What Does it Mean to be a Worship Pastor?

I’m going to confess something. There are times when I wonder if I should be a worship pastor. In high school, I started learning acoustic guitar because I wanted to be a part of the high school worship band and hopefully help lead worship. Although my motivations weren’t always selfless, I have always enjoyed using music to give God glory and helping other people connect with God. But now that I am a worship pastor with over ten years of leading worship under my belt, I find myself doubting my career choice.

What does it mean to be a worship pastorI think a lot of my angst over being a worship pastor springs from what I have perceived of its role in the church over the last ten years. The current status of worship ministry is in many ways more like a music and production business than a pastoral church office. The teaching pastors are the “theologians,” whereas the worship “pastors” are the rockstars, the artists, the cheerleaders and glorified karaoke machines who lead people through songs talking about God, (some of the time).

This is a hard reality I have grappled with over my career leading worship. On the one hand, I love creating and writing music. I love the artistic elements and the aesthetic nature of it. On the other hand, I have been disappointed by the lack of “pastoring” present in worship ministry. It’s not expected for worship leaders to know the Bible well or have any training in exegesis and counseling. Outside of Sunday, there really aren’t many responsibilities for worship pastors apart from making sure the program runs smoothly.

This is why I have doubted my career choice lately. Can a worship pastor be more than a song leader? Should there be more expected than a smooth, professional music section on a Sunday morning service?

Over the last few months, I have been working on a paper on the role of worship pastors and I have been unveiling some of that research on the blog. A few weeks ago I discussed the idea of worship ministry as dialectic liturgy. This is really just a fancy way of saying that worship ministry is the unique ministry of dialoguing with God. Whereas preaching is more rhetorical and does not demand interaction, worship ministry is interaction. It is on this point that I’ve seen a glimmer of hope. The last ten years of developing as a worship leader may not have been completely in vain.

If worship is dialectic, then worship ministry is the overseeing of dialectic liturgy. The role of the worship pastor, if working from that premise, is so much more than a song leader on Sunday mornings. A worship pastor creates the atmosphere, space, context, and modes for the church to actively interact with God and know Him dialectically.

This does not discount the role of music in the dialectic worship of God. However, effective worship ministry is one that sees music as part of a greater culture of interaction with God and not as the only medium through which people can know and respond to God in a worshipful way. True worship leaders are liturgical architects.

In part two of a theological look at worship pastoring, I discuss four practical ways dialectic liturgy can be lived out.

  • Return to pre-Modern liturgy
  • Contextualize Song with Narrative
  • Use Art as a Deconstructive Aesthetic
  • The Aesthetic of Justice

Am I alone in wrestling through this? If you are a pastor, worshipper, or just interested, I desperately seek your input. The job description for worship pastors must be re-written for the sake of maximum impact. Will you help me re-write it?


4 thoughts on “What Does it Mean to be a Worship Pastor?

  1. This is cool Cody! I really like your idea and I think you are on to something. I have struggled with similar stuff for the last few years of working at a church and leading worship. My thoughts have wandered toward an idea that maybe the role of worship pastor is too encourage and equip people to discover their unique and closest to heart ways of crying out to God. I really like this idea of worship being a way of dialoguing with God and I think it helps me put words to things that I have been thinking but unable to express well. I think too there are more ways people dialogue with God than just music and words too and I love the idea of being a leader who helps people discover their deepest ways of connecting with God. I would love to hear more as you continue researching this!

  2. Dianne Robinson, the worship pastor at our church says it so well, “We are not worship leaders, we are lead worshipers.” And she says this to every person in the choir, band, vocal team and tech ministry. Every single one of us, no matter how small the role we play, are leading the way into the presence of God.

    One of my favorite CS Lewis quotes is,”We all despise the man who demands continued assurance of his own virtue, intelligence or delightfulness; we despise still more the crowd of people round every dictator, every millionaire, every celebrity, who gratify that demand. Thus a picture, at once ludicrous and horrible, both of God and His worshippers, threatened to appear in my mind. The Psalms were especially troublesome in this way – ‘Praise the Lord,’ ‘O praise the Lord with me,’ ‘Praise Him.’ . . . Worse still was the statement put into God’s own mouth, ‘who so offereth me thanks and praise, he honoureth me’ (50:23). It was hideously like saying, ‘What I most want is to be told that I am good and great.’ . . . It was extremely distressing. It made one think what one least wanted to think. Gratitude to God, reverence to Him, obedience to Him, I thought I could understand; not this perpetual eulogy. . but what I did not know, and could not see was that it is in the process of being worshipped, that God communicates His presence to men.”

    That is the goal…the process. That is where we sense God’s presence.

    • I love that quote. Incarnation is what drives worship and is the key to understanding the eternally perpetuated eulogy to God. We worship Him to be near him, and he insists that we worship him so he can be near us.

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