I posted the following on LinkedIn recently and received some pretty good feedback:

In one church I visited recently, the leadership made a big deal about the fact that they didn’t believe in having a ‘worship leader’ in their services. Instead, they insisted, they only had a ‘lead worshipper’ up front leading the music portion of the service. For whatever reason this morning, I woke up thinking about this — after a dream where I was trying to figure out who the worship leader was in a conference session so I could give them a message from the session speaker who wanted them to end on a particular song.

I am truly interested in feedback on this. What do you think? Is it worth making a distinction? Is one better than the other? …Or are they both pretty much the same thing???

Worship is, at its most basic, “worth-ship” — believing that someone or something is “worth” our attention and resources. As a result, we make it a priority to focus our attention on our object of affection and give our resources (abilities, talents, skills, money, possessions…and, most importantly, time) to the person or thing we have chosen. Individually, we determine who or what is the most worthy and then put our belief and energy into expressing how we feel. When numerous people feel similarly, it can become a corporate endeavor. Thus, the church worship service exists because so many of us feel that God is [the most] worthy of our expression of this sentiment — this feeling that we believe He is worthy — and we gather to express it as a group.

We do receive the benefit of learning and encouragement in the form of a message — frequently, but not always. We do enjoy the benefit that comes from interacting with each other, otherwise known as “fellowship” in Christian lingo. We also find ways to touch people outside our gatherings in the form of social charity and missionary or evangelistic support. Ultimately, however, the whole reason we come together in the first place is because we agree on a belief that God is to be worshipped…that He is worthy of our attention and resources.

There is a distinction that should be made here, I believe, between believing that God is worth our attention and resources and actually giving those things to Him. “Worship” is distinct from “an act of worship.” The primary reasoning behind this distinction comes down to attitude. Belief becomes attitude when it affects the way we think and feel. I can sit still and do nothing at all and be worshipping the Lord. Conversely, I can be singing, standing, and maybe even raising my hands, but if my heart and my thoughts are elsewhere, then I am not worshipping. This is why Jesus said, “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and truth. (John 4:24)”

On the other hand, how can it be true worship if we don’t demonstrate what we believe? James says, “…Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. (Jas. 2:18)” Curiously, the example that he uses of Abraham offering Isaac on the altar, is also the same place that the word “worship” first appears in the entire bible — Gen. 22 (verse 5).

In Romans 12:1, Paul instructs us to offer our lives as a “living sacrifice” to God and calls it a “reasonable service.” Some translations even use the phrase “service of worship.” If our entire life is to be lived as a service of worship to God, then singing a few songs in a Sunday gathering is only a small portion of worshipping the Lord. Simply coming together is an expression of worship. Every action we perform throughout the day, keeping our hearts and minds turned towards God, is a service of worship. …Even simply breathing is worshipping the Lord.

I had some good responses to my question about whether we should us the term “worship leader” or “lead worshipper,” or if it was worth 🙂 making the distinction. In the end, it’s simply a title we’ve given someone who stands in front and helps us all stay on the same page in a corporate gathering. That person can help us focus and remind us Who we are gathering for. In that sense, “worship leader” would probably be an accurate statement. He [using the generic pronoun here] could only be termed a “lead worshipper” if he is, at heart, focusing on the Lord in spirit and truth, as Jesus defined true worship. As I already mentioned, it is possible to perform actions while our hearts and minds are on other things. Since we cannot truly know the leader’s heart (or the hearts of all those gathered with him), then I think using the title “lead worshipper” is a little presumptive.

I am, by nature, inclined to believe the best about people. I think the proclamation about having a “lead worshipper” was probably well-intentioned. None of us are above anyone else, and making that kind of statement puts an emphasis on the fact that it is a corporate expression of worship and not a demonstration of an individual or group entertainment for others to simply observe without participating. In other words, we all need to take part in the corporate expression, and no one should be standing on the sidelines or exalted above anyone else.

To use a musical analogy, consider an orchestra. A conductor is just a conductor. He is not making the music happen. The players are. The conductor’s purpose is to facilitate and guide everyone’s participation so that the listener has the best possible experience. I believe the same is true of a worship leader. He isn’t making the worship happen. He is only trying to facilitate and guide everyone’s participation so that God can have the best possible experience in receiving our worship, and He can then indeed come and inhabit our praises.

Psalm 95

1 Oh come, let us sing to the Lord!
Let us shout joyfully to the Rock of our salvation.
2 Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving;
Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms.
3 For the Lord is the great God,
And the great King above all gods.
4 In His hand are the deep places of the earth;
The heights of the hills are His also.
5 The sea is His, for He made it;
And His hands formed the dry land.
6 Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.
7 For He is our God,
And we are the people of His pasture,
And the sheep of His hand.