The following article was written by John Martin, who is the Vice President of Development for Next Level Worship, LLC. This article was featured in Rick Warren’s Ministry Toolbox. We have received tons of positive feedback from this article. Once you’ve read it, we believe you’ll understand why! Enjoy!
As senior pastors, if we are fortunate enough to have a music minister who really wants to do a quality job, we often breathe a sigh of relief and say, “I’m glad that is taken care of. It’s one less thing for me to worry about!” Then, each week, we faithfully e-mail our sermon notes to be printed, and we review and approve the orders of the services. During the worship services we watch to see how well everything is working. We ask ourselves questions like, “Are these songs setting the mood for the sermon? Are all the PowerPoint slides in the correct order and are all the words spelled correctly? Are the tech guys turning on the correct microphones and are the lights being dimmed and brightened at the right times?” In our Monday morning staff meetings we are quick to debrief our praise and worship leader and offer him or her some constructive criticisms on how the service can be improved. This is how we pastors tend to view our role as the church’s “chief worship leader.”
Indeed, overseeing and evaluating the worship environment is part of our responsibilities as senior pastors. Nonetheless, as a senior pastor myself, I have had to realize and admit something: I am not the worship leader in our church. I am not adequately equipped to be in that position. I cannot actually stand and lead the music properly. What I must recognize myself to be, however, is the lead worshiper within the church. Pastor and author, John Piper, said that worship leaders are “lead worshipers who lead while worshiping, not instead of worshiping.” I agree whole-heartedly with that statement. And by the same token, we who are senior pastors must understand our role in the worship service as well. We are lead worshipers who should worship while leading from the front row, if you will. The role of a senior pastor must be to set the example as a worshiper who participates in the praise while the musicians stand before us to lead the praise.
I am reluctant to admit this, but there have been times when, while the musicians were singing, I have actually sat and gone through my sermon notes “just one more time.” I have also been guilty of looking at my watch to make certain the worship leader is not eating into any of “my” time. Incredibly, I have sat on the front row and made notes about lighting, image magnification, sound issues, and how much the choir smiled – all of this during those precious minutes when I expected my team on stage to inspire the congregation to praise! Yet I, the chief worship/praise leader of that congregationm was guilty of doing everything but focus on praising God. I know now that these actions were very wrong of me, and I have had to repent.
Too busy to praise …
Growing up, music was a very big part of my life. I loved to sing and play my guitar. Many nights I would go and sit in the yard of my childhood home, look up at the star-filled sky and spend hours playing and singing praise to God. I would lie in my bed at night and think about those songs I had been singing and thank God for his goodness and his grace. Unfortunately though, after I began pastoring, my personal praise to God became less and less valuable to me. I had “more important” things to do, such as preparing my sermons, visiting hospitals, chairing committees, balancing budgets, and monitoring monthly reports. I all but gave up the guitar and those star-filled nights of worship and prayer. Instead, I became far too busy praying for and focusing on fussy church members. I just did not have the time or the energy to invest in praise and worship to the Lord. Besides, that is why I hired a praise and worship guy, right? Wrong! God had to make me see that as a senior pastor my first priority and my greatest passion must be an active personal pursuit to know and worship my Savior.
One of the instruments God used to wake me up to my foremost responsibility in life (and in pastoring) was a nine-week, in-depth Bible study on worship. The Bible study, (called Pure Praise) helped me understand that the primary focus of my life is not to be on pastoring or preaching. Those are tools and gifts God has entrusted to me. But they are ineffective when my own heart is not hot for him. After going through the study, I realize now that my ultimate calling is to always be an instrument of his praise. In fact, as a pastor one of the most important things I will ever do is to influence my people to worship our God and King!
Lifting hands instead of watches …
Pastors, let me be frank for a moment. You and I cannot lead our people anywhere that we ourselves have not already been. We cannot teach our people to bring their sacrifices of praise during corporate worship times if we are not personally engaging in corporate praise and worship as well. We are the lead worshipers of our church. What kind of leaders are we being, though, when our people see us “studying” sermon notes rather then singing songs of praise? What are we saying to them about praise when they see us lift our arm to glance at our watch rather than lift our hands in worship?
So, the next time you go into the sanctuary for corporate worship, don’t focus quite as much on how your people are being led to worship. Rather, focus on how much you are worshiping. Allow your thoughts and your heart to primarily focus on your God who is worthy of every person’s praise in the congregation – including your praise and mine. In this way, you will lead your people through your own example of biblical worship in truth and in spirit. It will change your heart, and it will change your church!
I know. It has changed mine.