I realize just by looking at the picture I used for this post’s title graphic, you probably can figure out what — or I should say who — I’m talking about.
OK I get it, not every church has this, as there are all sorts of churches and fellowships around the world, and it would be silly of me to insist this is the case with EVERY gathering of believers. But if you live in the West, this is almost 100% the case.
Many months ago I began writing a few articles which followed a deconstructionist approach that I frequently use in my approach to writing and podcasting. The first article was something I wound up splitting into two parts, the first one was called I Don’t Care What Your Business Card Says, “Mr. Apostle”. A few influential people shared it and made it become my second-most shared post at the time. I followed that post with one on the modern-day “professional pastor” called If You Love Him, Feed His Sheep — Don’t Exploit Them!
So far so good.
But then after writing those two posts, I went to Facebook and posed a question, which I admit is often times a way I get inspired with people’s feedback in order to write something. I can’t remember exactly how I phrased it, but it was along the lines of this: “Can someone help me find the position of “worship leader” in the New Testament? Any reference. Any verse or mention in passing.”
I was expecting at the very most to just hear online crickets, but instead…well, let’s just say I’m glad I asked it on the internet instead of to a group of believers in person because I’m afraid that afterward you would have found my dead body underneath a pile of folding chairs. Most who left a comment were nice and agreeable, but it was a few who made it clear this is not a topic you touch if you don’t want to experience some serious backlash.
The post I originally intended to write about was meant to cover it from the angle of “let’s look at the sacred cow of the worship leader” and follow the same template that served me well for the first two posts. Instead, I left it alone after deciding I wasn’t in the mood for the uphill battle.
Until yesterday. That’s when I came across a post by a fellow FIRE grad, Nate Marialke. He’s a professional musician and leads worship. And an incredigood musician. I’ve got one of his CDs and a few songs of his on frequent rotation in my iTunes and my cell phone. I’m going to cite some references he made better than I could have, since, they’re coming from a worship leader’s mouth. See his original post whose title I’m loosely ripping off here What Does Every Church Have That is Not in the New Testament?
But first, hear what I’m not saying.
I’ve noticed whenever I post about organic church, it seems that talking about how you’re for something seems to automatically raise red flags for people who assume the world only works in false dichotomies. If you’re questioning something, then they seem to think you must be slamming it if your questions are encouraging people to abandon misunderstanding on something. Sometimes, it’s just easier and cheaper to build a new house than it is to make repairs or changes to one that’s already been constructed. For some reason, not only is it difficult, but you’ll be confronted by people who just don’t want to question tradition, no matter the subject, the least of which could be musical stylings in our corporate gatherings. It doesn’t matter if the house is infested with cockroaches, falling apart and has mold in the kitchen cabinets, you just will not convince some people that renovation is needed and that it’s a beneficial thing.
Such is the case with questioning how we “do church” or worship, in my opinion, more than most other topics in christendom.
Mangled Five-fold Fingers
Many charismatics subscribe to the idea that the Ephesians 4:11 ministry gifts are all for today while other denominations and independent churches will cry heresy if you tell them there are modern-day apostles or prophets in the body of Christ. But yet some of these same people in either camp have no problem with paid clergy, such as hiring a “professional pastor/expositor”, and if they are not a part of the Church of Christ denomination, a professional worship leader.1
Of those who subscribe to the “five-fold ministry” and base it on just that one verse in the entire New Testament, I’ve heard it likened to using your hand, with each finger serving as an example each ministry gift: The Thumb representing the Apostle, which touches all the other fingers/ministries and it enables us to grip. The forefinger represents the Prophet because it points and represents direction. The Middle finger, the longest of the fingers and is furthest reaching represents the Evangelist in the way he or she (or depending on your denomination, just he) reaches the lost. The ring finger is said to represent the Pastor because he is “married to the sheep” and always with them and for them. Finally, the pinky finger represents the Teacher because this finger is the one that gives balance to the hand. And is the smallest. Does that mean it’s the least important? I don’t know.
Maybe there’s also supposed to be another hand altogether and it’s on that hand that we find these other such positions like “armor bearer”, rock star worship leader, and ‘first lady’ (I never knew this was a thing until recently) as well as other positions to make use of the other two digits. Or maybe some churches amputate the thumb and forefinger since they don’t believe in apostles and prophets, and surgically add a new finger in one of their places for the worship leader?
I don’t know. I understand what the fingers-on-the-hand analogy is meant to convey, but humor me while I enjoy stretching the analogy.
Why Do We Question Modern-Day Apostles and Prophets, But Not Worship Leaders as Being Biblical?
Suffice it to say, both of these roles, the pastor and the worship leader — at least the way we have come to understand them in contemporary churchianity — have scant Scriptural support for their use. The worship leader, even less of the two since technically, there is no clear or obvious support for our modern-day worship leader in the New Testament. My question in my aforementioned Facebook status might have been poorly phrased on my part (I can take that), but it was meant to ask “how come we don’t question worship leader, but we have a problem with apostles and prophets?”
The only examples people gave me, incidentally, were from the Old Testament. And if I recall correctly, another misquoted from 1 Corinthians 14 about some having a song or a hymn somehow relating to a professional musician on a platform.
After combing the New Testament, Marialke says the following in his post,
You’ll see Apostles, Prophets, Teachers, Evangelists, and Pastors but you won’t find hide nor hair of a worship leader. Being a full-time worship leader I had a bit of an identity crises when I flipped through the pages of New Testament scripture unable to find my job description. Then I realized something: being a worship leader was something every Christian was called to.
While on the cross, Jesus cried out 3 powerful words echoing through time and space, “it is finished” and a new era began. A new arrangement of worship was made. A different agreement was drafted between God and humans. The Most High God of Old Testament fame became very accessible. Now all the barriers that once kept God at arm’s length were ripped away. Literally. The veil that separated us from the presence of God was torn in two. The physical building of the temple was no longer needed and subsequently destroyed in the 1st century, and the professional priesthood as made obsolete. Worship had changed.
God made it clear that he wanted all his children to be priests, to be worshippers, and he have us all access to Himself 24/7.
I don’t want to quote his entire article here but encourage you to check it out here on his new blog. He makes points I don’t think I would disagree with. I agree we are not under the Old Covenant anymore. God became accessible to all who will call on His name for salvation now, and come and dwell in us. It’s no longer only the special class of Levites or high priests who can enter into His presence, which dwelled in a particular room of a tabernacle or a temple.
Now, that presence indwells the believer. It is no longer the role of a specific elite member of the priesthood to be the “takers-into-the-presence by way of singing and performing music”. Jesus told us in John 14:21 that whoever keeps His commandments will experience his manifest presence. Jesus didn’t mention anything of singing songs for 45 minutes once per week as being the key to experiencing his presence. Obedience is the entry into his presence, not music. That’s not to say I am downplaying music or saying talented musicians should leave their instruments at home and we not sing or use any of these talents. More on that in a moment.
As believers, we are all priests in this new covenant order. And if we require a talented guitar player or keyboardist to take us into somewhere where we now already are, then someone forgot to tell that to Paul and Silas who were singing while chained in a dungeon at which time “there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken” (see Acts 16: 25-34).
Side note: just out of curiosity, how many of us have ever experienced an earthquake like that when gathered together, whether singing with instruments or a cappella?
To quote Nate again, in new covenant worship everybody pitches in.
Now lest you think I’m some young curmudgeon or snarky millennial who just looks for things to complain about, I’m all for using gifts and talents each of us has and bringing glory to the Lord with them. In fact, I personally prefer loud music to a cappella or hymns, but again, that’s just the point: they are only my preferences and don’t play a part in whether there’s more presence of God in one or the other. We need to be more preoccupied with what God thinks of our worship of Him, which is not limited to or defined as music. I more or less agree with Nate when he says [of worship leaders]:
We are uniquely gifted to stir the heart and soul through music, singing, and songwriting, and hopefully service. When that gift is released in the context of God’s beloved children gathering in worship it is very powerful. An awareness of God’s powerful presence is created, emotions are stirred toward Christ, faith is built and all things are possible in those moments. As with any thing that is powerful it must be treated with respect.
That is why the worship minister must be convinced that he or she is called to be a servant to the church of Christ. The power they wield has been entrusted to them for the purpose of revealing the nature, character and heart of God through music and song, to help the saints know who they are as a kingdom of priests.
But, sometimes I wonder if perhaps in our pursuit of excellence and relevance we have once again replaced the professional priesthood with professional worshippers. That we as the church are hiring our worshippers while we sit back and enjoy their gifts rather than let them lead us into a faith filled awareness of Christ and his accomplishments.
New Podcast on The Presence of God
Since this is getting a bit long, and we’re leaving a lot of ground uncovered, but that’s one of the limitations of blog posting. I’m going to end on this and maybe follow-up on this topic again if I receive feedback that warrants it.
In the meantime, I’ve since recorded an episode of the Fire On Your Head podcast with Stephen Crosby where we discussed themes from one of his books that has had the most impact on me in terms of freedom from striving to sense the presence of God, Praise, Worship, and the Presence of God: A Better Way to Worship – A New Covenant Perspective.
Click here if you’d like to know how to subscribe to the Fire On Your Head podcast.
Let’s Phase Out The Worship Leader – by Jonathan Aigner
3 Mistakes Every Worship Leader Should Avoid by Todd Fields
- I don’t mention that to mock or disparage anybody reading this from the Church of Christ, but it’s merely well-known they tend to prefer a cappella and no instruments. Check out these links on Radically Christian: Why I Believe in Congregational A Cappella Singing in Worship, Instruments in Worship, and Why Must You Use Instruments to Worship? [↩]