The Pastor as Worship Leader

By Randy Sawyer

Ever talk to yourself?  Sure you do! That’s how the Psalmist begins Psalm 103. He writes, “Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name.” Then, as he brings this powerful hymn to its conclusion, he invites all creation to join in the celebration. The poet is not only eager to offer whole-hearted praise, he is eager for others to join him.

The Mandate

After becoming a Christian, C. S. Lewis struggled with the issue of worship, wondering why the writers of scripture so adamantly call for believers to praise the Lord. He later concluded:

“l had not noticed …that just as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it; ‘Isn’t she lovely? Wasn’t it glorious? Don’t you think that magnificent?’ The Psalmists in telling everyone to praise God are doing what all men do when they speak of what they care about.”

Worship, in fact, is not merely commended by the Psalmists, it is commanded throughout scripture. In his book, My Heart’s Desire, David Jeremiah notes:

“Worship comes as a command, not a suggestion. God tells Abraham where to make sacrifice and what the sacrifice should be. Worship comes not as the fruit of our impulse, felt need, or creativity; it is the specific command of God. Worship is God’s idea.”

The Misconception

If worship is commended and commanded, and if it is the supreme expression of our values, how is it that this highest of human activities has become so meaningless in most churches? In his book, Jubilate, Donald Hustad writes:

“We cannot escape the probability that acts of Christian worship are not meaningful to most Americans in our day. This is demonstrated by the fact that the majority of people never participate in worship from week to week, and also by…the criticism of worship practices with which we are frequently confronted.”

The truth is, we suffer from a profound misconception of what worship really is; most people go to church for what they get from attending. But worship is not about getting; it’s about giving.

Worship is our unified, celebrative response of thanksgiving to God for His creative and redemptive acts in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Worship is giving, giving honor and respect and praise to God. That is why we gather on Sunday as believers. We do not gather to give respect to the preacher or those in music ministry we gather to give honor to the Lord.  The message and music are the stimuli that kindle the passion in our hearts for worship.

In recent years, leading worship in the average church has been assigned almost solely to those who minister in music while pastors distanced themselves from any responsibility with regard to the spirit of worship. Consequently a false dualism has resulted; for the musician, worship is about singing; and for the pastor it is about preaching.

This imbalance has resulted in a growing infatuation with various musical forms and a diminishing interest in “thus saith the Word of the Lord,” with the average believer well versed with the sounds of praise but ill-equipped to reflect “the beauty of holiness.”

The Measures

The recovery of biblical worship will occur only when pastors become more directly involved in developing a spirit of sincere worship, both personally and collectively.  In taking more seriously the responsibility of leading my congregation in worship, I have adopted several practical measures.

First, I remember that I am to worship with the body of Christ. I can only lead in worship if I myself am thus engaged. So, I no longer sit or stand on the platform during the prayer and praise portion of the service, I stand on the front row and experience everything with the congregation. This keeps me from focusing on who is or isn’t there and what is or isn’t going on around me. I do not review my notes while a song is being sung or the offering collected. That is extremely discourteous and distracting to the musicians, and hinders me from worshiping with them as they sing.

While singing with the congregation, I sometimes close my eyes and imagine that I’m standing before the Great God Himself, believing I am offering my song of praise directly to Him. I’m not a hand raiser as such, and do not attempt to cultivate that with my folks. However, l do believe we are too self-conscious when engaged in public worship, and it might do our people good to see some physical and emotional expression of worship from us.

Second, I remain involved in planning the worship event. I meet weekly with the staff to discuss worship philosophy forms and specifics.  We work hard at keeping things fresh and alive. We utilize recent technological advances such as visual and sound enhancement, live drama or video clips, power point and graphics, while retaining traditional elements that offer a sense of continuity and history.

Our goal is not a Broadway style production, nor to impress people with our professionalism. We are simply attempting to harness emerging technology to enhance communication. I keep informed and involved, and take seriously the need to be biblically and theologically correct.

Third, l realize that the worship event is incomplete without the proclamation of the Word. As pastor, l work hard at having something substantial to set before my congregation. Further, I seek to inform, incite, instruct and inspire my hearers to worship “in spirit and in truth.” True worship is more about being than doing, and they cannot possibly do unless they know.

Our greatest act of worship is submission to God’s will and Word. I see the preaching of the Word, not as disconnected or separated from worship, but as the core of what we do in worship. I do not see the music as preliminary and preaching as primary or the opposite. The music ministry and the preaching ministry are not in competition, but converge to lead our hearts to a deepening intimacy with God.

Most important, l resolve to keep my public worship real by cultivating my relationship with the Lord through private worship. “No man becomes suddenly different from his cherished habits,” and no one, no matter how experienced, can offer true worship without the reality of a heart after God. Leading worship corporately begins in is in being alone with God, ultimately that the degree of our worship is measured.

Article adapted from Contact magazine, September 2003.