One of the beautiful things about the Church is all of the different ways it expresses its worship in music around the world, in different cultures, in different denominations, with different instrumentation, and with different opinions about how it should be done. It’s a wonderful expression of the unsearchable greatness of God (Psalm 145:3).
And even though this breadth of worship expressions can make it hard for worship leaders across the spectrum to talk principles and practicalities, I do think there is one question that gets to the heart for all worship leaders, regardless of their culture, denomination, instrumentation, and technique.
That question is: “where am I pointing?”
The local worship leader with a team of two musicians (one of whom can’t play in 5 keys). The underground worship leader playing some songs off of her iPod. The mega-church worship leader with five weekend services, three weekly production meetings, two full dress rehearsals, and an all-paid band. The organist who chooses hymns according to the lectionary, and selects anthems for a small but good choir to sing. All very different churches. All with different challenges and responsibilities for their respective worship leader/organist/choir director. But in each of those churches, the person responsible for leading the worship in song has to decide where to point.
And the kicker is that any moving object can only move in the direction it’s pointing. Try walking in multiple directions at once. Try driving on multiple roads at the same time. It’s logistically, physically, and literally impossible. You can only move in one direction at a time. So when a worship leader is planning and leading a service, in whatever context and with whatever style, he can choose to point towards Jesus, or to point away from Jesus. You can’t point away from Jesus and point towards Jesus at the same time. You can’t exalt yourself and exalt Jesus at the same time. It’s impossible.
I’m afraid that some worship leaders across the broad spectrum of worship expressions think it’s possible, permissible, and even preferable to point to themselves, their music, their style, their personality, their instrumentation, their professionalism, their polish, and their performance. There’s a word for this, and it’s called “mission creep“, and it’s what happens when we forget our original mission’s goals and move in other directions.
All worship leaders, and I’m preaching just as loudly to myself here, need a constant reminder: No. It is not OK to point to yourself. By doing so, you are pointing away from Jesus, and vainly seeking after a share of the glory he is due. Our mission has one aim: the exaltation of Jesus Christ.
Who am I to say that worship leaders have one aim? Don’t blame me. Blame Paul.
(Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. (Colossians 1:15-18)
That. In. Everything. He. Might. Be. Preeminent (ie. totally, completely, unmistakably above all other things). Where is there wiggle room in this? Where is there grey? Where is there room for me to exalt myself? There isn’t.
Jesus is the image of the Father. He’s glorified by the Spirit (John 16:14). He “upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3). Is he the center of our worship services? He either is or he isn’t. We’re either pointing to him or we’re not. Regardless of our musical expression, context, stye, technique, approach, or denomination, we have this one question to answer. And it’s not multiple choice.