Rant 4: No T in Worship

6863701649_8c0ece153f_z[1]A friend of mine posted an article on facebook today entitled “Why Rock Star Worship Leaders Are Getting Fired.” Part of me wants to rejoice at what author Don Chapman identifies as the trend of “megachurches” firing performance-oriented leaders. Another part of me, however, a larger part, wants to go on a major rant. Because Don Chapman’s problem with so-called “Rock Star Worship Leaders” is that they are self-absorbed, overpaid, don’t work very hard, and aren’t particularly musically skilled. He writes:

A megachurch is a unique breeding ground for a Rock Star Worship Leader (RSWL)—he [!] probably couldn’t survive in a smaller ministry. A typical church music director is a busy guy or girl who schedules volunteers, conducts rehearsals, writes charts, arranges music and plans Christmas and Easter events. Some megachurch RSWLs surprisingly can’t even read music, let alone create chord chart.

Oh the horror! Ok, I’m as shocked as Don Chapman that there are (apparently) some music leaders out there who are paid big bucks and don’t seem to do much of anything but “perform” on Sunday mornings. But really? Our biggest concern is that they might not actually be as musically talented as we think?

In the 20 + years that I have been leading in churches, which of course includes reading multiple job postings and applying for some of them, I can count on one hand the number of “worship leader” job postings that have asked for any type of theological competency or depth. Musical ability, yes. Ability to plan and lead a multi-media performance, yes. Ability to manage audio-visual equipment, yes. Good people skills, yes. Strong leadership skills, yes. Actively following Christ, certainly. Ability to articulate a cohesive theology of worship and implement that theology in weekly services that draw a congregation deeper into the life of Christ? No. Not once have I been asked about that. I’ve tried to volunteer the information, but even then it sometimes doesn’t go over well.

There is no Theology in Worship.

But then. Then we have the audacity to complain when our “worship” is vapid, when it lacks depth, or when it comes off as mere “performance.” Well – sorry folks. But you got exactly what you asked for. And when you look at it that way, doesn’t it seem a tad unjust – even hypocritical – to fire someone for doing exactly what you asked them to do? We need to spend a little less time blaming, and a little more time re-training. Because unless we find the “T” in Worship, we will continue to sit back and listen to some lovely music on Sunday mornings – drawing no closer to the throne of God, and refusing to enter more deeply into the life that Christ has given us.


  1. Very nice. That you would suggest a focus on theology in of all places a church. But then again pastors have pandered to the congregation’s desires instead of leading toward that deeper, relational wooing of a kingdom life. As a pastor I have found this pandering exceptionally extremely difficult to resist, since unpopular pastors are replaced.


      1. As far as I can tell there is no “safe” decision for a pastor regarding church…there is only the false sense of safety. I know I haven’t been doing the pastor thing terribly long, but the blessing–from God–is that there is always change in church. Its just not the change that human priorities are looking for.


  2. This is why the work of schools like the Institute for Worship Studies are so important. The task of a worship leader is a theological one, for which very few men and women in that role have been prepared. I’m working on my doctorate there.


    1. Absolutely, Sam! And good for you for working on your doctorate at the Institute for Worship Studies. I offer the tentative opinion, however, that the majority of worship studies programs don’t do enough biblical theology and don’t dig quite deep enough. But it’s definitely a good start!


  3. Good article, but you are assuming a worship leader selection committee, usually filled with lay people know enough to ask the question. Most do not and as Dave says above, many times, many pastors and lay leaders cater to their congregation’s shallow desires. It is a challenging question and requires training on many levels in many ways.


    1. Stan, I don’t think I’m assuming that at all. In fact, when I say “you get what you ask for” what I’m suggesting is that the church as a whole doesn’t see theology as a key value in the leading of worship – which is strange and disturbing (and a nice little trick of the evil one, I think), since worship is our primary purpose as Christians. We want (for the most part) good theology in our preaching, but so often feel we can do without it in the rest of the service. My first rant (maybe I should write more than rants about this topic!) speaks a bit more fully to this, if you’re interested: https://thinkingworship.com/2011/05/26/rant-1-just-throw-a-few-songs-together/. You are absolutely right when you say this question requires training on many levels and in many ways.


  4. A Theology of Worship? Wow. Sometimes I think way too many people are stuck in the assumption that someone is clear about that. The leadership leaves it to the worship team assuming the latter is clear. The worship team assumes the congregation is clear. The congregation assumes the leaders are clear. The intrigued Regent student or alum becomes so fascinated about the assumptions that he/she decides to do a PhD on the assumptions, leaving behind more opportunities for some sensitive soul to finally tell us what a theology of worship is. Who is that sensitive soul? I think it’s Stacey.


  5. Preach it! If you have time, I think it’d be helpful to write up a process for a lay worship to work through together a theology of worship. Perhaps over a six month process or so. You could start a consulting business! I’m serious – this is something church’s have trouble doing, and often the senior leadership either won’t want to open this can of worms, or they are too busy to take on the research and leadership of this kind of theological reflection. There may be a niche here!


  6. Having just enjoyed a great worshipful weekend where you led the worship, I can only state that Stacey is one whose worship flows from her theology. We were lead in our spirits to the throne room of God each time, with marvellous skill but also with a humble spirit that didn’t need to be self-seeking or self-aggrandizing. The problem of much of our church worship today is that it is about the performer even more than the performance, and both fall short of realizing that it is about Jesus Christ. When worship leaders seek to become celebrities on the church stage instead of prompters helping others to bring forth the worship that is Christ’s due, then we fall short of the worship found in Rev. 4:11. Thanks for the rant, Stacey!


  7. It seems to me that the leaders don’t even see that they are arranging a performance rather than a worship time. One evidence of that is this trend for the worship leader to goad the crowd to sing louder or with more feeling as if commands from the stage were evidence of the Holy Spirit in action.

    Working the crowd into a frenzy seems the apparent goal. “Put your hands together!” “Come on, sing it out!” “Let’s Give God a round of applause!” And, even thought the words are on the screen for all to see, the leader finds it necessary to tell everybody what the next phrase starts with.

    At one recent service, I counted 27 times the worship leader interrupted a single song with admonitions like that. I feel like a cow going up the chute with one of those cattle prods in my backside.

    One attempt at this was to put symbols on the screen with the words so people would know when to sing louder or softer. I kept expecting Mitch Miller to come striding onto the stage.

    I can hardly sing in church any more. It is almost all I can do to try to block out the worship leader’s constant prodding.


  8. Good thought–as I’ve grown older and have talked with more people (plus pastors and committees) I often offer my theology of worship in the conversation. What’s interesting is more often than not, it causes problems for people because they want to focus more on style.


  9. Great rant Stacey! Sarah and I had a discussion about how Children’s ministry suffers a similar lack of theology. In fact Sarah would want a theology of worship at the heart of good children’s ministry. So thank you for spurring our thinking on that.

    On a practical note, where would you place the ‘t’ in worship. I was thinking the middle, making it “Worst hip” which kind of evokes the Jacob wrestling with God story. But at the end makes sense (since it is our telos), ‘worshipt’ or the beginning, ‘tworship.’ There are other options, these are just the ones I like the best.


    1. YES we need theology (not simple moralistic teaching) for kids! We had a great kids pastor at our church in Vancouver who developed a kids program that was theology (rather than morality) driven and we were all amazed at what the kids were able to pick up. He designed a map of Israel (3D – he is an insanely talented artist as well) and each kid had a city that was “theirs.” As they moved through the OT, he would use the map to physically describe what was happening and the kids got SO UPSET if an asherah pole was placed in their city. Sometimes we had theology quizzes between adults and kids and the kids always won – without the quizzes being rigged in any way. I keep plaguing him to work on making his material available… but he’s not listening to me. Maybe YOU guys can do it!

      Re: the “t” in worship… I kind of like “wort ship” – mostly because it involves shipping a critical component of beer and whiskey to brewpubs everywhere. Also – if you google it you come up with the “Gospel Song Here I Am to Wort Ship,” which I enjoy.


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