One of the ubiquitous symbols of the pan-denominational contemporary worship craze is the designation “Worship Leader.” If your church’s worship service acknowledges a Worship Leader, it is cause for you to sit up and take notice.
Seeming innocent enough, Worship Leader appears nowhere in Scripture. That in itself doesn’t make it wrong, but it does stand in stark contrast to titles which are found in Scripture, such as pastor, deacon, overseer, or elder. So what, or who, is the Worship Leader? To put the best construction on it, it might simply be a new designation of the parish pastor and preacher. A congregation striving to be perceived as relevant and contemporary might drop traditional designations like pastor in favor of the oh so contemporary Worship Leader. But the roots of the “contemporary” craze are in the Pentecostal, Revivalist tradition. In contemporary circles the term Worship Leader designates not the pastor or preacher, but a soloist or lead musician distinct from the preacher. And with that the entire focus of the service is changed. The preacher, and the Word he preaches, are not the lead or focus in the worship service. The focus becomes the music, the soloist, the musician, and the mood or tone that is set. It is an appeal to the sentiment and emotions of the audience. “Worship” has become a code-word for musical performance. “Worship leader” is sanctified code language for the master of ceremonies, the lead performer.
Although I definitely lead and direct the worship service in our church, please don’t call me Worship Leader. Call me Preacher. That’s what I do. That’s the focus of our worship service. Not the music, not the choir, not the soloist (on the rare occasion that we have one). The Word of God read, chanted, preached, heard, and inwardly digested is the focus of our service.
If you don’t like “Preacher,” then call me “Karl the Baptizer.” That’s what I do— baptize the babies and new converts. Call me “Lord’s Supper Deliverer.” I would take that as an honor. That’s what I do– deliver the body and blood of Christ in His Supper. Call me teacher if you want to. The ability to teach God’s Word is a requisite for serving as a parish pastor (1 Timothy 3:2). You can even call me Supervisor. That’s what a pastor is supposed to do (1 Timothy 3:2)— watch over the doctrine and life of the congregation (of which the worship service is central) carefully.
The Word—Law and Gospel—read, taught, and preached is the focus of our worship. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper—that’s the focus of our worship service. Doing those things IS WORSHIP. Reading the Scriptures is worship. Listening attentively to the reading is worship. Preaching is worship. Hearing and inwardly digesting the sermon is worship. Confessing the ecumenical creeds is worship. Confessing our sins, and hearing the absolution is worship. Baptizing is worship. Witnessing baptism is worship. Hearing and believing Christ’s words of institution is worship. Eating and drinking Christ’s body and blood is worship. The solist? The Praise Band? The folksy guitar set? At best minor details of worship. The emotion, sentiment, excitement conjured inside you through the musicians and their music? Sham, and fraud if the Cross of Christ is not boldly, clearly proclaimed. Clever deception if they don’t drive you to the Cross.
Worship Leader? Maybe in your church it’s just an unfortunate, naïve vocabulary change in an attempt to appear more contemporary. Maybe it’s something more sinister. Heads up!
-Pastor K.J. Anderson