Engagement is the key.
Music is an extra, not an essential
Strictly speaking, worship pastors aren’t necessary. Music isn’t really necessary in church. Maybe that seems obvious to you, or maybe you disagree entirely. But think about it for a second. Saints gather in house churches all around the world and meet with God in a Spirit-empowered experience of grace, joy, worship, and reverence, with or without music. We know that the Christians in many underground church meetings in China, for years, could speak no louder than a whisper. In some parts that is still the case today. The Chinese Communist police are on the lookout for these Christians, and the believers are careful not to attract attention in their gatherings. Even with no music involved, the worship of these devout saints is sweet, profound, and Spirit-filled. Music is optional in those Chinese underground churches, and it’s optional wherever you are, too. We can see that the worship pastor role is unessential.
But it can be wonderful. The worship pastor’s service to the church can be profoundly helpful. We do use music, we do use instruments, we do sing together, we use music because of what it can do for us. Worship music, church music, and all the arts, can be a profoundly powerful tool. It can unite us in praying together, praising together, exhorting one another to walk in the light, building one another up in Christian love (koinonia - this “horizontal,” Christian-to-Christian component is a bedrock essential too often overlooked, but that will have to wait till another post for better treatment.). Music is a beautiful gift from the Lord and one that bears great power and potential for effectively shepherding God’s people.
The Fail-Proof Plan to Facilitate True Worship
There is none. As powerful a tool as worship music is, and as meaningful as the servant-role of worship leadership is, even the most outstanding worship music leadership cannot guarantee that the people will connect with God. There are at least two reasons for this: first, even if you have done your absolute best, what transpires spiritually in anyone’s heart can never be under your control. Only the Holy Spirit can generate true worship in anyone’s heart. Secondly, God doesn’t need you. The trees of the field can clap their hands and shout for joy, should the Lord merely whisper the word to them. In any event, all eternity will ring with unbounded joy and perfect praise of Almighty God no matter what. The redeemed can gather together and lift up their hearts now, with or without your musical contribution.
But God can use you… no, God delights to use you! There is multiplied joy as the faithful pastoral musician labors diligently to prepare a beautiful, robust, and sturdy foundation musically for lifting up God’s gathered saints in their worship. Keep this perspective in the front of your mind, and let God bless you with joy—and your congregation—as he takes our best offering to him (which turns out after all, even at its greatest, to be only two small copper coins anyway), and uses it to minister spiritually inside the very heart and soul of his redeemed children. That is life in the Kingdom. Taking our frail offering, establishing the work of our hands, and transforming it into something of eternal impact—that is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.
What is essential: Meeting with God
So always keep it in the front of your mind that whatever you do in your worship music leadership for the church, it must be done to serve God’s people by facilitating and encouraging their engagement with God. Make their engagement with God easier—that is your role. More possible, more likely, less cluttered, less encumbered, less opaque, more clear, more thoughtful, more biblically intelligible—these are the hallmarks of servant-hearted congregational worship leadership. You know your flock. God has entrusted them to you. Choose what will meet them where they are, what they will be able to receive. And then, within that, choose what will call them to deeper, more honest, and more spiritually meaningful engagement with God. Start by learning from and practicing these points of practical wisdom, both when you stand before the congregation and as you prepare.
Commit yourself in prayer to discerning the Lord’s leading for your particular flock. What will be most effective to encourage your people toward genuine, spiritual, and meaningful engagement with Almighty God in their heart of hearts? This divine guidance you’re asking for is a very, very good thing, and the Heavenly Father loves to give good gifts to his children when they ask. Every song you select and rehearse, every prayer and Scripture reading you plan, the gathering welcome and the sending-out to love and serve — all of your planning and leading must work toward one goal. Will this meaningfully encourage these gathered believers to engage with the Lord? God is for you. God is with you. Use music as a tool to serve God's people. Commit yourself and your pastoral leadership into His hands, be faithful in every way you can; then watch God move.