It’s not about you: leading worship and loving others
You don’t want to be the sort of worship leader who makes yourself the central reference point in every situation. As a worship leader or worship pastor, you must look past yourself and remember that you serve Christ and his church.
In December of 2001, I was playing trumpet at a Christmas concert with my high school jazz band. The song was “Silent Night,” which featured a lengthy trombone solo. We played a lot of trombone features, as our band boasted an exceptionally talented trombonist. As a high schooler, this guy subbed with the Minnesota Orchestra. He went on to Juilliard, playing in award-winning brass groups and rubbing shoulders with the big wigs. But that night in 2001 ended up more silent than he planned. He froze up, hardly able to piece the melody together. And he was devastated.
He was devastated for the same reason so many musicians and artists sail or sink with their work: music was not just something he did, it was an extension of himself. The quality of his playing said something about him.
That’s part of the reason musicians can be funny people, including those who lead in the church. They often possess a combination of confidence and insecurity, obstinacy and fragility, fighting off discouragement when things go poorly while simultaneously surprised that everybody isn’t requesting an autograph.
This is dangerous thinking for worship leaders and worship pastors. If you serve in that sort of role, you’re familiar with the temptation to evaluate and interpret a Sunday morning gathering in light of how it reflects on you. You must crucify that temptation. You don’t want to be the sort of person who, as Jim Hamilton said in a recent sermon, makes yourself the central reference point in every situation, considering “how this reflects on us, and how this makes us look, and how this makes us feel, and what this means about us. … We want to be people who, in every situation we find ourselves in, our central reference point is Jesus and other people.”
As a worship leader or worship pastor, you must look past yourself and remember that you serve Christ and his church.
Serving God’s people by leading them as they address “one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord” is a weighty and wonderful task, and one that demands pastoral care and sensitivity (Eph 5:19). You don’t serve your preferences or tastes, or your need to appear up-to-date in your song selection, or your need to have your talent affirmed, or your need for artistic expression.
It’s tempting to let these things determine the form of your ministry, and to evaluate your Sunday morning gatherings by whether or not these things happened. But that’s not what it’s about. Not even close. Remember, you sing not yourself, but Christ Jesus as Lord for the sake of his people (2 Cor 4:5). How you evaluate your ministry and your weekly gathering should reflect that reality: did we exalt Christ? Were his people edified?
Related: Learn about our degree options through the Department of Biblical Worship
As it turns out, the temptation for music leaders to make themselves the central point of their ministry isn’t new. Charles Spurgeon cared deeply about the music ministry at Metropolitan Tabernacle, and he wanted his song leader to lay aside his own interests in deference to the people he led:
“The people come together not to see you as a songster, but to praise the Lord in the beauty of Holiness … None should be defrauded of their part in the worship because of the exclusive taste of the leader.” (quoted in Tom Nettles’ Living By Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles Haddon Spurgeon)
God’s people gather to praise the Lord, not to marvel at your gifts. And the “success” of your Sunday mornings has nothing to do with whether or not your people perceived your giftedness. Over time, the priorities of your ministry will make clear whose glory you seek.
If you’re looking for a good example of this kind of God-and-others-centeredness, look no further than the Word made flesh. Christ came on unfavorable terms: he laid aside glory, knew sorrow, embraced those who would reject him, and died. So let your ministry take a Christ-ian shape. Pick up your cross. Love God. Serve his people.