An Open Letter to Worship Leaders

Dear Minstrel,

Let me begin by acknowledging that I have zero musical talent.  If I auditioned for American Idol, I’d probably make it on TV as one of those people whose audition was absolutely horrendous.  You know, the one that makes you ask, “Why in the world would someone with that awful of a voice sing publicly?”  Therefore, this is not a letter about singing technique.  Rather, this is a plea from a nobody asking you to consider a few things as you lead music in worship services.  I’ve never led in corporate worship (and probably never will), but I ask that you graciously give me a hearing.

First, please realize that you’re not just preparing congregation members for the preaching of the Word; you’re actually teaching through the music.  The apostle Paul penned, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God (Col. 3:16).”  One way we receive the word of Christ is through the songs that you’re leading. I know this brings a little more responsibility to the job, but it is such a glorious truth for you!  Jesus doesn’t need you or me, but He has chosen to use us to communicate forth the beautiful reality of the gospel.

On a related note, this means that you need to put serious thought to the songs you choose.  If part of your responsibility is to teach through the lyrics, this calls for theological precision.  Please don’t let your criteria for selecting songs be which one allows you to show off your mad guitar skills or which song’s crescendo will certainly bring tears or hand-raising.  When it comes to beauty, form certainly is important.  You should desire excellence in the form, or appearance of the music.  But more important to beauty is the content of a song.  Something is only truly beautiful if it points us to the Creator.  Otherwise, it is simply a perversion of beauty.  Worship leader, let your songs be beautiful in form and content.  This means you must carefully study the words which will be sung.  Are they glorifying to God?  Do they line up with Scripture?  These are a couple of the questions you must ask yourself.

Here’s an example for you: One of Kristian Stanfill’s popular songs is “Like a Lion.”  On the album and when I saw him live last summer, he sang the line, “My faith is cold, and I need a resurrection.”  I’ve heard numerous renditions of the song since then, and every time the line is sung, “My faith is dead, and I need a resurrection.”  You may say, “Cody, the imagery of resurrection fits much better with death than coldness.”  I would agree that the form would fit better with the second line, but what about the content of the line?  Can a Christian sing about having a dead faith?  Not if you want your lyrics to match up with James 2.  In that chapter, a dead faith belongs to one who is not a Christian.  Therefore, singing that line fits better with the imagery, but it is lacking theological precision.  Your job is to ensure that your lyrics line up with Scripture, so I plead with you to ruthlessly examine the content of the songs.

Second, be intentional about who you choose to play with you.  Far too many musicians who fail to “make it” in other genres, turn to the church for paid gigs.  Just because your buddy is an incredible guitarist or drummer doesn’t mean that he or she should be leading the congregation in worship.  Make sure that they are seeking the Lord off the stage, not just seeking a paycheck.  I’m not saying that you must have perfect band members.  But I’m saying that they should be those who love the gospel and are seeking to conform their lives to it.  I know that may greatly decrease the pool from which you draw your band mates, but it’s important.

As I close, I want to offer a word of thanks.  I’m thankful for your willingness to lead me in singing praises to my Lord and Savior.  To be completely honest, I’ve always been a little jealous of you.  You see, several of my close friends are great worship leaders, but, as I’ve already mentioned, I have no musical ability.  Therefore, I’ve always watched from the sidelines.  But I am thankful, though it may be tinged with envy, that God has allowed you to combine the sounds of instruments into a beautiful structure that houses the glorious truths that we get to sing.

You’ve been given a great privilege of leading a congregation in worship, but it is also a great responsibility.  Love the gospel.  Teach the gospel.  Let that drive your ministry.

Your Brother in Christ,

Cody Cunningham

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