Monday, June 27, 2011

A Brief Philosophy of Leading Worship

           Hear the Word of the Lord: “Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts! Worship the LORD in the splendour of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth!”[1] As worship leaders the world over bring their congregations into the presence of God through music and other media, what is the philosophy that undergirds their method? What is the reasoning behind their practical approach? What is the ideology driving the worship of this God?
            A worship leader who truly desires to lead his[2] people into true worship of Almighty God will subscribe to a core philosophy of leading worship which lines up parallel to the living biblical text. He will himself be a devoted worshiper, and will seek the will and grace of the sovereign Lord, and he will understand that his role is a very dangerous and often misunderstood one. The often idolized leader of musical worship has a gigantic responsibility, and it is only through submission to God himself that his worship music ministry will succeed.
            Recognition of three distinct facets of worship is key: Who is it being worshiped? Why is he worshiped? How should he be worshiped, both by the worship band and the assembled church? Answers to these questions are found in Scripture, as well as a number of admonitions and warnings for the worshiper that help to shape and further focus the eye upon God alone as the object of worship, rather than upon worship or music itself or the worship leader or the pastor or a half-formed theology which can so easily become an idol and a broken record all at the same time.
            The God of the Bible is the Creator of the universe, and everything in it, as Genesis chapters 1 and 2 teach. James 1:17 says that he is the giver of everything that is good and perfect. Psalm 40:17 calls him “my help and my deliverer.” He is “my strength and my song” in Psalm 118:14. God, the holy one of Israel, is ascribed so many names and attributes and for all of these he is worthy of human worship, obedience and a healthy fear. He is the one who was willing to come and become a man so he could show mankind the way back to him, the way back into relationship with him. He is also the embodiment of the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit in one. In essence, one God, in three distinct but not separate persons decided as one being to set humanity free to return to the right and good way of life in his own footsteps. He made the only right decision for us and for him, to give his life as a ransom for many[3], and thus is entitled to sincere worship. It stands to reason then that a worship leader must follow God’s prescription for worship so that the worshiper does not slip into a form of worship which is ultimately worthless and detestable to God. Romans 12:1-2[4] completely applies here.
            The second key facet, regarding why God is to be worshiped, is explained in the vast plethora of theology surrounding the grim instrument of salvation itself: the cross of Jesus Christ. Of all the things God has done, this single act of sacrifice is the key to the redemption of mankind from the sin which has enslaved it since the Fall in Eden. If one reason is needed to necessitate the worship of God, it is Jesus Christ and him crucified. God has commanded mankind to worship him, for the worship of God is not for God. It is a blessing for his children to be able to come before him and offer worship which is cleansed by the blood of Christ and made perfect in his sight by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is a testament to all of the blessings he has bestowed. The worship leader recognizes and remembers these truths, and leads the assembled church in triumphant worship not as a performance, but as a humble submission to God’s will, and as a servant who desires to see God’s name exalted not only for the edification of the body but also the evangelism and redemption of those who do not know the good news.
            Finally, God has given guidelines in Scripture, especially in the Psalms, as to how he should be worshiped. He is to be praised (Ps. 33:3, 34:1) with music and instruments (150:3-5), with hands raised high (63:4, 134:2), on our knees (95:6), clapping hands (47:1). Again, Romans 12:1-2 teaches that in presenting our bodies as living sacrifices, our entire lives are to be lived in continuous acts of worship. A worship leader must not only present God’s word in this, but he must live it every day. He must do everything he does for the Lord, with highest standards, and so music is no exception. His life must be pure and undefiled so that he will not be limited by sin in glorifying the one who saves and rescues sinners.
            To be a worship leader is to be a person sold out one hundred percent to God, and a person who desires nothing short of becoming an invisible yet audible and skilful signpost which points directly to the throne of God, so that all who gather should desire to lay down their burdens and cast away their sorrows, trading their sin and shame for the joy of the Lord.

[1] Ps. 96:8, 9, English Standard Version. All subsequent biblical references will be taken from this translation.
[2] Masculine pronouns will be used hereafter for the sake of conserving space. This is by no means intended to impugn the anointing of female worship leaders in any way.
[3] Mark 10:45
[4] “...present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

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