I recently had the privilege of preaching the beginning of my church family’s study through the book of Ruth. It was a great morning and there were many special things that happened that day that made me grateful for my church. One of those things was something I noticed for the very first time, though. I do not occupy the role of “preacher” much (though I eagerly hope to one day), so filling those new shoes that Sunday made me have a unique perspective on our church as a whole.
My greatest observation that Sunday had nothing to do with me, though. I noticed a correlation between the worship pastor and the teaching pastor that I will never forget. I learned that there is arguably no one more important to the preacher on Sunday morning than the worship leader, for a few reasons.
A Weight Lifted
You would think as an immature, inexperienced preacher, the most overwhelming factors of the pre-sermon service would be checking the slides, making sure my notes are in order, having the order of service down so I do not make a fool of myself, and so forth. Maybe it’s just me, but when I prepare to take the stage and deliver the Word and words I’ve been studying for weeks, there is a nagging laundry list pecking at me minute by minute (one of Satan’s distraction techniques). I took my seat as the service started, going through the mental checklist, making sure I prepared. Then my worship leader began the song, “God is Able.”
Talk about a weight being lifted off of your shoulders. In the same way the worship pastor is ushering his congregation into a time of authentic communion with Christ, provoking hearts to disregard distraction and with undivided attention come before the throne, he is also doing this for the preacher. He is inviting the preacher to give all of his pre-sermon worries to Christ.
A Humbled Heart
Most pastors will tell you the hardest thing about being on stage and exalting Christ is that your focus becomes drawn to the former. Humility is every preacher’s battle on Sunday morning. By stepping on the stage, without even saying a word, the preacher is communicating to the congregation that he has something important to say, and deserves your attention for the next forty minutes. The preacher has poured hours into word study, exegesis, prayer, cross-references, quotes, illustrations, and more prayer, and he is stepping on-stage Sunday assuming he is in the role of shepherd, to teach the text to the flock. If the preacher is not careful, pride, even arrogance, can be spewed from the pulpit (1 Cor. 9:16).
Do you see how critical is for the worship pastor, in the moments he has before the sermon, to prepare the preacher’s heart for a sermon laced with humility? In the second song we sang that morning I preached, “Be Thou My Vision,” I was reminded that preaching from this text was not about me preaching Zach, but preaching Christ. This is Christ’s vision, I am simply an imperfect mouthpiece. I was grateful for that emergency dose of humility before taking the stage.
A Consistent Message
One of the most encouraging parts of the service that Sunday was how well the songs tied in with the message. In talking about the themes of redemption and remembering God’s sweet promises, we were also singing songs with the same verbiage and language. The preacher’s heart for the flock is that these people will be so stirred by the glory of God, that they will be compelled in total eagerness to worship. We don’t deliver sermons to check a box, or to learn some facts, but to evoke a heart and life of worship. Orthodoxy is useless without orthopraxy.
God, in His infinite wisdom in discerning the Holy Scriptures, decided it best to make Psalms, a book of songs and hymns, the largest book in the Bible. That has to mean something. It means that all the theology we do in sermons should fuel us into worship. We want the things we preach to help us all sing with David, “My heart is steadfast, O God! I will sing and make melody with all my being!” (Ps. 108:1). Because of this, the sermon cannot be divorced from the worship. The two should fuse together seamlessly. This means careful song choice. This means careful arrangement. The goal is certainly not to manufacture or create response, but rather to reflect and echo the truth we’ve just pondered in the sermon, going from having our heads transformed to having our hearts transformed.
Dear worship leader: You are more valuable than you know, specifically to the preacher. You help him step into the day’s demands with a weight lifted off of his shoulders, a humbled heart, and you validate his teaching with your reverberations, something no one else in the building can do quite as well. Though only a small piece of why your job matters, it is a critical small piece. You have the privilege of ministering not only to a congregation, but to the man called to deliver the words of God to us all. We (preachers) are grateful you take your calling seriously, even if we do not tell you that enough. We are thankful you spend a lot of time thinking through song choice and arrangement and practice, because it prepares, shapes, and supports us.