Point me to the gospel. This is why I’m there, whether I remember it or not. This is what I need. I need the announcement of the historical work of Christ on the cross and out of the tomb more than I need oxygen! So I’m very, very grateful when your song choice, banter, worship order, and everything else makes it clear that the grace of God given to sinners through Jesus is your reason for being.
I wasn’t surprised by the big reaction to my recent post “Top 10 Things I Wish Worship Leaders Would Stop Saying” because I know that the subject is a particular hot button for evangelicals. And while I think too often we inappropriately insulate our preferences/traditions from criticism, I am of course sensitive to the request for a more positive, proactive help. I’ve actually written quite a bit on worship, both online and in print—The Prodigal Church and my Gospel Coalition church resource Gospel Shaped Worship are the most notable examples—but new readers triggered by yesterday’s blog post are not likely to be familiar with that work. I was already planning on writing the list below but decided to hasten its appearing. Here’s to hoping this list reaches the same audience as the last.
I love it when worship leaders . . .
- Lead more than perform.
I am grateful for talented vocalists and musicians serving as worship leaders, but I’m especially grateful when our leaders don’t treat their position as a showcase for their gifts but as an opportunity to shepherd the flock. I love it when worship leaders choose songs that lend themselves more to congregational singing than band performance and lead in such a way that it’s easier to follow along—appropriate keys and pacing, not over-improvising, following the printed or projected lyrics, and so on. And speaking of shepherding, I love it when you . . .
- Approach the worship gathering with a pastoral sensibility.
The worship gathering shouldn’t be some bland, un-creative exercise in avoiding anything remotely artistic, but I’m grateful for worship leaders who think primarily about what the flock needs more than what the flock wants—because they are not always the same thing—and seeks to steward the music time and other worship order elements with Christ’s glory at heart and Christ’s church in mind. (And pastors, this is why often the most gifted singers/musicians in your church are not the best candidates for worship leaders.)
- Let theology drive their decision making.
Too many worship services are driven by a consumeristic or pragmatic ethos. Too many worship leaders (and their pastors and creative teams) over-busy themselves asking, “What else can we do?” as if the worship gathering is a blank artistic slate for creative expression. But as Jeff Goldblum says in Jurassic Park, “You were so busy asking if you could do something, you never bothered to ask if you should.” This is why I’m grateful for worship leaders who know how to evaluate songs for theological soundness, biblical coherence, and doctrinal clarity. And I like it when this commitment to theology is reflected in a fearlessness about old songs and a discriminating taste about new songs. But I also love it when you . . .
- Think about the service beyond the songs.
And I don’t mean simply videos or whatever. I am grateful for worship leaders who think about the worship order as a whole, who think about the story a worship order tells. Every church has a liturgy, even if they don’t like that word or they’ve never even heard of that word! Your worship elements and their order communicate something about God about his Word and about your church. I love it when it’s clear the worship team hasn’t just busied themselves picking good songs but has also thought about the progression of song content in relation to the different elements of the service (confession, prayers, communion, sermon, and so on) and how all the pieces together point to God in Christ as our hope.
6. Aren’t afraid of silence.
5. Pray for real.
4. Prioritize the Word.
3. Lead with serious joy.
2. Don’t try to out-preach the preacher.
1. Point me to the gospel.