The Worship Leader as Servant

Servanthood is a powerful leadership tool. This is because, in serving others, the worship leader becomes like Jesus and walks the path that led to his glorification through obedience. Worship leaders serve God first, then their church’s leadership, their worship team, and their congregation.

When his disciples began to vie with one another for positions, Jesus told them, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:25–28). In those few words, Jesus was stating a great leadership principle.

The Power of Servanthood

If you have learned to serve, you are bound for kingdom success. In fact, servanthood is such a powerful leadership tool that it works in any organization, whether church-related or not. There are at least two reasons why serving has such great power: It replicates the life of Jesus, and it puts us on the same path as Jesus.

Serving Replicates the Life of Jesus. Becoming more and more like Jesus is the essence of being Christians. And the more like him we become, the more we will be able to do his works. (See Jesus’ complete sermon on this subject in John 13–16.)

A major part of becoming like him is becoming servants. Jesus commands us to follow him in servanthood. After he washed their feet, Jesus told his disciples, “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them” (John 13:13–17). The foot washing has significance beyond its obvious lesson in humility. In Jesus’ day, washing the feet of guests was a common courtesy, much like helping someone off with his or her jacket would be in our time. It demonstrates that the leader is not above taking care of the ordinary needs of his staff.

Clearly, the servant-attitude on our part is an attitude that would please our Lord Jesus. Pleasing him is the roadway to kingdom power, for in the great miracle chapter, John 14, Jesus said, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him” (John 14:21). Our hearts’ desire is to have God show himself to us in our worship services. Obedient servant-leadership is surely an avenue for that to happen.

Serving Puts Us on the Same Path as Jesus. Another reason why serving has such great power is that it puts us on the same path that led to the glorification of Jesus. Jesus was exalted by God because he was first a servant. God commands us to

do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests but also to the interests of others.

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus, who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2:3–11)

We Get Back What We Give

Imagine the power of a worship team that is composed of servants who desire nothing more than to glorify God and bless his church. In your role as leader, you can build such a team—not just by teaching on servanthood, but by being an example to the team.

Unfortunately, many people who come into leadership in the church think that leading is synonymous with throwing your weight around. But that destructive mentality must be replaced with obedient servanthood, in which we place God’s will above all else and serve one another at every opportunity. Jesus promised, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Luke 6:38). According to Jesus, therefore, if we give servanthood, we will receive servanthood back. We generate a giving people. Thus, the servant-leader is able to accomplish what the domineering leader can only long for—a serving people.

Targeting Your Serving

Let’s now consider the target of your serving, and how to accomplish your servant-leadership.

The Worship Leader Serves God. It seems almost unnecessary to mention that you serve God. But we can lose sight of the basics because of our tendency to worship at the shrine of the extraordinary. The chief target of your ministrations is God. You are not the entertainer of a human audience. You are first and foremost a servant of the Most High God, to bring him pleasure. Then you can lead people where you have been. Your primary calling is to get close to the heart of God and to minister to him according to his desires.

You Serve the Church’s Leadership. Worship leaders who try to enhance their own position at the expense of the other leaders in the church are clearly out of God’s order. To use the incredible power of music and worship for selfish ends is utterly reprehensible. Rather, you will use your gifts to support the total ministry of the church. If that ministry is utterly unworthy of support and seems entirely unredeemable, then ask the Lord for a release to join another congregation.

Because music and worship have such a profound impact on the total life of the church, you can serve the other leaders by staying in close contact with them. Ideally, you should be involved in the top-level leadership of the church, where you can find out what the spiritual and strategic needs of the church are.

For example, let’s suppose that the church is planning a missionary outreach to Mexico. If you are involved in planning, you can be seeking God for ways to prophesy life into that vision from your position as a worship leader. God can give you creative ways to keep that vision before the saints.

You Serve Your Team. Serving your team means that you will see yourself as their supporter, equipping them to do their job well. Years ago, Larry Christenson said, “The sign of a successful leader is a successful staff” (A Message to the Charismatic Movement [Minneapolis: Bethany Fellowship, 1972]). Promoting, empowering, encouraging, training, equipping your team—these are the hallmarks of a professional leader. My church is singularly blessed to have as a worship leader one who runs a tight ship. Commitment is very high. But his team knows that he will “go to bat” for them regarding their needs. Partly because of his commitment, our team has some of the finest sound equipment available today. They have a place of honor in our church and exert a positive influence at every age level and in every facet of our ministry.

A good leader will also “take the heat.” You will shield your team from the many “well-meaning dragons” that come with their hundreds of mutually exclusive “suggestions” and complaints. You will see to it that your team is answerable to you, before other leaders in the church. You will be your team’s advocate at church budget time; you will plead the team’s cause to have money allocated for instruments, sound equipment, tuition, and expense payments so that your team can attend worship conferences and so forth.

You Serve the People. Finally, you are a servant to the congregation. Your purpose is to lead them into the manifest presence of God. You occupy a prophetic role and serve the congregation by leading and equipping them for true, spiritual worship. But if you are the servant-leader, you will be careful to lead the people with compassion and understanding. I have seen some musicians lead with a chip on their shoulders. They have an agenda. Their attitude is, “I’m going to teach you how to worship if it kills you.” For example, I had a classmate in seminary who was very intellectual and deeply involved in liturgical worship. At graduation time, he asked for a call to a rural church somewhere in the Midwest. Since that seemed incongruous with his worship interest, the administration asked him why he would want such a call. His answer? “I want to teach those peasants how to really worship!” Needless to say, his request was declined.

As a servant-leader, you will find out what your congregation’s musical tastes, abilities, and worship skills are. Then, rather than looking at how much they are lacking, you will gratefully build on what they already have. You will stretch them without breaking them.

A New Standard for Leadership

This is an hour in which God is raising a new standard for leadership. The days of leadership by egomania are gone. God is looking for leaders whom he can trust to replicate the life and style of Jesus, for to such leaders he will gladly send people. He is looking for churches that are safe for struggling Christians, where their leaders will care about the flock more than about themselves. If you will answer that call, you can take your place on the cutting edge of what God is doing today. Answer now, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” (1 Sam. 3:9).

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