Have you noticed? The ministry of worship has changed considerably over the past twenty-five years.
This is particularly true in Churches of Christ where a cappella singing has been a defining characteristic, and even litmus test of faithfulness. Here’s the short-hand version of our change. Our tribe lived for a century with the presence of a song leader, someone who selects the songs, pitches them appropriately, and gets us started. After that, we’ll do the rest. Now we are recognizing that there is a far greater depth to the role of song leader. What many churches are looking for now is a worship leader.
What’s the difference between a song leader and a worship leader?
A song leader worked in a clipboard environment of worship planning. In the church of my youth we actually had “dear brother deacon” who stood at the back of the auditorium with a clipboard. His job was to check off everyone participating in the worship presentation—which included the song leader. If the song leader was ever late, brother deacon got mighty nervous. The key person in the worship experience was the preacher. The song leader was ancillary. In fact, as long as there was preaching, the worship event could be successful. Singing and music could be left out.
Today, the worship leader ministers in a richer, more expansive environment. In fact, the worship leader functions much like the conductor of an orchestra. The worship leader sets the stage, develops the atmosphere, and directs the people through the movements of the worship experience. The preacher appears on stage much like the featured soloist. We look forward to and applaud the soloist, but it is the conductor who has created the experience. That is what the worship leader does today.
Cole NeSmith, co-pastor and creative director at City Beautiful Church described the worship leader’s role this way: The true goal is to recognize, create, and amplify a culture of worship unique to where you are.”
Right now, I now of five churches looking for worship ministers. All of the them are a bit “angsty” about the fact that worship leaders are so hard to find. As we’re going through that search at our church, here are five criteria that stand out when hiring a worship leader.
I pray these reflections are useful to you as you consider your church and the ministry of worship.