September 29, 2020

The Evangelical Liturgy 3: The Leaders

leaderIntro, 1, 2.

If you are looking for a complete theology of the pastorate, sorry. I am going to talk about the relationship of leaders to the worship service itself, and a few related issues. The sermon is a separate subject. One point I am making is that ministers are not entirely preachers.

Someone has already asked if I am giving my own views or recommending what everyone should do. I’m speaking entirely from my own perspective on these matters. I’m well aware many disagree, and I’m neither looking for debate nor implying others must change.

For example, even though I will use the pronoun “he,” I believe women are called and gifted to be pastoral leaders, preachers and worship leaders. If that call and gift is recognized by a congregation, it can and should be exercised. I complete respect those who differ and I realize my view isn’t shared by many of my own peers.

The key to worship leadership is to lead as a servant of Jesus and of God’s people. Not to entertain, self-promote, distract or dominate, but to lead; to be a means by which worship’s direction is made clearer and the content of worship is communicated effectively so that a congregation can respond.

In the case of pastors, leadership consists of a call and a relationship to Christ as a person gifted and set aside for the work of ministry. Leaders should not intrude into the worship of a congregation as mediators with God, prophets or God-appointed saviors. The spiritual ministry of the pastoral leader should precede everything a pastor does in worship, so that when he speaks or leads he does so with the congregation’s recognition that he is God’s appointed servant for this congregation and with confidence that a genuine call and gifts have been discerned and affirmed.

Pastoral relationships within the congregation are important to worship leadership in evangelicalism. A pastor’s relationship with the congregation cannot be minimized and worship leadership turned into an action done without the contribution of quality human connections and personal integrity. Evangelicals have done great harm to worship by allowing pastors to become celebrities and entertainers, and by not asking questions of their faithfulness in relationships in the church.

Worship leadership is not like having the oil changed in a car. Worship reminds us of the action of God, but the worship leader is not irrelevant or insignificant. While Catholicism may err on one side with the interchangeability of the priest, Pentecostalism may err on the other in making the pastor a unique prophet with apostolic authority. Evangelicalism should see the importance of minister as person in relation to the congregation, but not over-emphasize that importance to the place where faith rides entirely on the presence of the right leader.

The illustration of the shepherd is apt. The shepherd cares for the sheep. He is not a hireling. He is not cruel and uncompassionate. He loves the flock, is faithful to it and is willing to lay down his life in imitation of the great shepherd, Jesus. He points to Christ. He is important, but Christ is most important.

Of course, there are non-pastoral worship leaders: musicians, scripture readers, assistants at the Lord’s Table, leaders of various prayers. The level of pastoral affirmation is different with each of these roles, and every congregation will be slightly different in whom they accept as a worship leader. It is possible to err by being too stingy in the ministry of worship leadership, but it is also possible to be too broad, and to place significant stumbling blocks to worship before the congregation. Pastoral leaders and elders should make it clear that in every act of leadership, they are representing both God and the congregation.

A worship leader should be serious. Worship is regularly thrown off track, if not ruined, by the leader who must make the constant awkward humorous comment to relieve his own tension. Worship need not be humorless, but it is a serious and holy activity. Once it begins, shelve the stand up. The manner in which a worship leader approaches worship signals a recognition of the presence of God and God’s presence with his people.

The pastoral letters make it clear that worship leadership is work. It should be approached with serious preparation. Laziness in worship leadership is often reflected in statements that “the Holy Spirit led me to do” something. It’s a poor excuse for coming to the most important work of the week unprepared. A minister should be a worker with skill and diligence, and not be afraid of evaluation in worship leadership skills.

The minister’s attire should not distract or be a scandal. It should not be ostentatious. There is much to commend the preaching robe or modest vestments in churches where they are used.

A complete informality of attire need not mean a lack of appropriate seriousness in worship, but some forms of informal attire can be highly distracting to some congregation members. Do not seek to offend in order to exercise freedom. Serve one another in love.

(In the same way, do not let materialistic idolaters dictate that you spend large amounts of money on clothing. Dress low key so that attire is not a matter of discussion.)

A worship leader should have a sense of decorum. They should value worship as an action done in the presence of God different from other actions.

A good voice and good reading skills are important. Do not imitate another’s vocal inflections or manner. But use the good example of good speakers and leaders to improve.

A worship leader should have a sense of timing and the limits of physical participation in anything. Don’t put people in pain or distraction.

A worship leader should be deeply committed to the participation of everyone, of every age and ability. This should be reflected at every level of worship leadership, especially in directing the use of music. Too many churches exercise too little oversight over music leaders. In fact, the appellation of musicians and singers as “worship leaders” is questionable, in my view. At the most, they are assisting the congregation to worship. “Lead worshiper” may be better, but I’m not enthusiastic. “Musician” seems accurate and without the bizarre baggage we’ve accumulated in the last 20 years. (Google image “worship leader.” All singers and guitar players. Very bad.)

It is not necessary that a leader be academically trained, but it is important that whatever learning is necessary for worship leadership be engaged in without complaining and with openness to improvement.

A worship leader should be the first one aware of his own weaknesses and be ready to adopt changes or seek help to change.

A worship leader should not be a cheerleader, a brutalizer of sheep or a dealer in guilt and manipulation.

A worship leader should not be insensitive to the presence of guests and non-Christians, but he should lead the congregation and the people of God first, with clarity, simplicity and explanation to outsiders an important, but secondary concern.

A worship leader should be mature. Not a new convert or a novice. Not a public embarrassment. Many people may be gifted in worship leadership who should not be leading worship because of the state of their personal lives and relationships.

A worship leader should know how to lead a simple, brief, direct, non-meandering, non-“uh…just” filled public prayer.

A worship leader should be an adherent of tradition and a person with the ability to be creative and flexible. Neither should dominate at the expense of the other.

A worship leader’s own preferences should not dictate everything about worship.


  1. Remember this is the EVANGELICAL liturgy I’m discussing.

  2. iMonk, feel free to moderate this if the questions seem too stupid, but for us non-Evangelicals:

    1. Is a worship leader the same as a minister/pastor?

    2. If not, is a worship leader sort of like an emcee or master of ceremonies for the church service? Would he/she work with the pastor in planning a service?

    3. Is the position of worship leader something that is pursued in seminary or is there special training that’s normally given for the position?

    Thanks – it’s a little confusing for me.

    I’m loving this series, by the way. I don’t know how you do all of this while running a school, ministering to a congregation, writing a book, etc. Do you sleep?

    • He doesn’t run the school, but if it’s anything like how I feel at work, I bet it feels that way! *L*

  3. Without getting overly complex, yeah. Pastor. But many churches have associates, assistants, lay leaders deacons, elders, who also assist in worship leadership.

    Training entirely depends on the church, denom, tradition, etc.

  4. Michael-

    This is a great series that you are running. I am enjoying it and you are raising great questions. Being the liturgical geek that I am, many people find it odd that I serve in a Southern Baptist congregation. I really think that you are doing a great job regarding directing people towards a better understanding of worship.

    One of the issues that I do want to push back at you is this; you state that you don’t feel worship leaders need theological training. While I don’t think every worship leader should spend 3+ years working on an M.div, I do think that the aptitude to navigate theology is a necessary qualification for a worship leader. Especially if one is going to attempt to involve the history of worship (which really involves the general history of the church) in order to bring their congregation to a deeper understanding and practice of Christian devotion.

    In many churches now, especially church plants in our denomination, our pastors are fresh out of D.min programs, but the worship leader might not have any theological training beside a few intro bible courses. While many schools are starting degrees in worship leadership, it is trendy to not “need” an education. The worship leader is often the ministerial staff member that the congregation looks at as the 2nd in charge, even if it isn’t the case. It has been said that the worship leader is the primary theologian in the church. On Monday morning, I doubt many church goers remember that much of the sermon, but they might be humming a tune from church in the shower. Because of this, it is important to train our worship leaders.

    I think the issues you raised regarding dress are great too. I don’t know why churches feel their leader should look like they are in the latest MTV pop-punk band.

    Gaining an evangelical understanding of liturgical worship is a hard thing. Getting past years of practices that can be seen as “catholic” has lead the church to a narcissistic view of things and often times dancing hand in hand with rational humanism instead of understanding the mystical and sacramental nature of our faith.

    Keep the good work coming, this is one of my favorite series that you have wrote.

  5. Chad:

    I said that training entirely depends on the denom, the congregation, etc. I am not against training, but I am not for requiring it. Congregationally ruled churches can’t be required to require it. The average guy outside of the SBC will be $40k in debt at the end of seminary. That’s unethical.

    I think evangelicals will differ markedly from one another on that one.

    Some of the best pastors I know aren’t trained. All of the worst are.

    • Jeremiah Lawson says

      I sometimes think the unfairness of having people get an extensive/expensive education and then get paid a non-profit salary (e.g. at a church) can apply to worship leaders/music pastors/music directors. It’s rare that I’ve met someone with a great deal of music education and theological acumen who wasn’t working at least two jobs doing music for churches just to make ends meet. One person I know was gigging as a music director at one church, attending another and a church musician there and ALSO teaching part time and his wife was also working full-time. It wasn’t surprising, in the end, to discover that all the best church musicians were teaching somewhere for their main income and treating actual church musicianship as a weekend/sometime gig.

      The most musically trained and theologically astute may be the worst matches for many churches because of the skill gap between the musician and the flock. One of the best church musicians I know told me he has to be reigned in consistently by the senior pastor so he doesn’t go in a direction the congregation can’t follow. I can see how for many churches a person who strums chords on the guitar makes more sense. As long as that leader is on the same page about theology and customs why press for more musical training? This seems especially true in non-denominational churches.

  6. Steve Newell says


    What is the role in theological training for the role of the worship leader? In my view, one of the great failings of many pastors is their lack of proper theological training and it is evident in their preaching and teaching.

    • See comment above. Since I work in an area where theological training is largely impossible, it’s hard for me to think in terms of “requiring” it. It’s a great thing and helpful, but Biblically can’t be required. Can’t be done for most 3rd world pastors, bi-voc pastors, lay pastors in poor areas, and that is 80% of all pastors. Won’t happen in China, etc. We have to find innovative ways to train. Oldest and best way: mentoring.

  7. Is it possible to have a non-denominational liturgical church, or would that never fly? If so, and if it has been done in the past, who is doing it?

    Great series btw.


    • In China after the revolution, all the Protestant churches were forced to join together. (Except for unapproved house churches which are outside the state-controlled system). Their services are liturgical.

  8. I’m confused by the expectation that pastors will experience a “genuine call” to be “discerned and affirmed” by the congregation.

    First of all, decisions are rarely so clear-cut in real life. And are we really supposed to prefer the confident person (be he priest or politician!) who hears the voice of God, to the honest applicant who confesses that he doesn’t really know what God wants, but is doing his best?

    Second, in quite a few cases a would-be pastor who feels called to the ministry, but stifled by the congregation he is in, will go out and start his own congregation. I know you favor “church planting,” but how is this different from the policians electing a new people (as Brecht says somewhere), since the original people wouldn’t vote for them?

    Third, you assume a model of authority in which a church has one leader. Perhaps other models are possible or even preferable. At least the pastor should be seen in the context of the board of trustees, or some other body to whom he is held accountable–and this can’t just be a rubber-stamp fan club, they can’t be beholden to him or too much in awe of him. But these boards can easily become little soviets. Better IMHO to have an involved congregation with multiple voices and democratic values.

    • On your point 3: I think you missed the point Michael made at the very top: He’s not engaging general questions of the pastorate or for that matter, church leadership and governance. This series is strictly concerned with worship, with an evangelical liturgy.

      Here is my own take (partial) on the other issues you raise:

      (1) On a genuine call and congregational affirmation: I think it is a mistake to confuse a genuine call and absolute confidence. Michael particularly is usually strong on the fact that Christians, and even Christian ministers, are fully subject to the human condition and thus will at times experience doubt even in their relationship with God. And in the tradition Michael comes from (and in which I also live at present) congregational discernment in calling a pastor is understood as essential — pastors are not appointed by some higher ecclesiastic authority in Baptist churches.

      (2) On “electing a people”: No doubt there are many self-appointed pastors out there who spurned the wisdom of their church’s leadership in discouraging them from this career because they discerned no call. But the fundamental difference between a politician electing himself a new people is this: Christians are called to lead people to Christ, and to eventually gather these new Christians into local churches. Politicians are not called to plant new jurisdictions. Whether such a church plant is of God or not (or whether it is eventually used by God no matter what it’s genesis) will become evident through the fruit it produces.

    • One point that I think that Michael was making is the distinction between the call that the pastor has and the one to the specific congregation. They are two different things.

      While this isn’t an evangelical example, it might help. A Catholic man feels called to religious life, but then has to explore the various orders. One who is called to the contemplative life, might be a good Trappist, but a very bad Francisican and the reverse.

      So, some people might be better in small churches, others large, some where there are a number of different ethnic groups near by, others in a more homogenous area, etc. All of these reflect the call of the congregation, but not necessarily the call to ministry.

  9. The “self appointed, self ordained” minister is one of the worst contributions of evangelicalism. Scripture is plain that this is wrong. The presbytery must lay hands. You must be a faithful man to whom the Gospel was passed on by faithful men.

    I recognize that individuals may experience God’s call outside of the affirmation of a church,and I believe that can be valid for some ministries. But not for the local church itself.

    And I am fine with multiple pastors, but show me one where there isn’t a senior? I know the best multiple pastor church i’ve ever seen has 4, but one is the sr.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      The “self appointed, self ordained” minister is one of the worst contributions of evangelicalism. Scripture is plain that this is wrong. The presbytery must lay hands. You must be a faithful man to whom the Gospel was passed on by faithful men.

      Sounds a lot like the RCC chain of “Apostolic Succession”. (Which itself probably originated as a formalization of the practice described by IMonk.)

    • The other extreme is the elder-selected pastor from outside of the congregation. Such an individual is often (not always) told that he should be a shepherd and not be “friends” with others in the congregation outside of staff.

      Would it not be better and more personable to have the elder-selected model, but with the modification that the pastor be chosen from within the congregation, if not an elder himself?

      Paul planted churches. Did he not start out as the pastor until the church got off on the right foot? Or did he take an advisory role to the elders in those churches?

  10. My friend, Ryan ( is given the title “Associate Worship Pastor”. The description fits. He’s not the preacher (most of the time), but he is the one primarily responsible for the organization and content of worship service, the ordering, the music, the communion, and also plays a role with the other “Associates” of shaping the sermon (whoever is preaching) to be a Gospel-centered sermon. He is the lead musician, but his role is well beyond that.

  11. Patrick Lynch says

    “Some of the best pastors I know aren’t trained. All of the worst are.”


  12. If nothing else, I would hope this series would get fellow evangelicals serious about their liturgy – not that they need to follow MS’s views (I don’t agree with all of them) but they be honest that

    1. There church does have a liturgy
    2. There decisions on it have a huge impact on the life of their congregants
    3. That they make serious, thoughtfully their decisions on it.

  13. Two questions, Monk…

    !) What is your feeling about churches that have pastoral succession on a family basis – father to son, etc.?

    2) what is your view of mean who view themselves only as “church-planters” with no intention of staying the course with that church once things are on an even keel? While I realize this might be the Pauline model, things were a bit different then than now.

    • 1) Ridiculous. Magical. Superstitious. It’s why you have Osteen.

      2) I think the church planter is a legitimate calling.

    • “what is your view of mean who view themselves only as “church-planters” with no intention of staying the course with that church once things are on an even keel?”

      If you look at the business world Venture Capital Investors have long learned that the personalities that are good at starting something and growing it from the beginning are rarely good at running it once it’s up and going. Why should we feel that the people called to be church leaders are a different breed of people?

  14. sorr, should have said (in #2): “what is your view of men….”

  15. Imonk,


    I know you see a change in ministry education in the future i.e. different models.

    I also know you value education, but you also don’t feel formal training is neccesarily a requirement for ministry. I agree.

    So here is my question.

    What do you recommend for guys like me? I have a career and the schooling to go with it. I consider myself pretty well read at least for my area and they type of church I serve.

    But what do you see as the basics a man needs for the ministry as far as training, books, supplies etc.?

    • Patrick Lynch says

      Supplies? Books? Needs? Basics?

      “He instructed them that they should take nothing for their journey, except a mere staff–no bread, no bag, no money in their belt– but to wear sandals; and He added, “Do not put on two tunics.” Mark 6:8-9

      The way Jesus is talking here, he makes it sound like its hard NOT to be overprepared for HIS kind of ministry.

    • I’d say the #1 area of importance is a mentor; someone ordained who will train you and eventually ordain you.

      As far as areas of study, I’d say a real deep knowledge of the Bible is obvious. Some understanding of Church History and Theology (both historic and modern) is important. Practical matters regarding planning and running a worship service are gonna be important. Some training in pastoral care and basic counsiling would be important. Public speaking training is a must. There are waaay too many pastors who can’t speak coherently. A familiarity with some of the various liturgies used throughout the Church could be very helpful. Enough knowledge of Hebrew and Greek to be able to work in the original languages with the help of tools like lexicons, concordances, etc.

      That’s my take. Really, it’s a lot of the stuff you’d get in a formal seminary education, but in a more hands-on way.

  16. yea, yea, yea,

    that was not the gist of the question Patrick

    He also says not to worry about what you will say at one point as well, does that mean we adopt the common practice in some primitive baptist and forsake study and just walk up open the bible and preach on wherever the page opens?

    • I agree Austin-

      And to reference IM”s original point about all of the bad ministers he knew being trained, I think in the denominational structures that require a seminary education for ordination you do see a problem. Going to a seminary where many of my classmates fall into this category I have met plenty of guys who think that they really don’t need help and that this is just going through the motions in order to be called Rev.

      I really like the mentoring model, and I think that if the church can do that without becoming inbred, or developing schools to indoctrinate instead of teach we can have a very good thing on our hands. I love seeing local churches send people out, support them while they are away, and then offer them a job when they come back. That seems to be a biblical view of how to handle education.

      To bring this back to subject-What should a worship designer/leader do if there are not mentoring opportunities available.

      I know that Bob Kauflin’s book “Worship Matters” is a great resource, even though (IMO) it is written within a very specific milieu theologically. It has very practical and spiritual information.

      • I don’t know if you can be self-taught for ministry. Even if it’s not an official, “formal” mentorship, you’ve gotta have some sort of learning from folks that have been there culminating in some sort of ordination. Otherwise the danger becomes that “self-appointed, self-ordained” bit iMonk was talking about.

  17. Viola and Barna have quoted in “Pagan Christianity” that one of the regrets of burned-out pastors is that their seminary or Bible College training has prepared them for little to nothing else outside of mainstream organized Christianity.

  18. Christiane/L's says

    What is the role of the effect of the congregation’s perception of the
    ‘chesed’ of the evangelical pastor and their perception also of his humility before the Lord,
    on the effectiveness of this pastor in leading a liturgical service?

  19. Northeasterner says

    While I agree with most of your ideas, I wouldn’t use the words “leader” or “leadership” so much. In principle, our only leader is the Lamb upon the throne. In practice, our contemporary society makes quite an idol out of the idea of “leadership,” we’re even teaching leadership to middle-schoolers!

    I think it is usually better to speak of followership, of discipleship, of teaching, of feeding. These seem to me much more scriptural terms than leadership; a term very much in vogue in our contemporary culture.

  20. The Lord must be so happy with the modern church. They are so busy buying and selling and building and marrying. This is exactly what Paul intended.

  21. This is a wonderful essay and it brought tears to my eyes to read someone else expressing the very thoughts I’ve had over the years and had so many struggles with in various churches. I couldn’t agree more with nearly everything you said. One of the things you mentioned was about leadership in worship being “work.” I myself work very hard to think about how I can bring out the text, the sentiment, the Spirit behind a hymn, for example, so that the congregation can more effectively worship while singing it and I also work very hard to make instrumental selections that will blend well with the rest of the service and be meaningful to the congregation while not attempting to entertain. Doing all these things takes time and effort, not to mention hours and hours of practice to be able to play music of the highest quality. Folks involved in music have all levels of skill and I would never look down on someone who I think is doing their best in a genuine, non-self-serving way. But more often than not, poor quality amongst musicians and worship leaders in church is simply due to lack of effort. “It’s the heart that counts” or something like that that ends up trumping any further discussion, but it’s simply a cover for being lazy. There’s only so much one can say in a short paragraph, but I wholeheartedly agree that dedicated effort and hard work is essential. Why should we offer sacrifices that cost us nothing? God (and the congregations we serve) deserves our very best, not whatever we happen to come up with winging it with no preparation or care.

  22. Your thoughts on what Frank Viola and George Barna say in chapter 6 of Pagan Christianity? –

    “Those who lead worship select the songs that are to be sung. They begin those songs. They decide how those songs are to be sung. And they decide when those songs are over. Those in the audience in no way, shape or form lead the singing. They are led by someone else who is often part of the clerical staff – or who has similar stature.

    This is in stark contrast to the first-century way. In the early church, worship and singing were in the hands of all of God’s people. The church herself led her own songs. Singing and leading songs was a corporate affair, not a professional event led by specialists…

    A worship leader robs God’s people of a vital function: to select and lead their own singing in the meetings – to have divine worship in their own hands – to allow Jesus Christ to direct the singing of His church rather than have it led by a human facilitator.”


    • Good leaders facilitate greater participation, not less.

      I’m not trying to recreate the early church. Nothing special about them.