Introduction: Meaningful and Accessible
Concerning the theology and the proper application of relevant skill and knowledge pertaining to the subjects of music and worship, not neglecting the pastoral ministry and personal supplication required of one seeking such a position, I, the author, address the captive audience in the study of the subjects at hand, for to provide a better understanding of the subjects, to perhaps correct the error of one’s ways, and to potentially provide impetus to pursue the subjects further. Let it be understood that the author claims no moral authority on the subjects, but rather some basic understanding, a mere scratch at the crust of a subject whose core is so deep it could be argued that no man has ever been all the way.
Yet is that not what makes these subjects so great? The mere fact that their understanding cannot be completely grasped makes them not unlike our God Himself, whose beauty the music reflects, and whose glory the worship proclaims. For though God Himself is far too glorious for humans to behold His glory in its entirety, he has bestowed upon us glimpses of His nature of which we can partake and understand His nature in small bits. Perhaps this is why David only tasted and saw that the Lord is good, because anything more than a taste would surely devastate his sinful flesh, and he would not be able to fathom the greatness which is our God. Let us not forget the beautiful encounter of Moses on the mountain whereupon his visit God shone His glory before Moses. When the Lord passed before Moses, the true, full name of YHWH (Yahweh) is revealed for the first time, as the Lord said in his passing,
“The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:6-7)
And what was to become of Moses after such an encounter? As we see at the end of the chapter, “the skin his face shone because he had been talking to God.” (Exodus 34:29) And let us also not forget that God once commanded His people to create a throne for Him—the Ark of the Covenant—on which He would be manifested before man, yet man on his own accord was not worthy to touch it, or even look upon it. Such devastation of holiness, for a being of imperfection to be associated with true Perfection, would not be allowed. More than that, the representation of holiness, that is the Ark, could not be defiled, lest we portray the thought that God—the truest holiness—be anything less. This is perhaps why when the holiness of the Ark would be touched or seen by someone unclean, the offender would be struck down immediately. As it is recorded in 1 Samuel 6:19, “[God] struck some of the men of Beth-shemesh, because they looked upon the ark of the Lord.” What can be understood from these encounters is that the glory of God in its purest form would be absolutely devastating to the sinful human flesh.
Yet by words God revealed to us His nature in terms comprehensible to us on Saini. For as Yahweh passed before Moses, revealing His glory to Him, the words are spoken of God’s identity. It can be argued that God revealed His glory to Moses by speaking His identity to him. It is through words that Moses learned the identity and nature of God, and it is through words we now have the Holy Scriptures with which to study Him. By words God created the universe. By words He has made Himself known to us. And by words we praise Him in return.
Having stated this it should be noted that the words which are used in worship should bear weight in some sense. The apostle Paul famously instructs the churches of Colossi and Ephesus to “…be filled with the Spirit, singing to one another psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs…” (Ephesians 5:18b-19a); it can be understood, then, that music in the church is a means of edification both for God and His church. If the words to our music neither edify our God nor our church, they should not be sung in a congregational setting. Furthermore, it is the opinion of the author of this writing that songs with very little weight to edify in any sense should be kept on the proverbial back burner, that more theologically significant songs be presented by the church in lieu of them. The present church has plenty of songs already composed which repeat simple text and choruses. There is nothing inherently wrong with the composition “Our God Reigns,” which does little more than repeat those three words until the worship leader stops the movement; nevertheless overuse of a song or even this style of song—this style which has the advantage of being easily learned and repeated by the congregation—has a greater disadvantage of serving little-to-no theological edification to the believer. In theory, the believer already knows that God reigns—what else can he learn from the song? If we limit ourselves only to the basic, there will be no room for the congregation as a whole to grow into greater theological depth, which would consequently lead to greater knowledge of- and relationship with God.
In case it wasn’t clearly stated, let it be reiterated: the simple text and music is not inherently bad. The new believers and those unfamiliar with the simple song will be able to catch on quickly and join in communal worship with the congregation. Nevertheless, the congregation should not hold themselves back by singing simple songs for the sake of being together. New believers and seasoned alike need to continually advance themselves in their knowledge of God and the subsequent relationship. Let the church discontinue its “no congregant left behind” mentality.
Let it also be stated that the use of overly complex worship—especially in a melodic sense—should be used minimally as well. We now bring into play the other end of the argument: worship music does no good to edify the congregation if the congregation can’t pick up on it. If a worship leader has tongues of men and angels and incredible prophetic powers, it won’t do the church any good if the worship leader doesn’t serve to lead the congregation in worship. If a song is too extravagant for the congregation to understand, it is interpreted as a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. The glory of God is too great for our minds to understand—praise be to God that he translated his identity into terms which allow for us to understand in part, as he did with Moses on Saini. Similarly, some music is too complex for the mind of the musically untrained to comprehend all at once. Let us be imitators of God in making our content accessible to all.
In order to achieve a worship service inclusive of both inviting and significant music, the worship leader must seek to find a balance in some way. The author does not claim to know of a perfect way to do this; in fact, the supposed “perfect way” is likely congregation-specific. Possible means of achieving this balance include singing primarily songs from the proverbial middle ground—as in, songs that have substance yet are simple, or perhaps singing a mix of simple and complex—assuming the complex music will still be known by at least some of the congregation—so that everyone at some point can be edified, and in turn glorify our mutual Lord.
Before continuing discussions over topics which are perhaps new areas of study to some, let us establish the meanings of some of the words discussed, lest we throw the “accessible to all” nonsense out the metaphorical window. As was addressed earlier, worship is a subject into which depths no mortal has likely ever ventured entirely. Were this document to touch on every definition, the reader would grow weary and irritated at these words before too long, and one could say much more for the author. So the definitions addressed will be highly condensed. Robert Webber, in his book Worship Old and New has this to say:
“Worship is not something tangential to the Christian story but a matter that lies at the very heart of the Christian Scriptures from the beginning to the end. The importance of worship is expressed as early as the story of Cain and Abel, who brought offerings to the Lord (Gen. 4:3-5), and as late as the book of Revelation, which not only depicts a heavenly scene of worship (Rev. 4-5) but is filled with songs of praise and images of worship. Between the pages of Genesis and Revelation the scriptures portray a moving story, which depicts the themes of worship, of how God worked in human history to initiate a saving relationship with the people of the world.”1
As Webber states, worship is the interaction between man and God. Worship can be seen as God moving and the Church responding. Such examples—even as Webber would later point out—include the relationship initiated by God with Abraham and Sarah, His relationship with Israel, and, as Webber states just a few sentences after the afore-quoted passage, we must especially note “the great act of redemption in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ,” through which God is initiating relationship with all those who agree to be yoked with Him.
Another highly important aspect to consider are the literal translations of words in the original historical text (Hebrew or Greek) into modern English. In English, two major words are used: praise and worship. And often the two are used interchangeably, either out of ignorance to a distinction between the terms or a present evolution of our language. Let it be established that the author of this article claims no expert status on the terms about to be discussed, in fact to claim any more than just a basic knowledge of the terms would be akin to perjury. Yet what basic understanding the author does have shall be revealed at this time:
In the Psalms especially, some Hebrew words which are translated into praise occur quite frequently. One such case is the word Halal. It has been counted2 to have appeared 165 times in the Bible in some form in the original Hebrew. In English, this word is typically translated in two ways: as part of the word Hallelujah (Halal + YAH-weh comes out to Hallelujah) and simply as praise. But praise is hardly a complete definition. This word is often used as a description of light or shining (Job 29:3) and sometimes as a term of commendation (Genesis 12:15). And when it is used in the original Hebrew as a term of praise, it is typically celebratory (Psalm 63:5). Other words often translated into English as praise are Shabach—to praise with a loud shout (Psalm 63:3) and Tehillah—to praise from one’s spirit (Psalm 22:3). There is a common theme between these and similar Hebrew words which will be further discussed shortly. Yet the word praise should be distinguished from worship.
Two of the most common words translated into English as “worship” are as follows: the first one we shall address is Barak—to worship by kneeling or bowing down; the second is Shachah—to worship by falling down or prostrating oneself. The latter Hebrew word is also translated into Koine Greek as proskuneo (Matthew 2:11).
There is a clear distinction between words translated into English as “praise” and as “worship”. Praise refers to simply exalting God, often in a celebratory sense, and it appears to open refer to a coinciding emotion of joy. Often, this involves a simultaneous raising of the hand (Yadah). Worship, on the other hand, is a form of humility. When one worships, one lowers oneself so that the object of worship—hopefully Yahweh—is lifted above the worshiper. Therefore, God is exalted as one is humbled. Regarding praise, the object of praise—again hopefully the Lord—is exalted on His own accord.
This distinction should be noted because it is important to be aware of our responses to the movements of the Lord. Need I remind the reader of what Webber said regarding our “moving story” with the Lord? If indeed worship and praise are a response to Yahweh’s movements, how shall we respond? When the church assembles, the church sings. Often hands are extended and knees are bowed. The historical background behind these acts cannot be overstated. In this way our acts of praise and worship unite us with generations past.
This unity is highly significant.
Earlier we reviewed a scripture found in Ephesians 5:18-19 wherein we are instructed to sing to one another our psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. We are instructed to worship in unity. There is no dissent here, no separation of nobles and peasants, no chasm between republican and democrats, there is not even anything indicating time separates worshipers, when we’re all worshiping the same, eternal Being. After all, “what shall separate us from the love of Christ…neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come…will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-39). God is eternal, as is His love for us, and as is the subsequent praise and worship of Him. The history of the church must not be understated, and meanings behind acts of worship still practiced by the church should not be forgotten. Acts of raising one’s hands, dancing, or even speaking in tongues in worship are not new worship acts. Neither are the sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist, the importance of which seem to be fading in the non-denominational gatherings in recent days in lieu of the aforementioned acts.
Life of the Worship Leader
The Worship Leader before all else should be, indeed, a worshiper of God. This goes far beyond simply leading music; anyone can lead a singalong. It is a far greater and infinitely more important task to be a worshiper than a musician.
How is this accomplished? The act of worship should never be limited to an hour-long timeslot on Sunday mornings. If indeed God is “enthroned on the praises of Israel,” (Psalm 22:3) how can He be enthroned somewhere he would only visit on hour a week? What dominion, what government only rules its people one hour out of the week? This can’t be. No authority worthy of praise would be so because of his lack of involvement in his constituents’ lives. In order to truly worship God, we must truly devote our lives to him, for we are each commanded to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”3 It seems the only way possible to love the Lord with the entirety of even one of these qualities would be a lifelong task—how can you love anything with all of your heart if part of your heart is devoted elsewhere?
Before all else, the worship leader needs to keep himself in a healthy relationship with Jesus. As in any healthy relationship, communication is essential. The worship leader should be the first to lead his congregation in living out such callings of the scripture as to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). If the worship leader does not spend time on his own in communication with God, how can he expect to do so on Sunday morning with other people following him? How can he lead people some place he’s never been?
Secondly, the worship leader—regardless of whether or not the word “pastor” is used in his title, should take care of the other people leading worship with them. He needs to hold them to the standards to which he should hold himself—to be committed worshipers of Jesus during the service and apart from it. He should also take care of his worship team—be it a band, a choir, a praise team, or any other such term—and pastor them. The worship leader should be involved in the lives of those who are leading worship with him. He should pray for them, pray with them, and actively seek to serve them in any area of their lives in which they might need help. If these people are playing a role in leading the congregation in worship, they are worship leaders, just as the worship pastor, and neither person is any more or less significant than the other.
Furthermore, the worship leader must take care of his congregation. He must be as active if not more so in the lives of his church as the “senior pastor” (or whatever his title may be). As worship is a facet of lifelong devotion to God, its characteristics are far greater than just those of musical qualities. In order for the worship leader to wholly lead his congregation in worship, he must be involved in leading their worship outside of the Sunday morning service. He must be willing to pray with them—not just for them, in the generic manner worship leaders are known to do at the start of each service. The worship leader must be relationally involved with his congregation. When the worship leader is actively involved in the lives of his congregation, he can lead accordingly, and the church is unified in worship.
The Goal of Corporate Worship
The primary objective of corporate worship is to worship as one, unified church. Any individual can listen to “worship music” in their own time and worship God personally in their own way. But this act should not be carried over into the corporate worship setting. In the assembly in which we are supposed to symbolize the act of being many members of one body acting in unity as the one bride of Christ worshiping Him, we should not be acting on our own. There should be no need for a person to stand off on his own singing—or worse, partaking of the Eucharist on his own, as some gatherings seem to call for—in a setting which very purpose is to promote the opposite.
Take the communion, otherwise called the Eucharist, for instance. The Eucharist is a direct representation of Jesus’ last supper before his crucifixion. If we indeed call ourselves followers—disciples—of Christ, what were the twelve disciples of Christ who were with him at this time doing? They were consuming bread and wine, and they were enjoying the fellowship of one another and of Christ. They were not standing in the corner of the room in silence while the worship team sang a solemn 6/8 hymn in the background. The very act of Communion is designed to be communal.
And perhaps the single most important aspect of worship-leading which should be tended to in any service, regardless of style, song selection, whether or not the quality of the music is “good,” or whether or not a congregant is visiting or a lifelong attendee, is a simple concept. Above all else, it is unequivocally the single most important item in the job description of the worship leader to keep the focus of the service on Jesus, not on himself or the music. As such, the music should not be distracting in any way. Instruments should be tuned and played well, yet the musicians should not attract any unnecessary attention to themselves—if the electric guitarist is shredding on his guitar, where will the congregation’s focus be?
It should also be noted that the quality of the worship service is not dependent on how well the electric guitarist handled his solo or how long the soprano held out her high note but on how the church was edified in the leadership of the musicians. The congregation is not the audience, and the worship team is not made up of performers. If ever the worship leaders distract the congregation in letting their focus be on God, they are failing to live up to the calling placed upon them.
The author would like to reiterate the point that he claims no moral authority but rather a strong passion for the subjects addressed. If you as the reader are so inclined to express your own opinions, let it be done, as the author of this work is not attempting to create the Ultimate Bible of Worship Leaders Worldwide.
Yet one last subject worthy of further exploration regards our impending eternity of worship as the Kingdom is established in its fullness in the coming days. In these days, we will be worshiping our omnipotent, omniscient, time-transcending God in unison with our brothers and sisters in Christ, past and present, from cultures all over the world. Let us not forget scriptural references, such as in Revelation 7 (beginning in verse 9) which declare that the worshipers, robed in white, are of a multitude of every nation. This being established, there is no culturally “correct” way to worship our God of every tribe and tongue and nation. There is no “right way” to worship God, as long as we keep our focus on Jesus, who is the Way to the Father (John 14:5). This being established, whether we prefer to worship with new songs or old, Chris Tomlin or Fanny Crosby, MediaShout or hymnals, guitars or organs, formal attire or casual, or prefer terms such as reverend or pastor, father or minister, or whether we use wine or grape juice, or whether or not we learn and recite creeds, or if we read from the King James Version or the New Living Translation—ultimately these arguments bear little significance in light of the fact that we are gathering together to worship the same God who revealed Himself to Moses on Saini, whom we will worship eternally with His people who presently do and historically have worshiped Him in ways different from ours.
Therefore the author implores the church worldwide and each individual congregation to explore opportunities in worship which are perhaps foreign or unknown. The Hillsong-centric congregation should challenge itself to explore music which is no less relevant today than it was just a few decades ago; the King James-reading traditional American church should explore music and styles from other cultures around the world; the local church should compose its own songs to meet the present needs of its people. We have thousands of years of content from six continents to explore, not to mention these wonderful years ahead of content yet to be composed. Let us pray that the church continues to explore opportunities to worship in unity our God, who though is three members is also one. Let us not be exclusive, insisting on our own way, but rather rejoicing in truth and exploring ways to sing to the Lord a new song. And let us pray, as our brothers and sisters in Christ prayed in the days of the early church, “even as this broken bread was scattered over the hills, and was gathered together and became one, so let your church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into your kingdom. To You is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ forever.”4
1Webber, Robert. “Biblical Themes in Worship.” In Worship Old & New: A Biblical, Historical, and Practical Introduction. Rev. ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1994.
2“Strong’s #1984: Halal – Greek/Hebrew Definitions – Bible Tools.” Strong’s #1984: Halal – Greek/Hebrew Definitions – Bible Tools. Accessed October 8, 2015.
3Deuteronomy 6:5. Jesus later quoted this passage to address what our greatest command was; it should be noted that in the gospel according to Mark, he also adds the words “and with all your mind.”(Mark 12:30) And in Matthew 22:37 he says “mind” instead of “might”.
4The Didache, 9:5