Why I prefer “song leader” to “worship leader”

grow musicSo I sat down to compile my thoughts in answer to a question someone asked on Facebook: “What makes a good church song leader?”  What should their attitudes and actions be? I was going to make a useful list to share, but soon realised that first I’d better explain why I’m talking about “song leaders” and not “worship leaders”. The latter term is probably the most widely used across the globe to describe those people who sing upfront in church. But is it the most helpful title? I think “song leader” is much better and my reasoning could be pretty significant in shaping the thinking and actions of any “song” or “worship” leader.

For me the term “song leader” is not something new. It has been part of our church culture here* for more than a few decades. Back in the 90’s when (for us) it was a new thing, and a big deal, to have singers upfront leading the congregation, there were a few things impressed on me by our pastor. One was our title: songleader!  Our job was to lead the singing, to help people to praise God together. There were many new songs, and much more syncopation than most hymns demanded. It was easier for a congregation to learn songs and sing together in time if there was a leader. But these singers weren’t leading the worship. Worship is about more than just singing, as this comment from Don Carson explains:

“I would abolish forever the notion of “worship leader”. If you want to have a “song leader” who leads part of the worship, just as the preacher leads part of the worship, that’s fine. But to call the person a “worship leader” takes away the idea that by preaching, teaching, listening to and devouring the Word of God, and applying it to our lives, we are somehow not worshipping God.”
(Don Carson – from Tony Payne interview with D.A.Carson, The Briefing, Issue 232, Matthias Media, 2000)

“Worship” is all of life, 24×7. To see only the singing, or even just the Sunday gathering, as “worship” is to deny what Romans 12:1 calls us to do in giving our whole lives to Christ: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-this is your spiritual act of worship.” Cleaning the toilets, leading a bible study, going to work, encouraging others, praying to God privately, serving coffee, serving your family, controlling your anger – all these are part of our worship of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

“There can only be one call to worship, and this comes at conversion, when in complete repentance we admit to worshiping falsely, trapped by the inversion and enslaved to false gods before whom we have been dying sacrifices. This call to true worship comes but once, not every Sunday, in spite of the repeated calls to worship that begin most liturgies and orders of worship. These should not be labeled calls to worship but calls to continuation of worship. We do not go to church to worship, but, already at worship, we join our brothers and sisters in continuing those actions that should have been going on – privately, [as families], or even corporately – all week long.” (Harold Best, Music through the eyes of Faith, p.147)

Going further, you could say that Jesus is the only true worship leader. He is the only mediator between God and man, the perfect man who sings God’s praise in our midst. (1 Tim. 2:5; Heb. 2:12) He is our high priest who has offered the perfect sacrifice of Himself to insure our entrance into the holy places. (Heb. 10:19-22)

This is what Jesus is doing now and always in the throne room of heaven, while for us daily life goes on, and Sundays roll by only every seven days. But on those Sundays the “ultimate worship Leader in the gathering, who enables us to know the Father – He tells us the Father’s name – and leader of our song of adoration, is Christ Himself! We aren’t the only ones singing. The Church sings to a singing God. “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” (Zephaniah 3:17)
(from “Doxology & Theology: How the Gospel forms the Worship leader” by Matt Boswell, 2013)

Jesus is in the presence of the Father and we are in Him. We are in His presence all the time, wrapped up in Christ, united with Him. We don’t need a worship leader to lead us into his presence, or into the feeling of being worshipful. Christ is with us, we are with Him.

“It’s only when we understand his (Christ’s) presence in the church as being the fulfillment of God’s promise in Zephaniah 3:17 to “quiet you with his love” and “rejoice over you with singing” that a crucial aspect of our salvation comes into perspective. Jesus didn’t coldly settle accounts for us. He doesn’t bark us into improving ourselves. He unites us to himself in the glorious communion he has enjoyed for eternity with his heavenly Father. He resides within us to heal the broken places and reflesh our cauterized hearts. He sings us into a new mode of existence.”
(from “With One voice: Discovering Christ’s Song in our Worship” by Reggie Kidd, 2005).

Couple all this with the fact that we collectively are the temple of living stones, the place where the praises of God resound, and you may see why attaching the word ‘worship’ to such a narrow slice of our Christian lives (singing together on Sunday) may not be the best idea to perpetuate. There are so many great reasons to sing together as the body of Christ, as I have written about before (see https://sevennotesofgrace.com/2013/05/07/sharing-the-rich-indwelling-word-colossians-316/). Promise I will get back to that list about song leaders soon, but at least you may now understand my choice of words.

* My church is part of the Presbyterian Church of Queensland, but you will find the term ‘song leader’ commonly used with Sydney Anglicans and some other denominations across Australia. I’d be interested to know if the term is used in the USA (where I know the majority of my lovely readers are from) so please feel free to share your thoughts!