The Role of Music Leaders

There are different approaches to the person who leads the music and different ways we can think about it. I just want to highlight a few erroneous or insufficient ways of thinking, before we get actually into pastoring through song. 

Some people think of musical leaders as the song leader, and their focus is on musical direction.

They just want to make sure everything is right musically. So, they might be conducting, and they might make sure all the cut-offs are right and everybody’s in tune.

There’s another kind of leader that’s a cheerleader. And they’re focused on emotional response. When I was in India, I didn’t understand everything that was being said, but the person who was leading the music for this group of about 100-150 people, would at various times, shout out, “Hallelujah!” And they would respond, “Hallelujah!” And he’d say, “Hallelujah!” And they would say, “Hallelujah!” And I later told him it was like a “Hallelujah-button.” You press the “Hallelujah-button,” and everybody goes “Hallelujah!” That is not leading corporate worship. And I’m sorry if you do that. But I would encourage you not to do that. Because all we’re doing is we’re being cheerleaders. We’re saying, “Get emotional! Get excited!” But God is better than that. He doesn’t need cheerleaders. Isn’t that good news? He doesn’t need us to come and try and tell people. “No, God really is good.! Really! He is good! Really! He is!” And we don’t have to do that. Because he is good and he’s much better than we think he is.

Some people think of the music leader as a teacher. And for those people, you’re leading the music, but really, you’re giving a mini-sermon every time you get up to lead music. And some of these music leaders are frustrated preachers. They want to preach, but they can’t because they are only given the opportunity to lead the music.So they share for like 5-10 minutes in between every song. It’s very helpful–it can be helpful–to speak between songs, but you’re not the teacher. 

Jesus is the one who perfects our worship. It’s not about performance. It’s not about everything sounding perfect.

Some think of the musical leader as an artist, and their focus is on performance. The teacher is focused on right doctrine, which is a good thing to be focused on. The artist is focused on performance. So for the artists, it’s all about how I look, how I sound, and what people think of me. A lot of churches in India look at what America does and say, “Oh, we want to do it like that.” That’s not a good thing to do. For what America does is diverse. A lot of what comes from America is performance-oriented. And it’s not just America, a lot of what we see in the modern worship world is performance oriented.

I was speaking to someone not too long ago, who during COVID started live streaming their services, as maybe some of you did, maybe many of you did. And he started paying attention to how everything sounded. So he put something called auto-tune on his voice. That’s silly! Because people listen to your voice every Sunday, and it’s just you and they’re not listening to your voice anyway. You should be listening to the sound of the congregation, but in his mind, he thought oh, I have to sound really good. No, Jesus perfects all our sounds. And it’s not the quality of our voice that makes our worship acceptable to God. It’s the finished sacrifice of Jesus Christ that makes our worship acceptable. First Peter 2:5, says that we offer sacrifices that are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. So Jesus is the one who perfects our worship. It’s not about performance. It’s not about everything sounding perfect. 

One of the ways that we pastor our people is by leading them in singing.

And then finally, some people think of the worship leader as a mystic, and their focus is on a spiritual experience. And you find this in every culture. It’s where we come together to sing hoping that something will happen. I don’t know what it is, maybe we feel goosebumps, maybe we feel shivers, maybe we’ll feel a wind go through, or maybe whatever it is some spiritual experience, unrelated to what we’re thinking. That’s a mystic.

So some of those have some good qualities in them. But those are not the main focus, and shouldn’t be the main focus of the person who’s leading the music, or the pastor who’s overseeing the leading of the music. Their heart should be: how can I care for the souls of God’s people when I’m leading these songs, or when they’re singing these songs.

So there are five things that God calls a pastor to do in the New Testament. It causes pastors to feed, to lead, to care for, to protect, and to be an example to their flocks. And the Scriptures, I get those from is 1 Peter 5, where Paul says, “I exhort the elders among you, shepherd the flock of God as among you, exercising oversight.” Acts 20 contains a number of them, where Paul says, “Pay careful attention to yourselves that are being an example and all the flock in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, that’s leading and pastures to lead to care for the Church of God.” That is the shepherding aspect, the caring for which he obtained with his own blood. “I know that after my departure, fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock and that, from that, we get the idea of protecting the flock.” So there are many ways these responsibilities are carried out. Counselling, preaching (for sure), individual conversations, ministries. But one of the ways that we pastor our people is by leading them in singing.

We want the singing to support the preaching, we want the preaching to mirror the singing. They should be cut from the same cloth.

Wisely and faithfully leading songs can be a significant means of grace for the congregation, and that’s what we will continue to see in the subsequent articles. That’s why pastors need to be involved in the choosing, singing, and leading of the songs in your church. If you think of the church as a place where as a pastor, you focus on the preaching, and then you have this music person to focus on the music, I think you are missing the responsibility that God has given you in your church. Because singing is one of the ways that you fulfil your function and role as a pastor. So if there’s a pastor who says, “Well I let the music person choose the songs,” you’re missing out on an opportunity to care for your people. And there are a number of churches where what’s happening in the music and what’s happening in the sermon are two different things. I’ve seen both situations, where the music is rich, doctrinally fueled, gospel fulfilled, Christ-exalting, and the sermons are shallow and weak, and man-centred. And I’ve seen the other way as well. And this might be more common, where the messages are from the Word expositional preaching, faithful to the text, and the music is fluffy, me-centred, and not dependent on God’s word. And that shouldn’t be that situation. Neither of those situations should exist in our churches. We want the singing to support the preaching, we want the preaching to mirror the singing. They should be cut from the same cloth. So that’s what I’m hoping to address as we look at five ways that singing can be a means of pastoring your church. 
This article is an excerpt of a transcript of a talk by Bob Kauflin called “Pastoring Through Song,” which he gave in June 2022. You can watch the whole talk here.