I had a special opportunity today to be part of a panel discussion at the GMA (Gospel Music Association) Immerse Conference. The panel was “distinguished.” (Aren’t they always called that?) But, truly, I felt honored to be counted among them. It was a panel made up of worship leaders at Nashville-area churches. There were five of us representing one mega-church, a large church or two, and several medium-sized churches; one 110-year-old congregation (mine), a two-year-old congregation, and various “ages” in between; Baptist, Nazarene, non-denominational. Great diversity in church types, ages, “styles,” if you will. But a couple of common strands of thought emerged from this group:
We all choose songs based on content first; lyrics, theme, scriptural context. Also, we all shape the worship services with our particular congregations in mind. And because our congregations look different, our worship services look and feel different. And that’s a good thing.
But a thought emerged for me that no one said out loud, but we all spoke to in a round-about way: We Worship Leaders are really Worship Teachers. When we stand before a congregation of 50 people or 1,000; whether the congregation is all 30-year-olds or ages 8 to 80; the goal is for everyone in the room to worship the Sovereign God in spirit and truth. And our job, as Worship Leaders, is to help create an environment where that can take place for every person. Alienate no one. Leave no one behind. We choose songs, and we rehearse bands, but we pastor people. We are shepherding a group of our fellow “sheep” toward the green pastures and still waters of the Truth of God, led by the Spirit of God.
How might that change the ways we plan worship? It affects what I might say to the congregation between songs. I might use more scripture that describes the biblical foundations for worship, but also that addresses the ways in which we worship; the verses that talk about bowing down, raising our hands, humbling ourselves, and sacrifices of our praise and ourselves to God. We are not just leading worship (i.e. demonstrating what we want the people to do when they see us do it), we are teaching the people how to worship.
I don’t know about you, but that feels like a heavy responsibility. We had better be sure that the lessons we teach in that “classroom” are biblical, and not just our personal preferences. But, what an honor to have that privilege each week!
Lord, I pray for my fellow brothers and sisters that are Worship Teachers today. May we have your heart for our congregations. Fill us with your Spirit, that we might shepherd the people toward You. Fill us with Your Spirit, that we might teach the people to bring their offerings in a way that pleases You alone. And may our services of worship be transformational for our churches. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Kirk Kirkland is a pastor, worship leader and LifeWay Worship songwriter. He lives in Nashville, TN with his wife and three children and serves the people of Judson Baptist Church as the Minister of Music & Worship and the Pastoral Counselor. For a sample of his music at lifewayworship.com, click here.