By Mike Harland
It’s Sunday morning. The music leader sits down as the pastor walks to the pulpit to start his message. He begins this way: Turn with me to Colossians 1:15-20 and let’s read God’s Word together.
As the congregation joins the pastor reading this passage, the worship leader thinks, If only I had known that was his text today! I have a great song set that would have set that up perfectly!
And something just like that happens in church after church, Sunday after Sunday.
It can be better than that.
I once heard a pastor say to a worship leader, “You sing about Jesus and I’ll preach about Jesus and the rest will take care of itself.”
It can be better than that, too.
How can it work? What can pastors and worship leaders do to make a more meaningful connection between the congregational worship and the sermon? Does it matter?
Two leaders, one ministry for all
First, let’s establish a definition of terms. The pastor of the church really is the worship leader. Music and worship, though completely connected in the church context, are not synonyms.
Worship isn’t just what the church does before the pastor preaches; it involves what we do in every part of the worship gatherings and everything we do as believers living out the gospel in our lives. We worship from the time we wake up to the time we go to sleep at night. Everything else is details about how we worship.
Worship, in the simplest definition, is our response to God’s revelation. God reveals Himself, and we worship in response. Our worship can be in praise through singing or testifying, kneeling, or lifting hands. It can be in our giving and serving as we teach and pray or welcome guests, care for children, or park cars.
Revelation is all about the reading and teaching of God’s Word—in our personal study time, in small groups, and in sermons. But it also happens in our singing as we share the rich texts of songs and hymns that contain the truth about God.
A worship service is not composed of two things led by two people and enjoyed by everyone else; it is one thing led by two people that involves everyone else. And since the worship services affect the largest part of our congregation week to week, much care should be given to focus the content for the benefit of all.
Our worship services can have a rhythm of revelation and response, and the music and the message can work together to accomplish both. But it won’t happen consistently by accident.
How do we do that?
It takes trust. And time. And it takes two leaders who are willing to open themselves up to each other for honest and consistent conversation about the worship services of the church.
It happens when these leaders meet consistently to plan, evaluate, pray, and prepare.
The first question the leaders must answer is: What do we hope will be the outcome of the worship services? It could be three simple goals like these:
- That the Word of God and the name of Jesus would be pre-eminent in worship services.
- That the gospel would be proclaimed with clarity and conviction.
- That the congregation will participate in every aspect of the service.
It’s helpful to review and honestly assess previous services to determine whether these goals were reached.
The pastor should take the lead in setting the goals. He and the music leader should work together to create a plan to accomplish them in every worship service. Then, careful consideration of how those goals will be pursued comes into focus.
As this assessment and planning cycle continues, the two leaders can get better at communicating with each other and strengthening the worship plans for the church.
Each one can help the other
In an ideal scenario, the pastor shares with the music leader his plans to preach through the book of Romans later that year. The music leader starts reading and studying Romans, becoming increasingly familiar with the text the pastor will be addressing.
Songs and worship moments come to mind as the music leader studies the text. The music leader locates and listens to recordings of songs that could be strategic during the series.
The pastor starts to live with the songs as the music leader starts to live with the text. They begin to have conversations about the messages and the music and how they will fit together in the flow of a service.
One area of focus is the handoff moments in the worship gathering. They ask, “How do we transition to the prayer or the offering? What will be the way we approach the response time of the worship?”
Each one is helping the other prepare to lead and worship.
Can only big churches plan this way?
Some church leaders might think because the music leader is part-time or a volunteer, this kind of planning is not realistic. It most certainly is.
We have email, smart phones, and virtual planning tools. Church staff who don’t have adjacent offices have many ways to plan and prepare for corporate worship. All that’s required is dedication to working together.
If a pastor and music leader commit to work together, this can happen—no matter the size of the church. It really comes down to whether the leaders see the value of this kind of collaboration.
This won’t happen overnight. These two leaders must invest time and energy to build a cadence of healthy worship planning together. But, if they do, I believe they’ll find it to be time well spent.
And I’m convinced the members of the congregation—though they likely will never be able to articulate it—will see and feel the difference.
Mike serves as the Worship Pastor of First Baptist Church Jackson, Mississippi. Previously, he was the Director of Worship at LifeWay Christian Resources. Mike is also an author and Dove Award-winning songwriter