It seems completely impossible, but the wrinkles on my face and the beginnings of gray in my beard serve to remind me that I have now been consistently leading worship in some capacity for more than twenty-five years. What started off as merely a favor for my youth pastor uncle, would eventually propel me into this grand adventure that I could have hardly comprehended in my 18-year-old self.
I’m sure many of you have probably lived out some version of this all too familiar story. Our recollections usually revolve around badly decorated musty youth rooms, sound systems and gear that had not been updated in decades, boxes upon boxes of the cheapest, greasiest pizza available in the city, and of course a group of generally less than enthusiastic teenagers. Couple all of that with the fact that most of us were completely clueless as to what we were doing, much less why we were doing it, and you have all the makings of stories that only God himself could write.
…somewhere along the way we started to figure out that our “rock star” dreams didn’t line up so well with what the heart of being a worship leader was all about.
Thankfully, however we got started, most of us eventually got to upgrade from our cheap keyboards and particle wood guitars. And hopefully, most of us started to figure out that there was a whole lot more to this thing of leading worship than we first imagined. If your story is anything like mine, somewhere along the way we started to figure out that our “rock star” dreams didn’t line up so well with what the heart of being a worship leader was all about. For those of us truly called to this place of leadership, God graciously, and yes even sometimes quite abruptly, has amazing ways of cornering us into His best version of our gifts and talents. Somehow, out of our complicated and sometimes messy musical pursuits and aspirations, He eventually does in us what we would have never been able to come around to on our own… He makes pastors out of us.
Admittedly, I kicked hard for a lot of years against the idea of my role as a worship leader being that of a pastor. My job, as I saw it, was to do all of the catchy quips that most of us have heard the role requires like facilitate holy moments, curate the corporate expression of worship, declare the greatness of God, etc. And while all of these things are right and true, what the last decade has taught me is that all of these things are the effortless, natural overflow of anyone who has simply stepped fully into their calling as a pastor.
It’s the difference between someone operating out of their giftedness versus someone operating out of their deepest calling. Jesus paints it perfectly in John 10:11-12 when he describes the difference between shepherds and hirelings. Those truly called to be shepherds will defend and even lay down their lives for the sheep if need be. The hireling has no vested interest other than his own in the sheep, and inevitably runs away when danger arises. Turns out you can have all the skills necessary for entertaining sheep, and none of the passion to fight for them.
As I recall the men and women I’ve known through the years who have had amazing impact on their churches and communities, the one singular trait that they all share is that they have walked out their lives as pastors above everything else. No one has ever had to tag them in an Instagram post of one of the above-mentioned definitions to keep them on track, because all of those notable quotes already beat in the heart of someone who is called to be a pastor. Rarely has anyone had to push them to constantly improve their craft, because they instinctively know that’s what pastors do. And no one has ever had to sit them down and challenge them to love their people more than they love songs or lights and hazers. It’s just what real pastors do.
Another observation is that it has never mattered what the nameplate on their office door said they were.
Worship Leader, Minister of Music, Creative Arts Pastor, even Choir Director, a pastor will be a pastor no matter their title, job description or confines and parameters. They literally can’t turn it off. They intuitively know that that their musical gift, whatever that may be, is a gift to help them be a shepherd of the sheep that Jesus has called them to serve. They are pastors first, who happen to be musical.
Now here is where I might start coming off sounding a little hard. But after 25 years of navigating this road of what it means to be a worship pastor, I look around now and fear that far too many stages in our Churches are now being occupied by leaders and teams with very little revelation of what their job actually is. And unless those of us who stand on those stages have a deep heart understanding of what the Kingdom of God is actually asking of us, then it can quickly become a launching pad for our own musical aspiration and creative pursuits. We unwittingly assume that the crowd in front of us is there to help build our influence, instead of us helping build theirs. So as blunt as I can say it, if God has called you and gifted you to be an amazing artist, then please go be that…I’ll probably be your biggest fan! But if God has marked you as a pastor, take it from someone who has fought it and lost, you will be miserable until you’ve surrendered to it.
Let me wrap it up here by saying that this applies to anyone who stands as part of the team on the stage of the Church. If you’ve been invited to help shepherd the sheep, then by all means embrace and pray for the valiant, people loving, lion heart of a pastor. Wield every note you play and every melody you sing as if it’s a rod and staff that has the effect of 2 Corinthians 10:4-5. “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
It’s a high calling. It’s a brave calling. It is a calling that when fully embraced, will radically transform both shepherd and sheep. And I promise you’ll be absolutely amazed at the ways God will multiply the gifts and talents that you carry. He will always bless whatever is blessing His Church.
So to my fellow lion-hearted pastors out there, I say it’s time to take back our proper places… the church needs to hear you roar!