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Guest Editorial: The pastor’s changing role in worship leadership

by Ken Gabrielse

In November, the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, in its annual meeting, adopted the report of the Mission Advance Team (MAT) as a framework for convention planning and future activities. The report clarified the mission statement of the Convention, highlighted its core values, affirmed many of the most impactful convention sponsored ministries and stated five priorities for the next decade. This document will guide the work of the Convention staff as we partner with Oklahoma Baptist churches in our shared goal of “impacting lostness by making disciples.”

There have been some leaders who wondered why one of the most visible, long-term (65 years) and successful ministries supported by Oklahoma Baptists was not mentioned in the report designed to set the agenda for the Convention staff. The MAT addressed this concern by highlighting three of the five adopted priorities. By emphasizing the need to train pastors (priority #1), strengthening the ministry to young adults (priority #2) and the desire to plant new churches based on cultural demographics in Oklahoma (priority #4), the team made two loud and clear statements to all pastors and church musicians: 1. The role of music in the church is to assist in the disciple-making process; and, 2. Leadership for the overall ministry of music in worship and disciple-making falls squarely on the shoulders of the pastor.

Music in the New Testament church was originally utilized for the initiated—the saved. Paul, in his sister letters to the churches in Ephesus and Colossae addressed the purpose of using psalms, hymns and spiritual songs—giving thanks always, and teaching/admonishing one another concerning the message of the Messiah. Many times in the history of the church, this limited, yet necessary role of music has been expanded to include culturally relevant performance mediums intended to draw the uninitiated into the building where the disciples gathered. While we would not go so far as to say that Paul would not approve of this peripheral use of music, clearly he was writing to the pastor/leaders of the church to remind them about first priorities. Music was to teach and strengthen disciples who would impact the lostness of the culture around them.
Pastors must be at the heart of the process of planning and leading worship that teaches and encourages discipleship. They must do so by working within the balance of cultural relevance and unity of the gathered community. The words of worship must come from the heart of the pastor/leader; every song must be a deep expression of the personal walk of the under-shepherd. If the pastor is fortunate to have a partner in ministry (minister of music/worship pastor/music director) that is moving in the same direction, he is a blessed leader. However, if there is tension between those who hold these vital positions, or a model of lay leadership is utilized in this area, the pastor’s mandate to disciple leaders must extend to the person or persons enlisted to lead the musical portion of worship. (In this scenario, “disciple” does not mean informing the musical leadership about style and song choice. “Disciple” is exploring all necessary possibilities with the goal of creating a community that will impact lostness within a cultural context.)

This role of mentor to the musicians is a paradigm shift for most pastor-leaders. Yet this model of ministry is growing rapidly in new and revitalized churches throughout North America. (A mentor is an authority figure who walks beside to instruct a colleague, and is then held accountable for spiritual growth; it is not the same as the employer/employee relationship model of church leadership that is being replaced.) Again our younger pastors are leading this shift. They have recognized the power of music to teach doctrine and encourage faithfulness in ministry, and they have committed to partner with their musical team to insure unity of purpose and depth of content in the words and songs chosen to lead a congregation. May their influence increase.

It is no longer possible to train leaders for the cookie-cutter music ministries of the 1950-1980s when every training conference covered the same topics from the same books using the same hymnals and the same published resources. Leaders came from a pool of musician/ministers trained by our Southern Baptist seminaries, universities and colleges. Every church strived to have an adult choir, a youth choir, a children’s choir, a handbell choir, etc. Success in ministry was marked by adherence to a set of numerical and performance standards. This is no longer the case.

In the Jan./Feb. 2011 edition of Worship Leader Magazine, there are ads for six distinct national worship conferences for pastors and music leaders. Some have the influence of Southern Baptist leaders; most do not. In the same issue are 10 ads for accredited worship training institutes or schools that incorporate mostly on-line teaching. Only one of these is distinctly Southern Baptist.

A national, ecumenical approach to doctrinal and theological training for Southern Baptist pastors would be seen by many of our SBC leaders as a continued erosion of what it means to be on mission for our Lord. Yet, in worship training, this utilitarian approach to academic and vocational training has become widely accepted by pastors and musicians in our Southern Baptist churches. The filter through which this approach to preparation for worship ministry must pass is the pastor of a local, New Testament church.

Although this information is anecdotal at best, it has been quite clear to this writer that almost everything about music ministry in the local church has changed from the decades listed above. Preparation, resources, expectations, leadership—in many places, all of it has changed. The only constants are that we are commanded to sing our thankfulness to the Lord, and we are to use our music to disciple people with the goal of impacting lostness in our community.

Pastors, here is the take away from all of this—your responsibility in the area of worship and music ministry in your local place of ministry has grown exponentially over the past two decades. Your leadership extends to teaching the church in the area of worship. It also includes accountability for the songs your community sings in worship and the level of passion with which they sing. It is still true—a church that expresses a hot, first love for its Lord in worship (regardless of style), will be a church that lives out that love in the community and impacts lostness in its cultural context. The leadership and ministry specialists of your Convention staff are ready to assist you in the task. Contact us at 405/942-3800, ext. 4644.

Ken Gabrielse is worship and music ministries specialist with the Baptist General
Convention of Oklahoma.

Author: Sara Graybill

View more articles by Sara Graybill.

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