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Friday, August 13, 2010

Theology in Worship: Leader or Pastor?

Harvey S. Firestone, industrialist founder of Firestone Tire and Rubber Company, once said, “The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.”[1] I believe this statement to be very true, pertaining both to the body of people under a leaders as well as for the leader him/herself. Certainly in the spiritual sense this is an essential concept. 2 Peter 3:18 urges, “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ…”

Growth is essential to life. Part of leadership is nurturing growth in others as well as in one’s self. As J. Robert Clinton writes, “Leaders will be responsible for influencing specific groups of people to obey God. They will not achieve this if they themselves are not learning how to obey.”[2] As a spiritual leader in the church I am then faced with an important question: How am I helping my community grow, while at the same time growing and developing myself?

Over the past few months, I have engaged in readings, class discussions, online discussions, and personal interactions for the class “DWS 702: The Renewal of Sunday Worship: Music and the Arts in Christian Worship” as part of the Doctorate of Worship Studies at the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies. Though the insights, challenges, and convictions gained from these engagements have been numerous, if I had to briefly summarize in one sentence new assumptions I have gained, it would be this: I now consider my role in the church that of a worship pastor instead of a worship leader.

Not all leaders are pastors, but all pastors should be leaders. I am beginning to understand what this means for me as a church leader. I have never wanted to be a pastor. My dad is a pastor and has been one for all my life. Either out of a spirit of rebellion or independence, I have always told myself (and others), that I would never be a pastor. Since high school, my role in worship services has been behind a guitar and microphone instead of behind a pulpit. In other words, my role in worship has been musical. This is the vocational area I feel called, equipped, and gifted to serve in the body of Christ. Everything else has been for someone else to do.

I currently serve as the Offerings Music Leader for Lexington First United Methodist Church, viewing my job as a supportive role to the full-time staff. They are the pastoral leaders; I am a musical helper. Thus, I have never considered any part of my vocation to be pastoral.

When reading for class this past June, I was introduced to a new concept: the pastoral musician. The idea intrigued me because, honestly, I had never heard the two terms used together. (Unfortunately, in my experience working in the church, the two terms, pastor and musician, were often used in conflict with one another.)

Constance Cherry defines a pastoral musician in her book The Worship Architect: “The pastoral musician is a leader with developed skill and God-given responsibility for selecting and employing music in worship that will serve the actions of the liturgy, while reflecting on theological, contextual, and cultural considerations, all for the ultimate purpose of glorifying God.”[3] She proceeds from here to further develop character traits of the pastoral musician.

Reading through these descriptions, I began to see how a musician in the church truly does have a pastoral role. Likewise, I began to realize that many of the qualifiers of the pastoral musician were similar to the heart I have for worship leadership. My planning and leading worship often matched that of a pastoral musician.

I received even further confirmation discussing this concept with classmates. For instance, the pastoral musician: thinks theologically about the functions of every song throughout the service; seeks to move the worshiper from the role of audience to the role of active participant; embraces the breadth of song types while being faithful to the type which their context implies; views music ministry from the larger liturgical picture of designated Scripture readings and the Christian year.[4] These were all areas significant to me as a worship leader. I never understood these as having a pastoral nature.

Admittedly, I am not perfect in any of these areas; I am simply trying to convey the fact that I have functioned in many ways like a pastoral musician long before ever hearing the term. However, by placing the term “pastoral” before musician in my vocation calling, an important shift has occurred. Though I may have functioned in many ways as what Cherry describes as a pastoral musician, there was more I still needed to understand. There were questions that I needed to begin considering (and continue to wrestle with): What is a pastor? How am I being pastoral?

Timothy S. Laniak writes in his book, Shepherds After My Own Heart, of pastors as having a similar role to shepherds. He says, “To be a shepherd is to be both responsible for (the flock) and responsible to (the Owner).”[5] For just about my whole life, my motivation in ministry has been solely out of a faithfulness and obedience to God. Indeed this motive is very central! However it is incomplete. According to Laniak’s description of a shepherd, I also have a responsibility to be faithful to the community I serve. Part of this faithfulness is my own obedience to God. However, remembering Clinton’s earlier statement, part of this obedience is how I influence others to obey God.

As a worship leader, my engagement with the community in worship was simply by directing the music. As I have now begun to consider my role in ministry as a worship pastor instead of a worship leader, part of this role is to be a pastoral musician as I do my part in assisting the music in our services to accomplish what Cherry calls, “the dialogical role between God and the people.”[6]

[1] Mick Yates, “Looking to Sustain Performance? Start in the Boardroom,” Leader Values, 2010 [document on-line]; available from http://www.leader-values.com/Content; Internet; accessed 28 July 2010.

[2] J. Robert Clinton, The Making of a Leader: Recognizing the Lessons and Stages of Leadership development, (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1988), 66.

[3] Constance M. Cherry, The Worship Architect: A Blueprint for Designing Culturally Relevant and Biblically Faithful Services, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2010), 180.

[4] Constance M. Cherry, "The Renewal of Sunday Worship: Music and Arts in Christian Worship," (Class lectures, The Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies, 11 June 2010).

[5] Timothy S. Laniak, Shepherds after My Own Heart: Pastoral Traditions in the Bible, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 248.

[6] Cherry, Architect, 179.


  1. John, Thanks for the post man! It's funny, growing up the son of a pastor and a musician as well, I basically had the same reaction to this course. I even started at IWS saying, I'm going to be a worship leader, not a pastor...crap! We have no choice. The calling is severe and we don't have have the choice to take what we want. It is all or nothing and to refuse the call, well I just don't want to even think about that.

    My first paper focused on nothing concerning the project, but my understanding of the pastoral nature of the worship leader calling. The funny thing is trying to get certain denominations to accept this notion of a worship pastor. In the PCA, PCUSA, RCA, etc. you have to have an M. Div. to be considered a "Pastor". However, I word assert that the pastoral nature of leading worship has more effect on the people than even the pastors sometimes, being that the pastor preaches for 15-30min. (if we are lucky) The worship pastor is ministering for the rest of the time, and in some extremely ethereal ways. (Art, Music, Film, Drama, Dance, Etc.) Ultimately, they say, "Do your thing, but we're not going to call you pastor." Its funny. The point is, that we are as you pointed out, accountable to the flock and to God.

    So, pastor it is. I think next, I'm going to start running around saying, Da Bears will never win the Superbowl five years in a row, and see if the same thing happens!

    Blessings man!


  2. Excellent article! This exactly articulates what has been on my heart over the past few days. We can no longer just play and sing. We make disciples through our music. The youth pastor has her/his skits and silly ice-breaker games, the children's pastor has her/his scripture memory and puppet stories, the senior's pastor has her/his bingo game and southern gospel music, the senior pastor has her/his leadership books and sermon series, the worship pastor has her/his songs and instruments....but the goals of each of these (and the countless I didn't mention) are all the same - point people to Christ and mirror Christ to people!

  3. Thanks fellas! This has been a pretty important issue to me lately, and one I believe more musicians and worship leaders in the church need to seriously consider.