Every Team Needs One
The essential role of the worship-arts leader in church-planting
Many evangelical Christians have a very truncated understanding of worship. When asked to define it, they respond, “It’s singing,” or “It’s praising God.” Worship, from a biblical perspective, is far more than merely singing or praising God in the assembly of the saints (as right and wonderful as that is). For years now I have collected definitions of the word. One of the best I have found was penned by Dr. Bruce Leafblad. I have expanded it slightly and hope that it will provide a framework for our understanding: Worship is both an event and a lifestyle in which believers, by grace, center their minds’ attention and their hearts’ affections on the Lord, humbly glorifying God in response to His greatness, His mighty acts, and His Word.
One might also ask, What is a worship-arts leader? This is someone who is uniquely gifted, called and trained to lead the people of God into Dave Hall is international worship leader for Pioneers (Orlando, Fla.). He has an M.Div. from Trinity International University (Deerfield, Ill.) and is pursuing a doctorate in ethnomusicology.
the presence of God. I incorporate the word “arts into the role because, both historically and Biblically, all the arts have played a major role in corporate worship. They should, therefore, continue to play a major role, especially in the cross-cultural church-planting context. As missionaries and missions organizations dedicated to the task of establishing church-planting movements, our strategies and practices must be built on firm, Biblical foundations. Much work remains to be done to better understand the implications of worship in regard to our theology and missiology. I humbly submit to you the top ten reasons every church-planting team needs a worship-arts leader. Every church-planting team needs a worship-arts leader because…
1. Every church should be a worshiping church. Worshiping God is our highest calling. It is, as Dr. William Taylor has aptly said, “The mother of all paradigms.” Worship expresses the reason for our redemption. In Exodus, we are told why God went to all the trouble to free his people from bondage. “Let my people go… so that they may worship me” (Ex. 9:1). Worship will be either central to the planning and process of church planting or it will be peripheral.
2.The battle against the enemy is won in worship. “Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the Lord and to praise him for the splendor of his holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying: ‘Give thanks to the Lord, for his love endures forever.’ As they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir” (2 Chron. 20:21-22). There is something inherently combative about worship; namely, Satan hates it. Worship is warfare, pure and simple. In our struggle to see the unreached reached, to see worshipers brought to Christ from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation we would do well to use one of our most powerful weapons.
3. Culturally relevant musical and artistic worship is a powerful evangelistic tool inside and outside the church. When unbelievers experience corporate worship in their heart language, they are more open to hearing God’s Word. Their stereotypes of Jesus being the foreign God of a foreign religion are removed simply by relating the Gospel and facilitating worship in culturally relevant forms. Showing interest in their music and arts validates them as a people and opens great opportunities for building relationships and sharing the Gospel. Cassette tapes and visual art forms that use Scripture and Biblical themes in culturally sensitive ways have found great favor even among Muslim groups adamantly opposed to the gospel.
4.The performing arts provide unique opportunities for creative access. One Pioneers missionary learned to sing in the style of the people group she is attempting to reach with the Gospel. Since recording an album, she is now nationally known and has many opportunities to sensitively share her faith. Her prominence also gives her negotiating power when it comes time to renew visas. Studying the music and arts of a people is another excellent means of entry into closed countries, and it provides practical benefits to developing indigenous forms of worship.
5. The performing arts provide unique opportunities for evangelism. A man working in Pakistan was taught this principle: You can say anything to a Muslim in poetry or music and he will listen; say the same thing in prose, and he may kill you. He decided to put the principle to the test by hosting an international music festival. A hall was rented and many groups played, including a national Christian music group that presented the gospel using indigenous Pakistani music and instruments. After the standing ovation at the conclusion, the mayor of the city announced, “This has been the finest musical event in the history of our town, and I feel it should be repeated every year!”
6. Worshiping churches worship in the heart language of the people. What is worship in a peoples “heart language”? It is culturally-relevant worship that is intelligible to the people. It incorporates their music, their arts, their means of expressing truth in their culture. While care must be taken to avoid syncretism, we must not allow the learning curve to keep us from applying the Biblical principle found in 1 Corinthians 14:23-25: Intelligible worship is much more apt to produce repentance than is unintelligible worship.
7. Worshiping in a people’s heart language requires worship leadership. You don’t have to be in ministry for very long to realize the crucial role of well-trained, godly leadership. Facilitating the release of people of diverse cultures to worship in spirit and truth is both an art and a science. I call it “ethnodoxology”—the study of how and why people of diverse cultures glorify the true and living God. Doing it well requires a well-trained, gifted, worship-arts leader. I place the emphasis here on training as opposed to gifting because many church planting teams don’t have someone gifted to lead in these matters. Ethnodoxology is, however, something that can be taught, caught, and implemented by those who have a heart for worship but feel they are not particularly musically or artistically endowed.
8. Worship leadership increases the effectiveness of both the church plant and the church planter. Shortly after a church is planted in North America, one of the greatest needs is for gifted, trained worship leadership. We spend large amounts of time and energy to fill this vital leadership role. We do this because we believe that biblical, creative, culturally relevant worship is essential to the effectiveness of the church in glorifying God both with our lives and our witness. The church planted in a cross-cultural setting has just as big a need, but far fewer resources to meet it. May God enable us to mobilize and empower worship-arts leadership for every team, both before and after they are sent to the field. Not only do the churches we plant need worship leaders, but our teams do as well. John Piper, in Let the Nations Be Glad, writes, “Missionaries will never call out, ‘Let the nations be glad!’ who cannot say from the heart, ‘I rejoice in the Lord… I will be glad and exult in Thee’… Missions begins and ends in worship.” Missionaries without this foundational understanding are living out too much of their missionary experience in a spiritual desert. One of the worship-arts leaders’ key roles is to facilitate and model both corporate and lifestyle worship with humility and servanthood, as a part of the team.
9. Missionaries who are fired up about God will be more effective witnesses for his glory. Piper challenges our paradigm for ministry when he writes, “Missions exists because worship doesn’t…. You can’t commend what you don’t cherish.” Our evangelism and discipleship of the nations must flow out of our passion for God and his glory. otherwise it will be shallow, at best, or man-centered and self-glorifying, at worst.
10. We are worshipers first, missionaries second. We need a fundamental paradigm shift to occur in our understanding and practice of missions. Jesus said that God is seeking worshipers, not people who know a lot about worship, not people who know how to worship, but worshipers. Being a worshiper is not something you do; it is something you are.
This article first appeared in the January 2000 issue of the Evangelical Missions Quarterly (EMQ) and is used by permission.