A Worship Leader’s Worst Nightmare – Jeremy Austill
A Worship Leader’s Worst Nightmare

Ok, the title was a bit of click bait, but I may very well fall into the category of being a worship leader’s worst nightmare. I have so much respect for our friends who have patiently worked with us through the years. People like Heather Wallace (If you haven’t already, you need to get her album) and Tyler Wilson have graciously endured working with me in creating environments of encounter.

So why do I possibly fall into the category of being “a worship leader’s worst nightmare”? In part, because in 20+ years of ministry I am deeply aware of the value and impact of corporate worship. Yes, to the believer, everything is worship, but there is something sacred and powerful about the collective lifting of voice and heart in unison (or harmony). Because corporate worship carries within it exponential supernatural potential, because it is a tremendous formational responsibility, I am absolutely uncomfortable with treating it casually. It’s possible I’m a worship leader’s worst nightmare, or it’s possible I am their best friend.

As the leader of the ministry, I am the lead worshipper.

It would be absurd of me to expend myself acquiring influence for the purpose of leading a ministry, and then take a back seat during corporate worship. The culture of what we lead eventually reflects who we are as a person. If the people of God are lackluster in their focus, expression, and overall engagement in worship, that is my responsibility. It’s not the responsibility of the worship team. I may not be a pianist or a guitarist, I’m not much of a singer, but I am the ultimate worship leader in the ministry I lead. Period.

Theology and doctrine matter.

Leading worship necessitates both talent and skill. God gifts some with the natural inclination to play and sing. However, the person then must put in many hours of labor to develop what has been entrusted into their care. I respect musicians who spend years honing their craft. I hold with honor those who have expended time, energy, and resources to become proficient on an instrument or vocally. However, a worship leader who spends more mental energy thinking through chord progressions than they do God, His nature, and His scriptures, will inevitably lack the depth necessary to consistently lead people into His presence. As a worship leader, your thoughts on God are far more important than your thoughts on music. This will come across a little harsh, but if you don’t absolutely love the Bible, I don’t have much use for you as a worship leader. Why? If you haven’t done the hard work of seeking Him and discovering Him through scripture, I can’t trust you to actually lead the people to Jesus. If you can’t articulate what a song means, in a robust way, from a biblical context, then do you really even know what you are singing or why you are singing it? If you haven’t diligently led yourself down the path of God discovery, why should you be given the privilege of influencing others with a microphone.

Yes, all of the above is applicable to those preaching as well.

And as an aside, I will admit it…I am pretty brutal when it comes to the lyrics of worship songs. There are a lot of songs that sound great, but the content is lacking or confusing. Which leads me to my next thought…

Corporate worship is not just expression, but also formation.

Much of what we do today in corporate worship can be traced back to Martin Luther. As he initiated the Protestant Reformation in the early 1500s with his 95 Theses nailed to the door of Wittenberg Castle church, he also launched a new era of corporate singing and music into church culture. Knowing that many of his congregants were illiterate or simply lacked foundational understanding of scripture, Luther employed congregational singing as a device to establish sound theology and doctrine in the hearts of the people. If you were to enter the hot sanctuary at Camp Jackson in the middle of June you would likely see me on the platform physically, verbally, and emotionally expressing myself unto the Lord. Expression is incredibly valuable and a necessary aspect of corporate worship.

I wrote this piece on the importance of emotions in our faith. “Emotionalism”

However, I submit that at least equal parts, corporate worship is for the purpose of expression AND formation. When we sing the lyrics of a song repeatedly, we are ingraining within the participants a particular thought process. We are entrenching ideas about God, His nature, and how He relates to us and the world around us. We are establishing truth, or in some cases error, in the soul of everyone in the room. Knowing this, it would be wise to labor with much thought over the lyrics of what we are singing. What message are we sending about God? What ideas are we perpetuating about His nature and ways? A song having a good “feel” is important. I can certainly appreciate the beauty and artistry of melody and the momentum of rhythm. Yet, it is the lyrics that resonate in the soul long after the song feels over-played or the style is outdated.

I genuinely hold in high esteem those who bear their heart, embrace vulnerability, and expose themselves to the potential judgment of others by stepping onto a stage to lead in worship. You won’t find many people who have a higher respect for artists, singers, and musicians. I BELIEVE in their value to the Body of Christ and the world at large. But make no mistake, if I’m going to give you that much influence, I will be demanding…I may be even a bit of a nightmare to deal with.

Here is the link again for the piece I wrote on the importance of emotions in our faith. “Emotionalism”

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