A Response to Mark Gungor


Last week a friend of mine shared Mark Gungor’s post titled Attention All Worship Leaders. Musicians and Singers.  In it, Gungor identifies four “big problems when it comes to music” in the church today.  While I agree with some of what he says in the post, I believe he’s completely off base in a major way when he talks in big terms about the role of music leaders in the church.  Some of what he says is, well, just down-right disheartening and, to be quite honest, I’m glad I don’t attend his church – and if I did, I think after reading this post I would have to seriously reconsider whether I did or not.

My major disagreement with him starts fifth paragraph of his second problem.  He writes,

In my church, musicians are on the stage for one reason: They can sing or they can play—period.  They are not pastors, apostles, prophets, evangelists or teachers—they are musicians. They hold no special status like that of an elder or deacon. Quite frankly, their spiritual status is of little matter and in some cases, not required at all.  We don’t put the musicians on our platform through a spiritual filter anymore than we would ask that of the construction workers who built the building.    We do not hire a construction worker based on the condition of his heart, but on the status of his skill.  So it is with our musicians. (emphasis mine)

I can not disagree with him more.  The spiritual status of the musicians on his stage are of primary importance.  Gugnor’s position here reflects a key misunderstanding of the role of music in worship.  Let’s assume for a second that everything is about the music.  If that’s the case, then Gungor’s position is perfectly defensible and even understandable.  If what you are looking for is people to lead and perform music, then, yes, find the best musicians you can find regardless of their character.

But, if you are looking for worship leaders to lead people then character is the utmost importance!  Here’s the point: worship leaders are not called to lead musicthey are called to lead people.  Now that doesn’t mean they have to have “special status like that of an elder or deacon,” nor do they have to be “priests of worship” or have a special “anointing” or “power”.  What they do need to understand, though, is how to relate to people.

If you think I’m misunderstanding him, read these excerpts from his post:

It is always ideal and preferable to have a committed believer lead the music; one who understands who God is and what it is we are trying to do.  But at the end of the day they are up there for one overwhelming reason: They have musical skill….Again, our singers and musicians are up there because they can sing or play—period, not because they have some unique Old Testament version of an “anointing”. (emphasis mine)

Don’t misunderstand me – I’m not suggesting that you can put someone on stage with no musical skill who has a deep walk with the Lord, because both are needed.  What I am saying, though, is that musical skill does not trump one’s walk with the Lord or their leadership ability (though one’s walk with the Lord should certainly trump musical skill, contrary to what Gungor says).

While he’s got plenty of other statements in his blog post that I disagree with, my point here is not to go line-by-line in rebuttal of his position.  I will ask this final question, though, and I’d honestly love to hear (or read) the answer…  Gungor writes,

[C]onsider this: Many (if not most) of the musicians you hear on Christian recordings are not believers in Jesus at all.  Some of them, frankly, are quite accomplished heathens and pagans (I know—I’ve met them).  You think when you hear that big string section on your favorite worship CD that they are all committed followers of Christ?  Hardly.

I’d like to know who he’s talking about here – which artists that I listen to are accomplished “heathens and pagans?”  I’d honestly like to know.  This is not something you can say without actually backing it up with some truth.  And I’m curious, has Gungor called them out on their “heathen and pagan” practices?  Does he pray for them?  Has he challenged them?  Has he brought other believers in to hold these people accountable since due to their hypocrisy they will actually suffer even more in Hell than if they just lived in open rebellion to God?

Again, Gungor’s position is, at it’s heart, a basic misunderstanding of the role of the worship leader in the church.  If leaders are called to lead music then, yes, he’s spot-on in his arguments.  But leaders are called to lead more than music.  They are called to lead people.  And that, Mr. Gungor, is a completely different role than the one you apparently desire at your church.

If you’re looking for proper perspective on the role of the worship leader, I would recommend avoiding Gungor’s post and instead reading the post entitled 4 Characteristics of Great Worship Leaders by Laura Singleton.

Authentic, Engaging, and Responsive Worship


Note: Based on a devotional I wrote for my church choir, which is posted on Grace Notes

Last week I introduced you to Soulprint by Mark Batterson.  I’m going to continue sharing some insights I’ve gleamed from his book today. Last week we specifically looked at what I called “Undignified Worship”, so let’s pickup where we left off…

I asked the following question: “Why are we so afraid to demonstrate our love, praise, and worship of God in physical actions?”  and I also asked what it means to look desperate for Christ (remember the song we sang this morning?)  This morning at my church we sange Breathe, which contains as it’s chorus, “And I, I’m desperate for you.” I found it ironic that as I stood up on the stage this morning and looked over the congregation there were a good number of people who actually did not sing that particular song (many who do normally sing), yet the song was one of the louder songs that was sung this morning by the congregation – even though fewer people sang!  Now there are many reasons people won’t sing, including not knowing the song, and I’m not judging their choice to sing or not sing as right or wrong or good or bad. What I want to focus on is the physical posture people took as they sang (or didn’t sing) this song.  There were people in the congregation with their hands up, others had their hands out in front of them with palms up, some were sitting, some had their eyes closed, and some just stared and looked forward.

While I can’t judge people’s hearts and attitudes in regards to the words they sang, I can ask the question, “Does your physical posture reflect the words you are saying (singing)?”  And for some the answer will be “No”, and for some (but not all) of those whose answer is “No” the reason is fear.

Remember the reference last week to 2 Sam 6:22 when David was caught dancing in the street in response to the return of the Ark of the Covenant?  Some people didn’t really appreciate how he demonstrated his excitement regarding what God had done for Israel – they even ridiculed him for it.  Batterson writes,

“When you get excited about God, don’t expect everybody to get excited about your excitement.  Why?  Your intensity confronts their passivity.  When you completely yield yourself to God, it convicts the unconsecrated by disrupting their spiritual status quo…After all, it’s much easier to criticize others than it is to change ourselves.”

Here’s the point…  I have noticed a marked – and I mean a marked – transformation in my church choir over the past several months.  We’ve spent a lot of time looking at what it means to worship individually and as a choir, moving towards becoming a worship leading choir instead of a performing choir (some of the devotionals I’ve written for the choir can be found by clicking here or here).  They are beginning to truly worship during the service, at least when I can see see them (only the Call to Worship and choir anthem, since the rest of the time they are behind me as I lead my congregation).  The looks on their faces as they sing communicates more about the message of Jesus than any words in any song I choose.  When they look up (instead of down), when they smile (instead of frown), they communicate a love and passion for Jesus that goes beyond the words you say.

As choirs model worship for their congregations people will follow, and the same is true for worship leaders.  Don’t be afraid to smile, get excited, or even raise a hand now and again.  Put down the music/hymnal and don’t worry about singing in parts – just look up and sing the words.  Let the congregation see a choir of worshiping musicians and not just a choir of performing musicians – for there is a huge difference.  This whole worship thing starts with us.

Don’t be afraid to allow your posture to reflect your heart – even if it might seem a little uncomfortable at first.  And don’t be discouraged if you don’t feel like people are following you.  Remember whom you worship and sing for – and it’s not the congregation.

Here’s what I believe: as the choir leads in authentic, engaging, physically responsive worship, others will follow.  And God will smile.

A Culmination Exercise in Worship


Cross Posted on Grace Notes

We’ve spent the last seven posts  looking at worship, so today will serve as our final devotional on this (at least as part of this ongoing series).  We’ve looked at a lot of different ideas – from what worship is to how we worship to how we lead in worship.  I’d like to close this series with looking at a worship service from my church, how it is organized, and what that means for us, in short – putting this all together.

We begin the service with a Call to Worship.  The CTW (as I call it) serves a couple of functions.  First, liturgically speaking, the CTW serves to call worshipers together and stand as a boundary between the rest of the week (what has just happened) and the opening of a worship service (what happens next).  Second, it directs our attention toward Christ (ultimately), often (though not always) by introducing the particular theme for focus for the service.  Finally, it is meant to build anticipation and energy as we move into the service.

At LBC the choir performs this service for the congregation. The song we sing marks the beginning of the worship service, it focuses us on Christ and the theme for the week, and (because we very rarely sing the entire song), builds anticipation and energy into the rest of the service.

After the CTW we then enter a time of congregational singing.  Songs are selected for a variety of reasons, but are arranged in a particular order for very specific reasons.  Let’s look at this morning’s service one model of how songs are selected.

We began with Praise My Soul the King of Heaven, which served as a “rally cry” to ourselves and others around us to sing praises to God and honor him as the Lord of our lives and Savior of our souls.  We then transitioned into Shout to the Lord, a song of clear and purposeful praise and worship towards Christ.

After that we had the offering – a time of response to God for the blessings he has given us (this also connects the service with what happens the rest of the week – since we are giving a monetary substance as a result of our weekly work).  At this moment in the service we present our praise and worship as a physical offering and not a song – it is a time for prayer, confession, surrender, and trust.

Following that we entered a new time of congregational singing.  We began with We Are Called to Be God’s People, a reminder to ourselves and a pledge to God and each other that salvation is more than something to be received but also something to be lived (again, connecting worship on Sunday with our Monday-Saturday lives).  Christ commanded us to “Go forth and make disciples.”  This song serves to remind us that we are now God’s hands and feet in the world.  This song lead to Let it Be Said of Us, a declaration of commitment to Christ and, in particular, the cross – reminding us that without the cross there would be no hope for forgiveness or glory.  We prayed, “Let the cross be our glory and the Lord be our song, till the likeness of Jesus be through us made known.”  This prayer can not be answered on a Sunday morning but must work itself out in Monday-Saturday living.

Finally, since we had just sung a prayer, we finished with a song of worship regarding the cross (Wonderful Cross).  This song takes the text of When I Survey the Wondrous Cross and inserts a new chorus – one which directs us to thank God for what Christ has done on the cross and what it represents: “Oh, the wonderful cross, oh, the wonderful cross bids me come and die, and find that I may truly live. Oh, the wonderful cross, oh, the wonderful cross; all who gather here by grace draw near, and bless Your name.”

On most weeks we would follow this congregational singing up with a choir anthem to serves as the climactic musical moment of the service, but this week we omitted the anthem.  Did you notice how this selection of song and verse served as a leading of hearts directly to the cross (the place of salvation)?  We started with a call for everyone to join together, and then we ended by taking them and dropping them off at the cross (the place where they need to make a decision in regards to the grace God offers through Christ).

As a worship leader, the choir models this journey to the congregation both musically and emotionally – as they see the look on your faces and as your faces reflect the spirit of your hearts.  It is vital that you view yourselves as worship leaders – because that is what you are.  The congregation will follow you where you lead them – and this morning (if you had been leading) there was only one place they needed to go: the cross – the place where salvation and grace are offered – and received – which leads to a transformed life.

In contrast to that journey, if you stand in front of them and fail to worship yourself, then you lead them down the dark path where worship is only an outward motion but has no inward connection.  Jesus warned of this in Matthew 15:7-9: “Frauds! Isaiah’s prophecy of you hit the bull’s-eye:  These people make a big show of saying the right thing,  but their heart isn’t in it.  They act like they’re worshiping me, but they don’t mean it.  They just use me as a cover for teaching whatever suits their fancy.” (taken from The Message)

We lead every week; the question is: to where?

“Let the cross be our glory, and the Lord be our song, ‘till the likeness of Jesus be through us made known.  Let the cross be our glory and the Lord be our song.”

The Worship Leading Choir


Cross Posted on Grace Notes

We’ve been focusing on worship in our devotionals so far this year.   In the past few weeks I touched on the subjects of the role of mind and emotion in worship, how we prepare for worship, and even the importance of worship.  But how does all this really affect us as a choir?  Several worship leaders/choir directors across the country have begun to explore this concept in greater detail, and I would like to share some of their thoughts, as well as my own, with you.

The most important thing we need to understand with our choir is that we are not here to perform for an “audience” but to lead a congregation in worship.  Going back to our mission statement, we are here to “empower believers to worship Christ.”  This should put two thoughts at the forefronts of our minds: first, that worship is for Christ (and no one else); second, that we are here to worship, not perform.

What’s the difference?  Dave Williamson says that the worship leading choir

  • is not primarily about performance; it is primarily about worship.
  • is not about being slick, it is about passion.
  • is not about acquaintanceship; it is about family.
  • is not about momentary emotion; it is about eternal significance.
  • is not about competition; it is about servanthood.
  • doesn’t view talent as primary; it does view character and faithfulness as primary.

Robert Eric Walker also has this to say about the difference between worship leading choirs and performance choirs:

  1. Don’t just rehearse the music, rehearse the worship!
  2. A song will never mean more to the people than it means to you.
  3. God transforms us as we are committed to spending time in daily worship.
  4. As you sing and play, don’t forget to engage your heart!
  5. Don’t let people just sit there! Draw them in!
  6. Your depth of expression is a reflection of your testimony and witness.
  7. A life of obedience is the foundation of passionate worship.
  8. God expects us to be committed to “cleaning the inside of the cup.”
  9. Worship without passion is a contradiction in terms.
  10. Take the message of each song we sing and make it personal.
  11. God expects us to fulfill His command to forgive as we have been forgiven.
  12. What will it cost you to convey this song with total authenticity?
  13. There is nothing worse than a boring choir!
  14. God’s worth remains constant, regardless of how we are feeling on a particular day.
  15. God challenges us to walk in humility, seeking the last place.
  16. Our goal is to turn passive observers into active participants.
  17. God is the audience, we are the prompters, the congregation, the actors.
  18. Our calling is to help facilitate a Throne Room Encounter.
  19. Not just a worship ministry, but a ministry of worshipers.
  20. God blesses us as we are committed to lives of servanthood.

As I read this list (which I think is a pretty good one), I notice there is a huge emphasis on the state of individual hearts of each choir member, as well as the integrity of their individual lives.  I also see the common theme of worship running through the list and not music.

It’s also a great list to use to reflect upon in regards to how we measure up in each area.  This week why not focus on number #3 (daily worship).  Take some time every day to worship the Lord individually – either in song or prayer or however you best worship him.  That way our worship on Sunday will be an overflow of our worship throughout the week and not an isolated event.  And that will truly transform our worship.

Worshipn Part VIII: Putting it All Together (3.8)


We’ve spent the last two months looking at worship, so today will serve as our final devotional on this (at least as part of this ongoing series).  We’ve looked at a lot of different ideas – from what worship is to how we worship to how we lead in worship.  I’d like to close this series with looking at our current worship service at LBC, how it is organized, and what that means for us, in short – putting this all together.

We begin the service with a Call to Worship.  The CTW (as I call it) serves a couple of functions.  First, liturgically speaking, the CTW serves to call worshipers together and stand as a boundary between the rest of the week (what has just happened) and the opening of a worship service (what happens next).  Second, it directs our attention toward Christ (ultimately), often (though not always) by introducing the particular theme for focus for the service.  Finally, it is meant to build anticipation and energy as we move into the service.

At LBC the choir performs this service for the congregation. The song we sing marks the beginning of the worship service, it focuses us on Christ and the theme for the week, and (because we very rarely sing the entire song), builds anticipation and energy into the rest of the service.

After the CTW we then enter a time of congregational singing.  Songs are selected for a variety of reasons, but are arranged in a particular order for very specific reasons.  Let’s look at this morning’s service one model of how songs are selected.

We began with Praise My Soul the King of Heaven, which served as a “rally cry” to ourselves and others around us to sing praises to God and honor him as the Lord of our lives and Savior of our souls.  We then transitioned into Shout to the Lord, a song of clear and purposeful praise and worship towards Christ.

After that we had the offering – a time of response to God for the blessings he has given us (this also connects the service with what happens the rest of the week – since we are giving a monetary substance as a result of our weekly work).  At this moment in the service we present our praise and worship as a physical offering and not a song – it is a time for prayer, confession, surrender, and trust.

Following that we entered a new time of congregational singing.  We began with We Are Called to Be God’s People, a reminder to ourselves and a pledge to God and each other that salvation is more than something to be received but also something to be lived (again, connecting worship on Sunday with our Monday-Saturday lives).  Christ commanded us to “Go forth and make disciples.”  This song serves to remind us that we are now God’s hands and feet in the world.  This song lead to Let it Be Said of Us, a declaration of commitment to Christ and, in particular, the cross – reminding us that without the cross there would be no hope for forgiveness or glory.  We prayed, “Let the cross be our glory and the Lord be our song, till the likeness of Jesus be through us made known.”  This prayer can not be answered on a Sunday morning but must work itself out in Monday-Saturday living.

Finally, since we had just sung a prayer, we finished with a song of worship regarding the cross (Wonderful Cross).  This song takes the text of When I Survey the Wondrous Cross and inserts a new chorus – one which directs us to thank God for what Christ has done on the cross and what it represents: “Oh, the wonderful cross, oh, the wonderful cross bids me come and die, and find that I may truly live. Oh, the wonderful cross, oh, the wonderful cross; all who gather here by grace draw near, and bless Your name.”

On most weeks we would follow this congregational singing up with a choir anthem to serves as the climactic musical moment of the service, but this week we omitted the anthem.  Did you notice how this selection of song and verse served as a leading of hearts directly to the cross (the place of salvation)?  We started with a call for everyone to join together, and then we ended by taking them and dropping them off at the cross (the place where they need to make a decision in regards to the grace God offers through Christ).

As a worship leader, the choir models this journey to the congregation both musically and emotionally – as they see the look on your faces and as your faces reflect the spirit of your hearts.  It is vital that you view yourselves as worship leaders – because that is what you are.  The congregation will follow you where you lead them – and this morning (if you had been leading) there was only one place they needed to go: the cross – the place where salvation and grace are offered – and received – which leads to a transformed life.

In contrast to that journey, if you stand in front of them and fail to worship yourself, then you lead them down the dark path where worship is only an outward motion but has no inward connection.  Jesus warned of this in Matthew 15:7-9: “Frauds! Isaiah’s prophecy of you hit the bull’s-eye:  These people make a big show of saying the right thing,  but their heart isn’t in it.  They act like they’re worshiping me, but they don’t mean it.  They just use me as a cover for teaching whatever suits their fancy.” (taken from The Message)

We lead every week; the question is: to where?

“Let the cross be our glory, and the Lord be our song, ‘till the likeness of Jesus be through us made known.  Let the cross be our glory and the Lord be our song.”

Focusing on Jesus (2.24)


“I think many Christians are more interested in chasing a feeling about Jesus that pursuing Jesus himself and reviewing and thinking about the truth of who he is…[in the Christian spiritual life] if you want to feel deeply, you have to think deeply.  Too often we separate the two.  We assume that if we want to feel deeply, then we need to sit around and, well, feel.

“But emotion built on emotion is empty.  True emotion – emotion that is reliable and doesn’t lead us astray – is always a response to reality, to truth.  It’s only as we study and consider truth about Jesus with our minds that our hearts will be moved by the depth of his greatness and love for us…Knowing Jesus and feeling right emotions about him start with thinking about the truth of who he is and what he’s done.  Jesus never asks us how we feel about him.  He calls us to believe in him, to trust him.” (Joshua Harris, Dug Down Deep)

It’s strange for me to start a devotional with such an extensive quote from someone else, particularly in regards to such a weighty topic as the doctrine of the incarnation, but this statement sums up so much of what I strive for in planning and leading worship every week.

I view my job of worship leader as both leader and teacher.  In particular, it is my job to empower people to worship Christ (this goes back to the mission statement for the choir, too).  When it comes to empowering people to worship during the service this is as “simple” as leading the worship service (I put simple in quotation marks because it is far from an exact science and anything but simple!)  But it is empowering people to worship when they leave here that is much more difficult, and this is where the role of “Teacher” comes it to play.  I must equip people to lead a lifestyle of worship throughout the week when I am not even present, and that is quite different than leading worship when we are together.

So how do I do that?  In a very real sense by doing with this quote says – by focusing people on Jesus and who he is.  Remember that worship is our response to God and what he has done for us.  If worship is our response that means that God initiates.  How does God initiate?  Well, in a very practical sense (and for our purposes in this discussion), he initiated through sending Jesus to die for us.  Which is why it is so important for me to focus people on Jesus and his work on the cross.

Remember what Jesus said in John 12:32 – that when he is lifted up he will “draw all men unto myself.”  John goes on to elaborate that this is a direct foreshadowing of the cross.  So my job is to give people a constant view of Jesus and the work he completed on the cross.

This is why the words of the songs we sing are the primary criteria for inclusion in the service – more than musical style, melody, and even familiarity (for a further discussion of this you can read back over the devotional “Music Selection in Worship” on the website.)

Which brings us back around in this discussion to our quote at the beginning of the devotional.  Worship is often an emotional event – as it should be – but it is an emotional event that happens as a response to a God-initiated relationship. Every week I pray that God would overwhelm us with the truth of who He is – and as we are overwhelmed we will, naturally, begin to worship further.

Songs (both congregational and choral) are selected for very specific reasons, and those reasons fall under the broad categories of “Leader” and “Teacher” (and sometimes songs fall more into one than the other).  While I am the “Worship Leader” every week, the choir also serves the congregation by leading in worship.  Think about the words you sing every week, let the truths found within them sink deep within your heart and soul.  And then let that truth, and your response to it, be reflected in your attitudes, postures, and even facial expressions that the congregation sees.  As we lift Jesus up, he will draw them to himself.  And as people are drawn to Jesus they will respond to him one way or another (hopefully by moving closer to him and not running away).