Have you ever considered the difference between a worship leader and a worship pastor? These two titles are often thrown around in the church without much explanation as to what they mean. I’ve been in worship ministry for ten years. I’m not too sure I know the difference.
I use both terms to describe to people what I do. I’ve noticed church job boards listing both titles. Some churches want a worship leader. Other churches want a worship pastor. I have a lot of friends who work in worship ministry. Some have the official title of worship leader. Some have the title of worship pastor. What’s the difference?
Let’s consider the word, “pastor.” Some churches reserve the title pastor for those who are ordained. Other churches reserve the title for those who are dudes. Some churches reserve the title for those on the executive leadership teams. Finally, some churches reserve the title for those who preach sermons, marry people, bury people, and counsel people.
In most cases, qualifications for leading worship do not overlap with the common criteria for being labeled a pastor. Therefore, out of prudence and respect for the title “pastor,” a lot of churches use the term worship leader to refer to the guy or gal leading songs on Sunday morning. It’s understandable.
Formal titles in an organization are a convenient way to organize the pecking order and know where responsibility falls, especially the important responsibility of pastoring. With this line of reasoning, there are some cases when someone would be called a worship pastor. They are ordained, they are a senior leader, and they have other “pastoral” roles along with leading worship.
Now let’s consider the word, “leader.” John Maxwell define’s leadership as the ability to influence others. The title is used in a whole lot of contexts. There are business leaders, ring leaders, cheerleaders, political leaders, and group leaders. You get the point.
Leaders are people who influence others and guide them toward an end goal. It makes sense the word, “leader” is used to define the men and women who lead worship. They influence their band to play as a cohesive ensemble to produce great music. They influence their congregation to worship God. “Leader” is an appropriate title for this role.
But there is a problem with this title dichotomy of worship leader vs. worship pastor. Too often, worship leaders think they are off the hook for pastoral responsibilities in the church.
They merely need to pick songs, rehearse songs, and lead songs on Sunday morning. The ability to coordinate a high-end production experience is also a plus. Leave the soul-shaping pastoral duties to the guy who lectures for 30 minutes.
We wonder why worship leaders in the church look more like rock stars and less like men and women responsible for shaping the faith of our church congregations. Senior leadership wants worshippers leaders to create a compelling, engaging, and emotional musical experience, and that’s it. Warm up the congregation for the sermon when the real work of God is done.
All worship leaders are worship pastors. I don’t care what your title is. Maybe you're a worship director or worship coordinator. If you have the responsibility of putting songs in peoples mouth which have significant formative power over on their spiritual lives, you are pastoring them. You are showing them how to relate to God. You are teaching them biblical and theological doctrine. Worship leading is pastoral work.
You may feel unqualified for pastoral work. Maybe in your church, you do not have the title pastor because you’re not high enough on the pay scale, your not a male, or your not ordained. Don’t think a title or lack of a title gets you off the hook for your responsibility to pastor your congregation in worship. But you may wonder what that looks like? Here are three ways worship leaders can step up their game as pastors.
1. Thoughtfully and carefully plan your worship services
First, thoughtfully plan your worship services. Select songs that guide your congregation through the journey of the gospel every week. Remind them of how great God is. Remind them of how sinful and broken we are. Remind them of God’s grace. Remind them we are redeemed people, and we are invited into God’s mission to restore His kingdom.
2. Know your congregation
Second, get to know your congregation. Before and after service, spend as much time as you can mingling with the congregation members. Meet new people. Ask them what they do for a living. Check in on people you already know. It’s incredible how much people appreciate a mere 30-second interaction with their leaders, including their worship leader.
3. Speak between songs
Third, share meaningful thoughts and prayers between songs in your worship set. Songs do not speak for themselves. In our modern church, worship leaders are the primary means by which our congregation learns the language of our faith. What you say and what your pray matters.
But I know a lot of worship leaders are terrified of speaking during worship. They don’t know how to come up with something meaningful to share. They feel like they are constantly repeating the same shallow phrases. I know I’ve experienced this struggle.
For centuries, church worship has been more than just singing songs. Christians before us wrote liturgies so church leaders can effectively lead their church in prayers and readings between songs. I’m not advocating that all churches need to use the book of common prayer and adopt a liturgical style of worship. But I think worship leaders must be more intentional about developing their skill of speaking and praying between songs.
Rather than just identifying and complaining about this problem, which is something you always see in the Christian blogosphere, I want to do something about it. I want to help worship leaders become comfortable and confident with sharing meaningful thoughts and prayers in worship. Not for the sake of making them look good or feel better about themselves, but for the sake of the spiritual health of our congregations and to help worship leaders live up to their pastoral potential.
I've created a guide to help you prepare meaningful things to say or pray in worship.
Free Guide: 25 things to say or pray in worship
I’m sure a lot of church leaders have opinions on this topic. Have you ever felt like the title worship leader is a cop out for pastoral responsibility? What is your title at your church and why? Do you struggle with engaging your congregation pastorally as a worship leader? I want to hear from you. Leave your thoughts, love, and opinions in the comments below!