“To The Choirmaster[s]” – Those Who Lead Us In Worship
When David brought the ark of God to Jerusalem to place it in the tent that he had prepared (1 Chronicles 15:1), he instructed the chiefs of the Levites to appoint their brothers to be singers and musicians in the procession (1 Chronicles 15:16ff) and to continue in that service regularly once the ark was set in place (1 Chronicles 16:4-7, 37-42; 25:1-7; this service continued during the 1st Temple under King Solomon, David’s son: 2 Chronicles 5:11-14). Among them was a Levite by the name of Asaph who was the chief musician or choirmaster. He was responsible for leading the singers and musicians in praise to God with and before God’s people. He was also a composer, writing twelve of the Psalms (Ps. 50, 73-83). His role was crucial to the preparedness of those involved in corporately leading God’s people in worship and to the veracity of the worship of God among the people of God. And so it is with those of you who are modern-day “choirmasters” (i.e., Worship Leaders/Directors, Ministers of Music, Praise Team Leaders, etc.).
As a pastor and as one who has been around church life since childhood, I want to take a moment and share some thoughts that will prayerfully help you to faithfully carry out your calling, foremost for the glory of God, and for the good of His people.
Pursue An Intimate Relationship With God
Your first priority ought to be to cultivate your own relationship with God through prayer, worship, bible study, and obedience.
If reading someone’s lyrics can give us an indication of a person’s heart and devotion, then Asaph was one who had an intimate relationship with God. He writes, after reflecting on the wicked and how they prosper, “Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever…But for me it is good to be near God; I have made The Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.” (Psalm 73:23-26, 28 – ESV)
What a travesty for you (or I as a pastor) to lead and exhort people to commune with God corporately, but to not do so as much personally. And, yes, it is possible to execute something in public that you are not experiencing in private. And for those who are in blatant, unrepentant sin, and who might be “playing church” or “straddling the fence,” although the previous statement is true, remember this: it is only a matter of time before what is going on in your soul showcases itself on the stage (of your life and ministry). So please make sure that your public duty flows from your personal devotion.
Participate In The Body Life Of Your Local Church
Asaph was a part of the people of God. He was in community with them. He was held to the same requirement of obeying God’s commands, both those in relationship to Himself and those in relationship to others. He was in community with a real group of people and committed to service in a particular location and context. Yes I know that Israel was a nation at this point in Old Testament History and was under the Old Covenant, and therefore is not an exact parallel to those of us who are under the New Covenant. Nevertheless, Asaph’s communal participation is instructive for us as the Church. You need to be committed to a local expression of the universal Church.
I know that there is some push back today regarding church membership. But I believe that it is a biblical concept that should be embraced rather than shunned by Christians. Let’s just do a brief fly-by, shall we?
If we traverse over into the New Testament, we are taught that there is only one body (i.e., the Church) of Jesus (Ephesians 4:4ff; cf. also Romans 12:4-5; Ephesians 1:22; Colossians 1:18), which are all believers in all places at all times. And yet we must ask: how does this truth in principle work out in practice, in reality? This question is answered directly through what was demonstrated by the early church and implicitly through what was commanded by God through the writers of Scripture.
- As the Gospel of Jesus was proclaimed and people responded in repentance of sin and faith in Jesus, those believers banded together in their particular locales (identified as a church) essentially for the purpose of worshiping God, receiving the Apostle’s teaching, and fellowshiping with and serving each other (Acts 2:42-47; 11:19-26; 13:1; 14:20-22, 27; 15:36, 41; 16:1-5; 18:22).
- As the Church practically materialized into local churches – meeting in houses and other gathering points – Paul saw the need to appoint elders (overseers, pastors/shepherds-teachers) in every church (Acts 14:23; deacons were chosen not long after: Phil. 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:8-13).
- God commands that members obey their leaders (Hebrews 13:17: although not specified as elders here, one would be hard-pressed to think that they are not in view, especially considering the fact that the terminology used to state the reason for the command closely resembles that of the responsibility of elders mentioned in other places in Scripture). The implication of this verse is that God expected this group of believers, to whom the author of Hebrews addressed, to identify themselves with and commit to a local church, which included placing themselves under a specific group of leaders/elders. If this was not the case, meaning, if God didn’t require them to be a part of a local church, then this command makes no sense and would therefore have been inapplicable.
Being an active member of a local church involves not only performing a function, but also participating in fellowship (i.e., sharing of life for the purpose of supporting and encouraging each other to live for Christ), worship (e.g., you and others need to stay for worship service and not leave to simply hangout in the foyer or outside, gossip, slander, or smoke, only to return for the invitational song or benediction.), stewardship (i.e., you need to give to honor God and support your church family), and discipleship (i.e., you need to engage in things that are going to help you grow in your relationship with God: Listening to the sermon, attending Bible Study classes/conferences/seminars, participating in Small Groups, etc.).
Prioritize Discipleship In Your Ministry
Please don’t forget the primary reason why the church exists is to bring glory to God through the making of disciples. That is not only the church’s mission; it is your mission as the worship leader as well.
A major part of disciple-making is teaching others to observe all that Jesus has commanded (Matthew 28:20). I currently serve as the Pastor of Christian Education at my church, so I love preaching and teaching, organizing bible study classes and tracks, writing curriculum, etc. But I will be the first to tell you that in some cases we have unfortunately restricted discipleship to a class, a program, or a department to the point where persons, like worship leaders, have been made to think that the work of discipleship doesn’t apply to them. This, my friend, is a grave error. Discipling others or helping other believers to grow in Jesus is the privilege and responsibility of every Christian.
So how can you be about discipleship in your ministry? Here are some suggestions (in no particular order):
- Forge relationships with choir/praise team members and prayerfully begin to look for ways to serve them.
- Reiterate to your choir or praise team the centrality of discipleship to your church in general and your ministry in particular.
- Schedule time for prayer and Bible reading/study and discussion (This can be over a solid Christian book study, the previous week’s sermon or Bible Study lesson, or a 10-minute lesson given by you or a pastor/preacher/teacher in your church).
- Meet with the leaders within your ministry and disciple them by reading Scripture together, praying and caring for them, spurring them on to good works, and then encourage them to do the same in the lives of those who they lead.
- Model a Christ-like life before them.
- Exercise loving correction of members as needed.
- Share how the Lord Jesus is growing you through not only your personal devotion, but through the care of other Christians at your church.
Pay Attention To The Lyrics
This implies that you as the leader need to have a solid working knowledge of the Scriptures, so that whether you are selecting songs or writing them, what ends up being sung will be sound. Read Psalm 78 and you will see that Asaph, as the chief musician or choirmaster, had a working knowledge of God’s acts in the history of his people, which informed the composition of this song. You would do well to follow his example.
Why does this matter? Because corporate worship – just like corporate prayer – is formative. Even though what you are doing is for and to God, people will listen to you and your choir and some of them will adopt ideas about God and life from the songs that you sing without ever passing them through the grid of Scripture. So please take this matter seriously and do due diligence in examining lyrics through the lens of Scripture. If you are not sure about the lyrics of a song, please seek the help of a pastor, ministry leader, or someone else who has a solid grasp on God’s Word.
Pray Fervently Before You All Minister In Song
If you want God to be glorified and the church to be edified in your singing during corporate worship, pray! Pray in preparation for rehearsal. Pray in rehearsal. Pray in vocal warm-ups before you go on stage or enter the choir section. Pray right before you get up to sing. Pray and trust the Holy Spirit to convict, strengthen, encourage, and comfort the hearts of God’s people through your singing. After all, nothing life-changing, soul-stirring, and awe-inducing will happen in and among us during worship without the work of the Holy Spirit.
Place Yourself Under The Oversight Of Your Leaders
Don’t be a rogue minister of music, director, etc.! In other words, don’t take liberties that haven’t been afforded to you. Abide by the culture and setup that has been established by the leadership. If you would like to add or change a dynamic related to your area to the order of service, pass it by your pastor first for review and/or approval.
If your pastor approaches you about editing a song or deleting it from the rotation due to something like bad theological content, please don’t get upset or complain. Submit. The goal is to present songs that communicate God’s truth as accurately as possible. Remember it is ultimately his responsibility to shepherd the flock, and one of the ways he is to do this is to care for the flock by guarding it against false and unhealthy teaching (Acts 20:28-30), which can be propagated through the medium of song.
When it comes to you leading the public gathering of the church for worship through singing, let this be your rule of thumb, “What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up…But all things should be done decently and in order.” (1 Corinthians 14:26, 40)
Perform Your Service In Love and Excellence
These two are not mutually exclusive. You can do both. You can have a heart for God and desire to sound good. You can adore God with all of your heart and strive to sing or play skillfully. Psalm 33:3 says, “Sing to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.”
Is there a line between worship and entertainment? Sure. And we should guard against crossing over into the latter. One way to do so is to remember to do what Psalm 33:3 directs: Sing TO HIM a new song. As long as you sing (play) to Him and not them, you will remain on the worship side of the line. To say it another way, sing excellently to express your love for God and not to impress people.
Even with songs that are directed to people, you are to still sing them with the fundamental purpose of bringing glory to God through the exhortation of His people.
So, to the choirmasters: love deeply, lead diligently, and serve excellently for the glory of God in Christ and the good of all people.