Worship Pastors, Stop Killing Your People
For too long, content has been sacrificed at the altar of creativity. Artistic expression has trumped the Gospel and muddied the clear waters of truth. This unfortunate reality has manifested itself into the soundtrack for what we’ve experienced as the pandemic of deconstruction within the Church. Look more closely at the active song bank of any church in America, and you’re likely to see it. Songs will be packaged with compelling sounds and cool beats, but miss a clear message, or worse, misrepresent the message of truth. Like spiritual poison, this sacrifice of style over substance is killing our people.
Biblical illiteracy and the desire to gain man’s approval are two major factors in this movement.
Typically, the job qualifications for worship pastor/leader are straightforward; If you can play guitar or piano, lead a choir, read music, or sing well, you typically have a pretty good shot at getting hired by a church. In most cases, job descriptions have specific desires as far as musical and technical skills, but they’re very general in what is expected in biblical literacy. Example: “Must be able to lead a band.” “Must be proficient at Ableton Live and ProPresenter.” “Must have an evident relationship with Jesus.” This often leads to music in the church that is compelling musically, but theologically very shallow. The newly hired leader is musically talented, but thinks very little about the theology of songs and other elements in weekly gatherings he is presenting to the flock.
The Church should desire (and deserves) a worship pastor who knows his theology as much as he knows his music. The worship pastor should be as much a learner of theology as he is a practitioner of his craft. In too many cases, the Gospel is used to showcase “giftings” or artistic ability because the leader is more comfortable hiding behind his talent than his theology. The result is typically a watery version of truth packaged in some form of entertainment. The Church doesn’t need a safe alternative for entertainment. They need to be reminded of the truth of the Gospel. Worship pastors, we must be learners and pursuers of this truth.
Since The Fall, we’ve struggled with our desire for the approval of man. This has manifested itself in many ways. Because of the clear divide between holiness and humanity, man has taken the easier and quicker route to filling the void in his soul. Instead, he fills this void by eliciting praises and approvals from other fallen creatures. Malpractice for financial gain. Manipulation for selfish gain. Name dropping for the appearance of “big dealness” or association with power. More examples can be mentioned of us giving into the temptation of being approved by man instead of God. The pastors within the church are not exempt… Even the clean cut, “innocent” ones who have managed to keep themselves from moral failures. They’re not exempt either. Pride wears many masks and approval is a very deceptive and desirous drug.
This struggle with man’s approval has led us to shift and shape ministries to meet expectations and desires as opposed to meeting eternal needs. We’ve grown so concerned with being accepted, liked, and followed, that we’ve lost the concern for calling people to repentance. We’ve grown so consumed with standing out and being unique, that we’ve actually abandoned the sure and steady foundation of our identity and purpose in Christ.
It’s time for this to change in our churches. It’s time to get back to scripture. It’s time to acknowledge that people, by their fallen nature, will bend toward desiring lesser things. If we consume ourselves with people’s desired preferences and whether or not they will be unimpressed or underwhelmed with our offering, we will never be eternally effective. We must look beyond wants and provide what is needed. The psalmist prayed “turn my eyes away from looking at worthlessness and give me life in your ways.” He knew the heart’s and eyes’ tendency to wander, and he knew the only fix was for his heart and mind to be fixed on the ways of God.
This is important to understand. Time and time again in Psalm 119, the psalmist acknowledges the Word of God to be his true north, or his one place of assurance and truth. This should inform how we think about our own worship. We must first be ones who have tasted and seen that the Lord is good, and then we must be those who offer what has been tasted and seen to be good. We must become appetite shapers.
When I first arrived to The Journey Church in 2016, I was the guy I’ve spent the majority of this article describing. I wrote songs that I thought were cool and catchy but dismissed the need for clarity and truth. I’d settle for “truthful enough.” I picked songs and setlists of songs that I thought the congregants in front of me wanted… not what they needed. I was shallow in my theology, but I could lead a band. My biblical illiteracy and my approval of man ruled my every move. How I led my teams, how I “served” the churches who would have me lead, it was all an offering of ignorance and selfish ambition. By God’s grace, my pastor (Erik Reed) saw my areas of potential growth and developed me in my theology. He spent time chipping, and challenging, and rebuking, and encouraging me into one who was trained and secure in who I am in Christ.
As mentioned before, the church doesn’t have a hunger problem. The church has an appetite problem. Congregants of local churches across America attend weekly gatherings and line up at the church’s spiritual buffet. They fill their plates and souls with the theological junk food offered, but then remain malnourished for the week ahead. We must be intentional to shape the appetites of our people. What we sing matters. What we stamp “approved” for our people to interact with is vital. Who we put in front of our people matters. We must understand the importance of theologically sound music and theologically rooted and mindful worship pastors. What you feed your people as a pastor, your people will eat. What you deem as nourishing, life giving, and good, your people will receive as valuable and sustaining.
So… What are you feeding your people? Is it giving them life, or is it killing them?
We need to sing and lead more songs that are not only rich and lyrically compelling, but also beautiful and musically captivating. We need to offer songs that accurately represent the truth of the Gospel. We need more worship pastors who herald the scriptures as the only inerrant word of God and make decisions with scripture as their final authority. Fight for truth with and for your people. Stop offering food that is desired by your people but will never nourish them. Shape the appetites of your people and give them the clear, beautiful, and all-sufficient Gospel!
Brett is the Worship Pastor at The Journey Church in Lebanon, TN and the founder of Journey Worship Co. He is married to Megan and has three boys, Keaten, Griffey, and Lou.