For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. - Hebrews 4:15-16
A common encouragement worship leaders hear goes something like this: “Man, the worship was powerful today. Thank you for leading me into the presence of God.” It’s well-intended, and I think I know what they mean. They are, most likely, pointing to the effect that music can have on our souls when used properly.
Perhaps the music stirs up an awareness of the truth we sang. Or, perhaps the music broke down barriers and helped them become more aware of the presence of God. Maybe the marriage of a powerful truth and melody helped them see God more clearly. To each of these scenarios I say a hearty “amen.” I’m less concerned about what that church member meant and more concerned with how the encouragement – regardless of the intent - can slowly erode our understanding in what we, as worship leaders, are called to do.
Under the old covenant, a priest would stand between the sinner and God offering a sacrifice as atonement for sin. Once a year, the high priest would go into the Holy of Holies and offer a sacrifice for all Israelites so that they could be forgiven.
Christ fulfills this role as our ultimate High Priest. He came and He suffered, which enables Him to fully understand our weaknesses. He was tempted as we are tempted daily, but not once in thought, attitude, action, or motivation did He sin. He died. He rose again. He is currently seated at the Father’s right hand, interceding for us.
In old covenant worship, the heavy veil served as a barrier that only the high priest could pass through one time a year. And, it was only after some heavy rituals were done according to God’s law that the high priest could enter unto God’s presence in the Holy of Holies.
When Christ breathed His last words, “It is finished,” that veil ripped in two. Now, we have access to Him at any time because of our High Priest, Jesus. When we worship, we do it fully in the presence of God because of Christ. This means many things for us as worship leaders. Here are a few:
We are sinners leading sinners.
A healthy awareness of our sin will lead to authentic and awe-struck worship as we lead others to, hopefully, do the same. When we begin to believe the lie that we “lead people into God’s presence,” we lose our recognition of the vileness in which we stand without Christ. We could never draw near to the throne of grace based on our own merit. Our sin is too great, but His grace is greater indeed. This should humble us and lead to a deep movement in our soul as we worship and lead in worship. We need a high priest.
We “point” people to God.
My friend, Bob Kauflin, wisely reminds us that, as worship leaders, we are merely sign posts. We point to the One that we have all gathered to worship, but we don’t take people – or ourselves - there. When we recognize our role as those who point to Jesus instead of those responsible to usher people into His presence, we are freed to do what we’re called to do. Otherwise, we can fall down the slippery slope of believing we can make people worship.
We begin to believe the lie that we can lead people into His presence if we have a tight band, great mix, and killer vocals. Don’t get me wrong, we do focus on those things at my church, but we need to realize that we need a High Priest to make our worship acceptable. Our job as worship leaders is to point to Him as we lead.
We can BOLDLY approach.
With Jesus as our High Priest, we can approach the throne of grace as we are, because He has made the way through the cross. If we have a terrible week in our pursuit of holiness, we can run to our Father who welcomes us with open arms because of Christ our High Priest. If we only remembered this, we would go “all in” with our worship every time.
We lead people in worship by pointing our church’s gaze to Christ, and when they see Him, they sing with all that they have. Being able to boldly approach means we can throw everything we have at our preparation to lead worship, but when we are actually in it with our church, we do so knowing we have a High Priest who makes our best and worst moments in worship leading acceptable to the Father. He takes our songs of worship and makes them a pleasing fragrance to the Father. He takes our worship, tainted by the sin that still clings to us in the already/not yet of our salvation, and makes it perfectly acceptable to the Father.
Thank God for sending His Son, our High Priest. Because of Christ, we don’t have to “lead” anyone into God’s presence. Because we’ve already been carried there by the finished work of Christ at Calvary, we can point to Him in our leading.