Worship Leaders, Please Stop

Let me be clear and say that not all worship leaders do the things that I’m writing about, but enough of them do to warrant another blog post on the issue. And let me qualify my term of worship to mean what almost everyone thinks of when they hear the word “worship” as the music portion of a church service. Of course, worship cannot be reduced down to just music, but for the sake of my post, that is what I will be referring to. Here is my list of “please stop” with some reasoning behind it:

1. Worship leaders, please stop choosing repetitive and theologically shallow songs

There is a reason why people love to sing hymns; they are overflowing with theological truth that people enjoy drinking from. The hymn writers often times wrote out of anguish because of trials or battles with sin. Go ahead and read the story behind the writing of the hymn It Is Well With My Soul by Horatio Spafford, and try to tell me that you weren’t on the verge of tears reading the lyrics after reading the story. It is often under the weight of sorrow, anguish, and guilt that church members are hobbling into church. They need to hear things that instruct them on who God is and what he has done. Don’t expect the whole church to come in on Sunday morning beaming and ready to launch into a concert rendition of Happy Day by Tim Hughes. While Christ’s work can and does make people excited, how can we take them to the excitement without going to the beginning of the story? More on that in number 6.

2. Worship leaders, please stop choosing songs that are theologically inaccurate

This is one of the major breakdowns in modern worship. Worship leaders, take a moment and think about your reasoning behind the songs you choose in your set? Does it relate to the sermon about to be preached? Does it follow a progression that will move people to respond in mind, heart, or action? Or is it simply because people like to sing that song, or that your musicians really shine when they belt it out? At this point we begin to compromise theology for showmanship. I’ll go after just two examples to keep it short. First, as much as people love her, Kari Jobe has gone off the shallow end theologically. See what I did there? Her song The More I Seek You is a classic example of a Jesus-is-my-boyfriend number. The lyrics are a little creepy, okay a lot creepy, and as a guy I can’t bring myself to sing it. It’s about Jesus’ love, but it does not at all relate to the way that Christ loved us. It paints a picture of romantic love that we experience when we cuddle with Jesus or an actual boyfriend. The Bible says that God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (see Romans 5:8). Or John 3:16, “This is how God loved the world, that he gave his only son…”, or 1 John 3:16, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” It is clear in Scripture that Christ shows his love by dying, not by cuddling us. And no, I don’t think it’s appropriate to even speak of it that way metaphorically.

My second example is similar in the song You Won’t Relent by Misty Edwards. When you consider the inspiration for the lyrics of this song, an obvious issue presents itself. The song is based on Song of Songs 8:6 that says, “Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for love is strong as death, jealousy is fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the LORD.” It doesn’t take difficult exegetical work to know what the book and this passage are about. Just reading the passage in context makes it clear. This is not the love of God being talked about here. It is the love between two people. Just consider v. 3, “His left hand is under my head, and his right hand embraces me.” Yikes! It doesn’t take incredible imagination to understand what this means. And this is the song that we sing to God! I think I’ll stop here and address the issue of where this song comes from in Bethel Music.

3. Worship leaders, please stop choosing songs from Jesus Culture and Bethel Music

I’m going to come right out and say it, Jesus Culture and the place they come from, Bethel Church in Redding are the worst of modern heretics. There is plenty of material out there explaining the heresy coming from Bethel, Bill Johnson, and others in the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), so I am not going to repeat a lot of it here. There are inherent flaws within the Christology that Johnson adheres to. One major heresy claimed by Johnson is that Jesus did his miracles as a mere man and not as God. His point is that we have the same authority and power as Jesus, we just have to realize it and exercise it like Jesus did. They also do weird things called “spirit toking” where they go to the graves of Christians who have died to try and soak up their anointing. You can also find plenty of videos on YouTube of “glory clouds” of glitter that have appeared in Bethel services, and the way people respond to it is not exactly similar to how people respond in the Bible to seeing God’s glory. In the Bible, when people see God’s glory, they do things like fall on their face in fear and terror (see Isaiah 6). But, at Bethel, people get their phones out and take pictures. Of course, you skeptics can also watch Bill Johnson’s response to the glory clouds here. On the other hand, you can get a more thorough analysis of what is going on at Bethel by watching Drunk in the Spirit from Wretched Radio.

You might say, “Well, Jesus Culture has some really good songs and the youth love to sing them.” First, I would encourage you to put their songs through the theology test. Second, people must realize that the vehicle for the theology/heresy of Bethel is through the music of Jesus Culture. Young people are going to the conferences and concerts by the thousands and being exposed to the preachers and propagators of the New Apostolic Reformation. Because of that, I would strongly encourage you to stop playing their music. Once people hear the song and like it, they will want to know who it’s by, and before you know it, they are listening to the “apostles” of the NAR. The slope really is that slippery.

4. Worship leaders, please stop over-spiritualizing worship

There really is nothing wrong with liturgy if liturgy is used properly. But, we have become so sensitive to legalism that our services have no rhyme, reason, or structure because we “want to let the Spirit lead.” The Spirit can still lead when we have a structured service. That is actually how the Spirit leads in a service. The worship service should essentially be a retelling of the gospel. See the model of service laid out by Bryan Chapell in his book Christ-Centered Worship. The Spirit leads by conviction in the way we structure our service after the story of the gospel. Having a Spirit-led service does not mean we just throw things to the wind and watch how it falls.

Worship pastors should realize that planing the music service should take almost as much time as it takes for a pastor to prepare a sermon. Coordinate with the pastor on the passage he will be preaching on and study it. Continually ask yourself why certain songs are being placed in the set. Also, understand that what you say in between songs is just as important as the songs that are sung. Too often worship leaders take the stage and immediately strike the first chord expecting peoples’ hearts to be ready for what they are about to do. Maybe do some sort of explanation of the chorus of the next song, or read a passage, or give the background story to the song, like It Is Well With My Soul mentioned above.

5. Worship leaders, please stop asking God to “fill this place with his Spirit”

I’ll be quick with this one. We have all heard people pray this in church services. What we have to remember is that God doesn’t dwell in a building, he hasn’t for thousands of years. What the Bible clearly tells us is that that Spirit dwells in God’s people (Rom. 8:9, 11; 1 Cor. 3:16). So, if you want more of God’s Spirit in the service, just bring in more people.

6. Worship leaders, please stop fishing for outbursts of enthusiasm

One of the best pieces of analysis on this issue comes from Alistair Begg at a recent Ligonier conference. But, worship leaders need to stop getting their affirmation on whether or not they are doing a good job from how enthusiastic people are in service. Please stop accusing people of still being asleep and making them feel guilty for not screaming, shouting, and whistling like they would at a football game. Excitement is not the only reaction that people have when singing in worship. If that is the response that should happen, have you done anything to lead us there? Essentially, if you didn’t get a response that you thought should have happened, it’s probably your fault. People will give you an “amen” if you have given them something to shout “amen!” for.

One last thing on this issue, and this is critical. Just because someone is singing, dancing (not at a baptist church), shouting, and clapping their hands does not give any indication of where they are at spiritually. Much in the same way, just because someone is standing still in the service and not singing at all is no such indication on their spiritual state either. There are times when I sing loudly and clap my hands, but there are also times where I stand quietly and listen to the lyrics being sung.

If you have read this far, my challenge to you is to think biblically about worship service. If you are someone in the congregation, how do you assess what “good” worship is? If you are a worship leader, just because you do or have done the things I mentioned above does not mean you are a bad worship leader. My challenge to you, again, is to think biblically about where people need to be led in worship. In the end, people should be led through the gospel and to the cross. All of this is done by showing who God is and what he has done. That is also why theology matters in worship. I’ll finish on the importance of that with a quote by Joshua Harris where he says, “I’ve come to learn that theology matters. It matters not because we want to impress people, but because what we know about God shapes the way we think and live. Theology matters because if we get it wrong then our whole life will be wrong.”

Author: Brandon Imbriale

I hold a B.A. from California Baptist University and a MDiv from Gateway Seminary. I also think I'm a photographer who loves to takes pictures of anything ocean related and landscape. In real life I'm a teacher.

15 thoughts on “Worship Leaders, Please Stop”

  1. Couldn’t agree more – some of my pet peeves here. Worship (and here I do include all of worship, not JUST the music part) should lead us to God, not fake revved-up enthusiasm. If that comes, great. But as you say, that is part of a process, not a destination in itself.

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  2. Would you encourage people to stay away from those songs (Jesus Culture, Kari Jobe) in their own personal listening time?

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    1. Good question. I think in some ways personal listening is different from corporate worship, but I guess it maybe depends on where a person is at. I might have to get back to you on that. It’s hard to know where to draw that line because I don’t know if it has to be the same line that is drawn in worship. Not exactly the same thing, but it’s kind of like the movie The Shack. I wouldn’t boycott the movie or tell people not to see it necessarily. I would go see it for the sake of analysis, but stay away from embracing the message. It could be the same that kind of music.

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      1. Should that be said for all types of music? Is there something inherently wrong with listening to music that doesn’t preach the proper theological truth/no theological truth at all?

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      2. That’s another good question. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong or sinful with listening to secular music. I think it’s a different issue all together. But, I actually think some secular music has better theology than a lot of Christian music. As Christians, I think we should be aware of what our culture is saying through music, television and other media.

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      3. What I have more in mind are certain genres of music. It’s not that they sing about God or Christian things, it’s more so that they are honest about the struggles of life and the human condition. This is where I think a lot of modern worship or Christian music fails: it’s just not honest. As far as the secular music I’m referring to, as much as I hate it, I think some types of rap music communicate more about struggles of life and the human condition. Even some of the older types of punk music do the same thing. So, it’s not so much about them doing music about God, it’s more about society and humanity that actually lines up with what the Bible says. That’s why I say ‘some’ secular music.

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    2. I would say that being a part of the church as a worship leader gives them a sense of responsibility, if you look at Hebrews 13 it says that the shepherds of the flock are held accountable for the sheep. In church I would say it’s good to err on the side of caution so as to keep attenders from falling down the slippery slope Mr. Imbriale talked about. In personal worship it’s between you and God what is a genuine offering up of praise and adoration. I would say in a non church gathering where there’s music led it would work like 1 Cor. 6: the one leading the more personal worship should be congnizent of who’s present, but each individual person should decide whether to flee from what could be falsely indoctrinating them, or enjoy the freedom in Christ to worship him through those songs

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      1. Yes, I agree and see where you’re coming from here. We need to be aware of who is watching and participating in worship and what it is we are actually passing off as worship. I think that’s the heart of what I originally wrote about in getting worship leaders to understand the importance of their position as leaders before God’s people. Music in worship is one of those areas where I don’t think we are careful enough. Good point Josh.

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  3. So would you say that those who feel spiritually moved in songs that lack theological foundation are in some sort of false worship and that what they feel is not justified?

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    1. I believe the Spirit can use anything to move people. However, in regards to worship through music specifically, if a person says they were “spiritually moved” then we need to ask a few more questions. The point is that we have lost what it means to be spiritually moved. I don’t think we can use feeling as a gauge for how much we are spiritually moved. We need to use actions as a gauge for how we are spiritually moved. An example of this could be a person is worshipping through song and they are convicted of sin they are committing and they take action to repent of it. Or a person is singing lyrics to a song about an attribute of God and they are struck with awe of who God is and it moves them to tell people about him. Or they sing a song about what Christ has done on their behalf and they are moved to offer thanks and praise. So, in a way what I am saying is that I think it is really hard for people to be genuinely moved spiritually by songs that are theologically shallow. Otherwise, what are they being moved by? Spiritual movement does not entail warm and fuzzy feelings. People can get warm and fuzzy feelings from any song, but not any song can move them in the same way as I mentioned in my examples above. Hope that clarifies things a little. Excellent question Kaei.

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