“Music Leader” and “Worship Pastor”: What’s the Difference?

“Music Leader” and “Worship Pastor”: What’s the Difference?

What do you call the person (besides the preacher) who is upfront for most of your church’s Sunday morning service? Let’s consider two descriptions—“music leader” and “worship pastor”—as two different ways of leading God’s people in corporate worship.


A “music leader,” as I am using the term, is a musician who is recognized as uniquely talented among the congregation. Usually, they have more musical training or more public performing experience than other people in their congregation.

When a music leader plans church events, they import the values of their musical training and performing experience into the worship service. If they are classically trained and have performed in concert and recital halls, they might evaluate their worship services for their rhythmic accuracy, perfection of pitch, and attention to historical nuance. If they are self-taught and have performed in popular and rock music venues, they might evaluate their services in terms of spectacle, daring stage antics, and building a shared experience with other people of the same demographic.

Either way, music leaders choose songs that fit them, or songs they feel comfortable performing. Often, when their congregation expresses feedback (or criticism) to improve services, a music leader is stunned. Musicians normally play to a paying and appreciative audience. The people who disapprove of a musician’s music don’t normally complain; they just go somewhere else in order to listen to someone else.


By contrast, a “worship pastor” recognizes that the key noun in their job description is pastor. And as pastors, they labor to know the world of their people—their joys and successes, their burdens and laments—and they labor to know the world of the Scriptures. Worship pastors live, to use John Stott’s phrase, “between two worlds.”

Worship pastors work to plan worship services that survey the grand themes of Scripture—the goodness of creation, the perversion of sin, the brokenness of our fallen world, and the person and work of the Lord Jesus. Worship pastors inform their personal preferences and broaden their limited perspectives by studying the worship practices of the gathered church around the globe and throughout church history.

Worship pastors ask questions like, “If my congregation had to explain the gospel to an unbeliever using only the lyrics of the songs we sang last Sunday, could they do it?”

Worship pastors receive feedback (or criticism) from their congregation as a grace from God. While they will not implement every suggestion from every church member, they care about how their ministry is serving their people. As pastors, they love their people and want to see them grow in their ability to know the gospel and recognize the riches that are theirs in Christ.


Now certainly the extreme differences that I’m describing between “music leaders” and “worship pastors” don’t exist in real life. There are, of course, many faithful people who serve in the worship ministries of their local churches under the oversight of their elders. Seen this way, facilitating the upfront portion of a worship service is more diaconal than pastoral. Different local churches who desire biblically faithful worship ministry structures can choose from many options.

But at Bethlehem College & Seminary, we are investing in the paradigm of the Worship Pastor. We are training men who are steeped in the Scriptures, flipping Greek vocabulary cards and devoting time to hiding God’s Word in their hearts. We are training men who are proficient on their musical instruments and skilled to lead other musicians.

Above all, we are training men who love God and use music, and who refuse to switch those two priorities.


Because the glory of God will cover the earth like the waters cover the sea, worship pastors are part of an unstoppable and invincible task. Consider joining us. If you know qualified men who aspire to become worship pastors, encourage them to enroll at Bethlehem College & Seminary. And consider investing your heart and resources in the one thing that will last for eternity: the everlasting worship of our eternal God. For he alone is worthy.


Recent internet activity

Recent internet activity

I’ve been fairly busy in the last few months, but you wouldn’t be able to tell from this blog. C’est la vie. My life does not consist in the abundance of my blogging.mw-bob-kauflin-zac-hicks-dt-2016

Back in November, I presented two workshops at the excellent conference, Doxology & Theology. The first was entitled, “Already and Not Yet: Confessing Our Worship”—an overview of my dissertation. The second workshop was a panel I hosted with Bob Kauflin and Zac Hicks entitled, “Biblical Songs, Questionable Sources.” Bob and Zac were great conversationalists, and I told a story about my grandmother that became an article (see below: “Battle Hymns”). The recording of that panel is available here.

I presented a workshop at Bethlehem’s Conference for Pastor’s and Ministry leaders. I also lead worship for the conference’s plenary sessions. You can see the video of the workshop below, and I will send you the set lists if you @ me on twitter.

I wrote a one book review for The Gospel Coalition on The Worship Pastor by Zac Hicks and another for Themelios on You Are What You Love by James K. A. Smith.


My recent articles for DesiringGod were “Disappointing Worship Services” (December 11, 2016), “One More Time: Three Ways to Worship Through Repetition” (January 16, 2017), and “Battle Hymns for the Fight of Faith“(Feb. 26, 2017).

I’m teaching a course this Spring entitled “Worship Leadership & Design” at Bethlehem College & Seminary. It’s a delight.

Enough blogging, though. Back to writing.

“There and Back Again: Joy in the OT”

I recently spoke at Bethlehem College & Seminary‘s chapel on the topic, “Joy in the Old Testament.” I took for my text Ps 146 and entitled the message, “There and Back Again.” The people at the school were kind enough to post the video for those interested.

Click through for the manuscript I took into the pulpit that afternoon.

Continue reading ““There and Back Again: Joy in the OT””

Book Review: More Than Conquerors

The book of Revelation has brought the church seemingly equal parts comfort and confusion. While no single reading can bring out all the intricacies that are woven in this rich text, some writings on the book are more helpful than others.

One book has been considered by believers as particularly helpful since its publishing in 1939. More Than Conquerors: An Interpretation of the Book of Revelation was written by one of the most respected Reformed commentators of a previous generation, William Hendriksen. The book seems to have been written as a part of his Doctor of Sacred Theology degree from Pike’s Peak Bible Seminary. Hendriksen finished a doctorate at Princeton before joining the faculty at Calvin Theological Seminary. When he died in 1982, he had written substantial commentaries on over half the books of the New Testament. His fascination with the book of Revelation continued throughout his life, and he gave special attention to it as part of the translating committee for the New International Version.

Hendrickson’s book was the very first manuscript published by Baker Book House. It has remained in print ever since and is a deserving of it’s 75th anniversary commemorative edition. The resetting of its text is a notable improvement from previous iterations.

Hendrickson divides the book into seven parallel sections. Throughout, he models a careful reading and attentive reading of the text. Few will follow him on each of his amillennial, modified idealistic interpretations (this is the book of Revelation, after all), but all would benefit from his labors.

D. A. Carson’s review of the book may seem dismissive (“It is now entirely eclipsed by more recent commentaries”), but Carson’s comments must be seen in light of his intended audience—pastor and scholars. G. K. Beale’s commentary on Revelation in the highly technical NIGNT series claims to be “heavily indebted to the labors of prior commentators, especially Hendriksen …. One could say that my work follows in the tradition of these commentaries” (xx).

Indeed, if a believer is looking for a reliable guide to join their own reading of the text of the Book of Revelation, I know of no better accompanist than More Than Conquerors.

Book Review: The New Pastor’s Handbook

Looking for that perfect graduation gift? If the graduate you love just completed seminary, I have great news: your searching is done.

Baker Publishing just released a new book by Jason Helopoulos entitled The New Pastor’s Handbook: Help and Encouragement for the First Years of Ministry. From the very first page, it is obvious that Helopoulos has heard a lot of tried-and-true ministry advice, and it is obvious he has paid attention.

This book’s particular strength, though, is pitching classic pastoral advice directly at the new pastor. Certainly, a newly minted MDiv graduate will have Spurgeon’s and Lloyd-Jones’ books for ministers on their shelves. But with 48 chapters in under 200 pages, Helopoulos’ book will be the one they actually read. The New Pastor’s Handbook feels a bit like a “blog you can hold.” And this fits its target demographic well.

No book can cover every topic. For example, I would have liked to have read Helopoulos’ thoughts regarding personal and corporate evangelism. But each chapter clear and candid, well-conceived and well-written. And when you pair these meditations with the outstanding bibliography, you have a wonderful resource to give to your new pastor.

This past week’s service at Bethlehem Baptist Church, downtown campus

Some of my twitter friends have asked for a copy of our service. Here’s last weekend. The songs can be heard here, and the sermon (EXCELLENT!) can be seen here.

Glorious and Mighty

Pastoral Welcome and Announcements

Be Unto Your Name
Psalm 62

Ps. 3:1-4 (Responsive Scriptural Reading)

Pastoral Prayer of Confession (this week adapted from language found in Prone To Wander):

O Lord,

We confess that we are needy people. Some of us are surrounded by foes that oppose us while others are surrounded by circumstances that overwhelm us. And so we are tempted to turn to many saviors, but this [evening/morning], Lord, we turn to you. We recognize that you are the only one who is able to save. When we sin, we live as though Christ never left the tomb. Too often, in the deadness of our flesh, we live as though he too is dead.

But, Lord Jesus, you are alive this [evening/morning]. By the power of your indestructible life, show mercy to your needy people. Spirit, impress upon us the reality of what we cannot see—Jesus, God’s king, has been set on God’s holy hill, bearing scars that proclaim the greatness of his sacrifice and the greatness of his love for us. In his name we pray, Amen.

Have Mercy on Me

Isaiah 41:8-10 (Responsive Scriptural Reading)

He Will Hold Me Fast

Pastoral Prayer of Praise (extemporaneous)

Jesus I My Cross Have Taken

Sermon Text Reading: Psalm 3
“Salvation Belongs to the Lord” Psalm 3 (Jason Meyer)

CLOSING SONG: Made Me Glad – Miriam Webster

Newton on suffering ministers

“For the like reason He appoints his ministers to be sorely exercised, both from without and within, that they may sympathize with their flock, and know in their own hearts the deceitfulness of sin, the infirmities of the flesh, and the way in which the Lord supports and bears with all the trust Him. Therefore be not discouraged: usefulness and trials, comforts and crosses, strengths and exercise go together. But remember He has said, ‘I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee; be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.’ When you get to heaven, you will not complain of the way by which the Lord brought you.”

Looking forward to Tony Reinke’s new book on Newton. This quote is from this pdf, page 45.