Planning and leading corporate worship in a local church come with plenty of challenges. Exhaustion and burnout are threats enough in the week-to-week, but add the messiness of navigating criticisms and suggestions from (usually) well-meaning members of your congregation, and the tendency for emotional and spiritual discouragement run high. Leading worship is unique in this tendency, partly because worship leaders work in a heavily artistic realm. When you’re consistently shepherding through a preference-laden art form like music, you will often fail, in varied ways, to please everyone equally with your choices.
When exhaustion and discouragement pile up, it’s very easy to doubt who you are, and what you’re there to do for your church. In my 15(ish) years of worship leading, I’ve learned to come to the book of Hebrews quickly in the process of fighting doubt and discouragement. Hebrews might not be the first place in Scripture to spring to your mind for corporate worship application, but it’s become crucial and life-giving for me as a worship leader to read here often. As you choose, arrange, practice, and sing songs with your church week-after-week, try spending some serious time in Hebrews, to fight discouragement with these truths.
Christ alone has made our worship acceptable to God.
The message of Christ in Hebrews should affect everything a worship leader does. Hebrews 9:11-12 tells us:
“But when Christ appeared as high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.”
What this means for the role of a worship leader should not be missed or taken lightly. As one who has the privilege of leading a local church to worship God in a gathering, you are not a priest. Christ is the high priest, who entered into the real holy place, of which the holy place of the Temple was only a shadow. Christ shed his own blood as the perfect sacrifice for our sin, and took that sacrifice into the very presence of God as our priest. And verse 12 above says he did this once for all. It is done. If our sin is forgiven and washed by faith in Christ, we have full access to God.
Vaughan Roberts, speaking of Hebrews in his book True Worship, says, “[T]he Bible never teaches that it is the role of music to lead us closer to God” (42). We do not have the pressure of leading worshipers into God’s “presence” on a Sunday morning, or somehow singing our way into God’s presence ourselves. The pressure, instead, is to present Christ again another week, so that as a church we can find fresh strength in him.
Our job is to pick songs that help us see and love Christ in all the facets of his glory. And when our order of service goes awry, or someone in the band plays a wrong chord, God still loves our imperfect worship because Christ has already perfected it.
Christ anchors us.
Hebrews 6:18-19 says we have “strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us,” because of this truth: that Christ is “a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain.” When Christ took his sacrifice into the holy place and paid for our sins, he anchored us there. And he is sure and steadfast; our anchor will not move.
The writer picks up on this same thought again in 10:23, telling us to “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” We can hold to hope and meaning in everything we attempt in our worship leading and shepherding, because Christ holds and anchors us. When criticisms make you waver in your faithfulness, or exhaustion leads you close to burnout or to temptation, remember Christ anchors you with God. Circumstances will change, other people’s opinions of you will change, but Christ does not fail or change.
Christ is the point of the gathering, not the music.
Some of the first things we’re told in Hebrews about practically living in light of Christ’s saving work deal with Christians meeting corporately; but ironically, the writer says nothing about singing. Other places in Scripture command singing together as an expression of worship and edification, but not Hebrews. After more than nine chapters of glorious Christology that defines who we are as the church, we might expect something about church music. But instead, the writer says in Hebrews 10:23-25, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering…not neglecting to meet together as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”
And again in 12:1-2, “[L]et us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.” We’re told to meet together often to help one another hold fast to our Savior. In Scripture’s bigger context, corporate singing is commanded for Christians, and thus has a very important place in our worship gatherings. But let us not worry about other elements so much that we miss the point.
Worship in your church does not stand or fall with you as the corporate worship leader. Be faithful to prepare, and lead music and other elements in your gatherings that put Christ on full display for your church. Look to Jesus. Sing of him and to him, and rest in his finished work for you on the cross. And be faithful to do this week after week.