Job Description for Pastoral Musicians

• Frame songs as acts of joyful, life-giving resistance to idolatry. Teach us that songs are an antidote to exploitation and depersonalization.

• Learn to study the Scripture texts in, around, and under the songs you love.

• Do not become so attached to subversion for its own sake that you fail to recognize genuine, covenantal, Christ-shaped forms of subversion. Cultivate the radical theological imagination needed for that discernment.

• Teach us by example what it means to sing as gift and gifting—each song a gift, each singing of a song a gift, each song a witness to gift and giving, each singer a gift in the giving.

• Devote attention to songs that convey the weightiness and hope of hesed, God’s tenacious, covenantal solidarity and loving-kindness.

• Rescue chestnuts from the dustbin of sentimentality. Resist kitsch.

• Pay attention to context—the unique context of each Scripture text, the unique context in which each song was born, the unique context in which it will be sung today.

• Choose not only songs that express what a community already experiences but also songs that will stretch a community toward ever deeper obedience to God, ever more vivid ways of imagining God’s covenantal love and fidelity.

—John Witvliet, “Foreword,” in Walter A. Brueggemann, A Glad Obedience: Why and What We Sing (Kindle Locations 76-95)

The Stewardship of Worship Leading (2)

As worship leaders . . . we also have the holy task of being stewards of God’s Word. Our choices of Scripture and themes for worship represent a degree of control over people’s spiritual diets, over how they feed on the bread of life.

—John Witvliet, Worship Seeking Understanding, 282

Worship Leading

It’s the first Palm Sunday, and here comes Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. The crowds begin to shout “Hosanna! Hosanna!” The old donkey pricks up his ears. Some in the crowd throw their coats in the road; others spread out palm branches.

“Well!” says the donkey, switching a fly off a mange patch. “I had no idea they really appreciated me like this! Listen to those hosannas, would you. I must really be something!”

Friends, if anybody comes around after the service saying, “Wow! That was terrific!”—they’re not actually saying hosanna to you.

All you did was bring Jesus to them.

—A. W. Tozer (cited by Anne Ortlund, Up with Worship, 169-70)

Freed to Lead

It is very tempting to conceive of a worship leader as the spiritual engine that drives the worship train, or the highly-charged sideline coach who needs to keep her team fired up.

This puts all the focus on our agency, a vision that doesn’t square with the New Testament. In the New Testament, our agency as worshipers and leaders is intimately linked with what Jesus is doing as we worship and with what the Holy Spirit is doing as we worship.

Our congregation’s worship is not ultimately mediated by your level of or capacity for emotional engagement but by the perfect mediating work of Jesus, effected through the Holy Spirit. Praise God! This can free you—and all of us—to engage emotionally, but without a sense of burden that it all depends on us.

—John Witvliet, Reformed Worship 116, 45-46

One Mediator

The Christology of Hebrews also undoes forever any notion of mystical communion with God. By this, I mean that communion which bypasses Christ to have a direct experience of divine enlightenment, or some numinous spiritual feeling. This is important when we see many contemporary worship songs, activities and approaches which emphasis the inner psychological/emotional state of the worshipper and use it as the criterion to decide if worship has been effective or not. Hebrews will not let us replace the mediation of Christ with the mediation of the worship leader who is able to engender an effective response, which is then interpreted as direct communion with God.

—Noel Due, Created For Worship:  From Genesis to Revelation to You, 181