Reflection #30 on Worship in the Contemporary American Church

This is post number 30 in a series of random reflections I have been amassing over the past couple of years since retiring from steady, local-church, “weekend warrior” worship ministry.  These ruminations are in no particular order, and they vary in significance.  I welcome discussion on any of them.

Reflection #30: My casual observation (admittedly biased) suggests there’s a slew of worship leaders serving contemporary churches who would benefit from some worship education.

Yes, you would suspect someone with a doctorate in worship studies, who teaches CWPA Demoss Stacked FC Logo PRINTworship at the college level, to hold the above opinion.  That doesn’t mean it’s not accurate–especially when there are churches advertising for worship leaders using the following rhetoric (quoted verbatim, without edits, from a job-search website a former student of mine sent to me):

Are you . . .

. . . Part hipster, part redneck and have strong musical skills with a guitar?

. . . Of the rare breed of creatives who is organized and efficient?

. . . An excellent communicator even when music is not playing?

. . . A multi-tasking leader who is also a team player?

. . . A person that even before you have your coffee you still have high energy, strong interpersonal skills, and a positive attitude?

. . . A Jesus-lovin’, Worship-leadin’, team builder who is self-motivated to accomplish the Great Commission with excellence?

If so, you might be perfect for our church!

To be sure, most of the above is not unreasonable to ask of worship leaders, but where are the questions indicating an appreciation of biblical, historical, and theological understandings of worship?  Where are the questions about contextualizing worship for the specific worshiping community in question here?  Where is there any sense that being able to speak to anything in this paragraph is of any importance to this church?  Certainly not in the follow-up instructions (again, taken verbatim):

Please submit your resume along with a link of you leading worship (i.e., YouTube, Vimeo).  Without a video of you leading worship we have no idea of your worship style or skill set, so you will not be considered for the position.

Also, tell us your favorite beverage and who your worship style resembles?

Granted, this is an extreme example, but skim through the listings on a job-ops website like Slingshot, and you’ll see a lot of talk about vision casting, team building, and band leading, but you won’t come across much related to having a firm command of what Scripture says about worship, of how 20 centuries of Christians have worshiped corporately (and what that means to believers today), or of why there is benefit in thinking theologically about Christian worship.

“So what?” some might ask.  “Our worship leader is passionate about Jesus, leads the band well, and chooses songs we like to sing.  Everyone leaves our services talking about how great the worship was.  [Insert side soapbox discussion of defining worship as congregational singing.]  What could Judson University, where you teach, or any other Christian school, possibly provide our worship leader that s/he doesn’t already have?”

Let me respond in this manner.  When I was a boy, I became a pretty proficient model-airplane builder.  I was meticulous, I followed the directions explicitly, and the end result looked an awful lot like the picture on the box.  But based on my ability to make model airplanes, I would never in a million years walk into Boeing’s offices and put myself forward as a candidate for a job.  I balance our family’s checkbook every single month.  At the end of the process I have resolved every issue so that the debits are accounted for and the credits are in their proper place.  But based on my successfully balancing my checkbook each month, I would be insane to go to an accounting firm and ask for a job as a CPA.

Engineers go to engineering school.  Accountants go to business school.  Why does the contemporary American Church, as a general rule, act as if there is little merit in worship leaders going to worship school? 

Does this mean every current worship leader without a degree in worship is serving the Church poorly and should quit immediately and go get a degree (or an advanced degree) in worship?  Of course not.  But I would suggest, humbly, that those churches that have hired worship leaders who do not have specific training in the biblical foundations, historical precedents, and theological convictions of worship make sure they provide funds for their worship leaders to pursue extra training on a regular basis.  Worship Leader magazine promotes the National Worship Leader Conference every May; this year’s conference is in a week.  LifeWay Worship just did its WorshipLife gathering in California last week and will be in Gatlinburg in June.  Calvin College’s Institute of Christian Worship hosts its Worship Symposium every January.  Many traditional denominations and national church congregations offer their own specific gatherings for worship instruction (e.g., Vineyard’s School of Worship). There are scads of opportunities to hone your skills and increase your understanding.

Worship leaders–even those with degrees in worship–we never have it completely figured out.  Do yourselves and your congregations a favor and try to get some worship education once or twice a year.  And high school students feeling the call to lead God’s people in worship, consider joining us at Judson University’s Demoss Center for Worship in the Performing Arts!

The Lord be with you!

Coming next week (Lord willing): Lighting for contemporary worship.



About Warren Anderson

Emmaus Road Worshipers is written by Dr. Warren Anderson, Director of the Demoss Center for Worship in the Performing Arts at Judson University (Elgin, Ill.), where he also directs the Judson University Choir. A Judson alumnus, he has served his alma mater in a number of capacities over the past 30+ years, especially the chapel ministry, which he led for 22 years. From 1982-2016, Dr. Anderson served six different churches--American Baptist (X2), Converge, Evangelical Free Church of America, Roman Catholic, and United Methodist--as a "weekend warrior" worship musician/pastor. He is a former member of the editorial board of Worship Leader magazine. The views expressed in this blog are not necessarily the views of Judson University.
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