For all Christians, the coronavirus pandemic of 2019-2020 was disruptive at best, devastating at worst. One of the byproducts of this pandemic was churches, for those willing and able, moving their services totally online in submission to the governing authorities’ social distancing regulations (Rom. 13). It is a magnificent kindness of God towards a congregation for them to have the financial and human resources to produce a live streamed service. How then, should worship leaders be thinking about their ministry in the cultural moment where we are unable to gather corporately?
This answer may surprise you.
The answer: Very little should change in your thinking about planning services and ministering to your congregation (aside from the technical challenges of producing a recorded service).
The caveat: Provided that the right lenses were in place regarding how we viewed our ministry “pre-pandemic”.
The real answer: Now is the time to truly transition from being a song leader, to a shepherd.
Due to the tectonic shift that has come to how churches in the western world must do church, now more than ever, worship leaders must truly seek to shepherd and care for the hearts of the people they serve. Expertly curated experiences are no longer possible. Having the best band in town will not help them endure the pains of isolation and loss. Worship leaders must seek to truly minister to (attend to the needs of) their people by helping them engage with the Living God through singing.
How can a worship leader effectively shepherd their people during this time?
Personal Ministry: Active Engagement and Intentional Service
In some churches, worship leaders are pastors or elders of their church. In others, they function in a diaconal role. In others, they are a contract employee with responsibilities that do not extend beyond corporate gatherings. Regardless of the specific nature of the role, worship leaders must seek to actively engage with the people they lead in order to know serve them in the most helpful ways.
This kind of active engagement looks no different than the normal call from God to His church: to be people of love who minister to one another. Instead of coffee meet-ups, now we reach out to individuals through video chat or a phone call. It is here that we learn about the particular challenges they face, their job situation, the loss of a friend or family member, the challenges of working from home while home-schooling children, the conflict that arises between roommates, etc. This active engagement is the only way to know the specific needs of the people of the church.
Once people have been actively engaged, they can be intentionally served. Once the needs are known, the needs can be met. The call of the worship leader does not end with the singing of songs. As one learns the lives of the people they are called to serve, their leading through song becomes all the more effective and specifically tailored to their congregation.
Fruitful Corporate Leading: The Overflow of Personal Ministry
As a worship leader learns the needs of their people, prays for them, and seeks to materially help them, their understating of the most helpful way to lead worship via video will grow. They will know whether it will be most helpful to continue using a full band for their online service or to go acoustic, whether to pre-record the service or broadcast it live, whether to sing songs of lament or songs of joy, what Scripture reading would be most meaningful, what keys they should sing in to encourage people to participate from their couches. They will know what to say, and in what tone of voice to speak. A worship leader’s personal ministry to the individual people who make up a congregation will overflow into their corporate leadership.
When worship leaders know their people, they no longer lead a nameless mass of people in a room. In fact, due to this global pandemic, they can’t even do that anymore. As they engage in personal ministry, worship leaders will think of the individual faces and names on the other side of the camera they are singing into; the elderly widow who has their groceries delivered because they are afraid to go outside, the single dad hoping that the city extends the eviction ban so he won’t be homeless after losing his job, the alcoholic who has more free time to "fall off the horse" than ever before.
Fruitfulness and Messiness Go Together
Now is the perfect time to make the move from singer, to singing-shepherd. To see that a call to ministry extends beyond your call to public ministry, and must include personal, private, "in the mud" kind of ministry like Jesus. Proverbs 14:4 says “Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but an abundant harvest comes through the strength of an ox.” We all desire fruitful ministry. But Solomon says that the messiness of an ox accompanies fruitfulness. When we do not engage in the real stuff of people’s lives, things are more manageable, but there will be less fruit.
During a time of global pandemic, when churches are unable to gather, worship leaders are not prohibited from fruitful ministry. Rather, they now have the chance to uniquely pursue personal ministry in new and meaningful ways that will bear fruit that lasts. What’s more, a paradigm for ministry, that includes both public and personal ministry, will only find greater opportunity when the church is able to gather together again.
Until then, may you greatly rejoice in the grace of Jesus, though for right now we are grieved by various trials. These trials have come so that your faith may be proved genuine and result in praise from God.
Questions For Reflection
- In what ways have you failed to see ministry extending beyond the role of worship leader?
- Has executing tasks or producing a quality service been the sole focus of your ministry?
- Who are the people in your church who you can reach out to with encouragement and help?
- Who in your congregation can you get to know better during this season of social distancing and quarantine?
- In what ways have you avoided the messiness of personal ministry by doing too much public ministry?
- The Worship Pastor: A Call To Ministry for Worship Leaders and Teams – Zac Hicks
- Speaking the Truth in Love: Counsel in Community – David Powlison
- When the Church Was a Family – Joseph Hellerman
- Producing Worship: A Theology of Church Technical Arts – Josiah Way
- Worship Matters – Bob Kaughlin