In his book, The Complete Worship Leader, Kevin Navarro details a number of powerful concepts which are vital not only to the success of a worship leading ministry, if success can be measured in this context, but ultimately to a glorifying of God through effective and anointed leadership. While, as Navarro states, “the worship service is the most important event in the local church, and the engine that drives all programming,” it must be noted that all roads which lead to excellence do not always lead congregations into the presence of the living God, and so these concepts must be carefully examined and their use prayerfully discerned in order to employ them as faithful servants of Jesus. Two of these concepts stand out: biblical literacy as it pertains to worship leaders and the church as a whole, particularly in North America, and; the importance of skill in the areas of music and art as regards worship ministry.
One of the most neglected disciplines in the North American evangelical movement is a solid knowledge of the Bible, and it shows through for certain in the church’s methods and styles of worship. Navarro touches on this subject numerous times, and links it to the instances of idolatry which plague the church. He says that, “a sinful act involves worship of the wrong kind,” meaning that the unrepentant sinner has very little impulse control and often only seeks to satisfy momentary cravings for some kind of pleasure or other. In essence, it is submitting to the commands of the sinful nature, and thus worship that rightfully belongs to God is snatched away and given to something unworthy of it. One would think it ought to be impossible for one who knows the truth about the saving work of Christ on the cross and the abundant life he offers by the power of his resurrection to even be tempted to betray Jesus by giving worship to anyone or anything else, and yet there is a way our enemy can tempt us where our resistance is weak indeed, and that way is through biblical illiteracy.
Navarro says that even “worship” songs are notorious for being scripturally inaccurate, and that “worship devoid of scriptural influence will degenerate into idolatry,” the same kind of idolatry mentioned above. The worship leader whose heart is not focused on the Holy Spirit’s work, that being the teaching and singing of the inspired word of God, or rather the writing of the word of God upon the hearts of his worshipers, will eventually fall into a place of non-worship (singing for its own sake) or anti-worship (singing for personal enjoyment or fame), and thus lead others to do the same, which is shameful and tragic.
The second concept relates to the first. The psalmist writes: “Sing to him a new song; play skilfully, and shout for joy.” Often, it is easy to wonder how a person can strive for excellence in the skilful playing of an instrument or the skilful use of voice in song and not appear to be “showing off” when leading worship in a musical context. It is a constant struggle that many worship leaders face. In the sixth century, when Pope Gregory the Great organized and taught the Chants (often through strict discipline), the point was for all of the singers to be in unison, none standing out or drawing attention to himself, but focusing the entire piece and the attention of the listeners upon God. The vocal skill this requires is nothing short of intensely practiced. The same ought to hold true for worship leaders today, in that the musical skills employed ought to be honed and sharpened until they become second nature, or as one might term it, “invisible.”
As distractions are removed, in the form of unscriptural lyrics, bad playing, lacklustre singing, and musical “show-boating, such as Van Halen-esque guitar solos and Victor Wooten-like bass grooves, Jesus becomes easier to see, for it is he whom a congregation should be there to worship, and it is his Spirit who will draw the worship of the people to him. By becoming excellent in instrument and voice, the leader effectively removes him/her self from the center, from obscuring the revelation of Christ, and Jesus shines through. Idolatry is avoided in this way, and the truth of the Gospel is revealed in the biblically grounded and Christ-centred life and scripturally focused songs of the worship leader.