When it comes to worshipping God the immediate reality which springs to mind is the necessity for being led in worship. For I know my own heart, how cold and stubborn it can be to the gospel reality; how distracted it can become from thinking heavenly thoughts and how blurred and far away God can appear when the worries and cares of this life loom large. When worshipping God I know my heart should melt and overflow with love and joy and a holy awe but instead there can be nothing but doubt and unbelief. Christ should be my all in all not my occasional vague thought.
I need to be led into worship: my heart coaxed into a better frame of mind, my eyes taken off this world and set upon heavenly things and my faith stoked into greater flames that burn away the shards of doubt so that zeal for the Lord overcomes me.
This is no small task. And it strikes me as odd that there are people who would claim to be worship leaders. For it is not a position easily filled. Indeed, it is a position with only one qualified person available for to fill it. Our only worship leader is Jesus Christ.
One of the major themes in Hebrews is on the role of Christ as our High Priest, as the Mediator between God and man. As both fully human and fully God he can act on our behalf. In chapter 2 there's a wonderful little verse which says: "And again he [Jesus] says, 'Here am I, and the children God has given me.'" (2v13) I love the picture this paints of Jesus ushering us all into the courts of heaven and saying to his Father, "look, here am I, your beloved son, and see, here are the rest of your children, welcome them as you welcome me." We need such a priest who can present us before God in such a way.
For it is Christ, who by his Spirit, leads us in worship. He has promised to meet with us: "For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them." (Matthew 18v20) and he keeps his promise. In Hebrews it records for us another line Jesus says to his Father: "I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters; in the assembly I will sing your praises." (2v12) Not only does Jesus identify with us, or rather identity us with him, he also promises to sing with us.
Such is Christ's function as our High Priest. He leads in worship, and by his Spirit, he stirs up our love, faith and hope. His blood covers our sinful state, it covers our wanderings away, it covers the fact that we can never worship God as he deserves or as we would like to, it covers every cold and unbelieving thought. Jesus meets us in our weakness, he sings with us, he prays for us and he is there in the preaching of the Word. Christ is at the heart of our worship, leading us to the throne, where we bow and join in the heavenly chorus. It is through Christ that we can worship God with a freedom and a confidence, we can praise our Father knowing that Christ is there covering our inadequacy, indeed, all our adequacy rests on the adequacy of Christ.
What is the worship service you can recall that most profoundly moved you? I bet there's a whole host of answers, a whole variety of different circumstances and occasions but each will have one common theme. In the words of Mr Ferguson, we experience the fact that: "Christ is wonderfully present". Isn't that what we long for? Isn't that what we need?
It is only when we consider the excellence and extent of all that Christ does for us as our worship leader that the modern habit of calling those who facilitate the musical accompaniment of praise 'worship leader' becomes suitably odd and rather unwise. Many might immediately object that names are not important yet presumably they would also object if their minister went around calling himself the Prince of Peace. Or to use a better analogy: the Holy Spirit is the Comforter but we would be wrong to give that title to a preacher even if he did preach a sermon that was comforting.
Those who facilitate musical praise are not leaders, they exist only to serve the church, in that sense they are 'music servants' rather than 'worship leaders'. For to lead another in worship is a supernatural job for it requires the lifting of the soul to heaven. Only Christ by his Spirit can perform such a job.
It can be argued that most 'worship leaders' are fully aware of this and know themselves only to be facilitators of musical praise, wholly and completely reliant on the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit. This is well and good but then it begs the question: why be called something you're not? For many the answer is simply: tradition, because that's the done thing today. But tradition can be a fickle mistress and such a profound and weighty title should only be reserved for Christ alone.
Some might also argue that it is only nitpicking and it doesn't really matter. But names are more important than is often assumed. If, when we are asked: who leads you in worship? We think of some mere fellow Christian and not our glorious Saviour then we think about worship wrongly. A bad name can be a product of bad theology. An accurate notion of what is needed to lead a sinful soul in worship is surely enough to convince any man that claiming such a title is pretension to an office he does not and cannot hold. Can we imagine any one other than Christ filling such a role as to lead his people in worshiping the living God? Being a worship leader is so much more than we make it and so much more demanding than can possibly be humanly born. As it is said of Jesus Christ:
"Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. "
Hebrews 10 v 19 - 23