Our heritage is a heritage of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, which reconciles sinners to God and to one another. Proof is in the singing.
The purpose of this post is to share our thinking behind the search for a full-time Worship Director and to unite our church in those plans. We may not begin a public search for many months or perhaps another year or two—more on the budget and timing later in this post. But now is a good time to lay some groundwork for when that time comes.
If I had to boil our purpose in this search down to a sentence, I would. But I’m glad to borrow one from the Apostle Paul instead: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col. 3:16).
We don’t need a full-time leader to sing together, among the other things we do—not hardly. Our joy and our unity come from our full-time gospel and it’s already good and paid for. And as we all know, we are well served by our lead musician and pianist, Deanna Moore, Pastor Abe who leads us vocally, and many other church-loving brothers and sisters. In Deanna’s words, “I love to help our church sing her faith.” That is happening. I thank the Lord often for our team and for how well you sing.
But there are some good long-term reasons to prioritize this role for our church. What follows is more than an informational update, but biblical instruction for a healthy transition when the time comes. We’ll work this out with four questions.
The Only Thing on God’s Calendar
The first question is this: What is the role of our Sunday Gathering in God’s plan? We have lots of things on our calendar as a church. But there is only one thing God put there for the new covenant community: church on Sunday. Like a ripple from a rock landing in water, the church’s repeated movement together for worship and out to the world gives evidence to the power of the resurrection (Lk. 24:1; Acts 20:7).
The gathering plays a central role in God’s plan to magnify his name among us. Gathering together is not a practical efficiency in our pursuit of personal piety. For Christians in other lands, it would be far safer to stay home and pray. For American Christians it would be more convenient to podcast sermons and listen to playlists. But there is a reason we come together: because God brings things together that would otherwise stay apart because of sin, selfishness, alienation, and every other effect of sin’s curse.
People come together for all kinds of reasons: sports, a political rally, or a good movie. The bonds in each case are as strong and as lasting as the thing that binds them. When the church comes together on the Lord’s Day, we make visible the invisible and unbreakable bond that we share in the gospel.
In this, our coming together previews the great coming together of all things in the age come. Our coming together says there is life and love in this world of death and destruction. We gather as living stones being build up into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. In all of this we proclaim the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light (1Pet. 2:5, 9).
The gathering plays a central role in God’s plan to magnify his name among us, but also through us. The whole point of preaching the gospel where Christ has not been named is to establish worshiping communities. As Matthew Ellison puts it, churches that have big passion for worship have big passion for missions. Churches established for God’s worship is why we go to the nations.
Here’s what all this means: the Lord’s Day gathering isn’t just a central part of God’s plan; these meetings are the central point of God’s plan. Worshiping communities are why God sent Jesus into the world, and worshiping communities are why we send one another to the end of the earth. Everything God does flows to and from this item on our calendars.
How God Works
If the gathering is central to God’s plan, then the Word is central to the gathering. So, what is the role of the Word of God in the church’s gathering? The Word of God on the lips of his people of God is how God calls, creates, sustains, sanctifies, comforts, encourages, and preserves us to the end.
One delivery system for the Word is preaching. Paul boiled Timothy’s job down to one task: “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2Tim. 4:2). At Heritage our pulpit anchors our church to the Word and directs our ministry by the Word. We let the shape and aim of the text direct the shape and argument of our sermons. We work through books of the Bible as the wisest way to keep the Holy Spirit in the driver’s seat and our ourselves out of the way. We trust that the balance of Scripture will address the balance of our life and mission over the long-haul.
But there are other delivery systems. Paul told Timothy, “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture” (1Tim. 4:13). To two churches he told them to sing:
And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart —Ephesians 5:18, 19
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God —Colossians 3:16
Singing isn’t just for the birds. How kind is our Lord to create us as singing beings and then to give us a reason to sing! Singing is the sound of Christ’s victory over the grave. Singing is spiritual warfare. It’s the sound of hearts filled with truth in a world filled with lies. It’s the sound of thankfulness in an ungrateful age. It’s the sound of sinners who get along in a world that doesn’t know how. It’s the sound of heaven on earth. It’s an invitation to search out where this sound is coming from that leads sinners to an empty tomb.
Now, we’re ready to answer a third question: what is the role of the Worship Director in our Church?
In Search of The Right Man for Our Church
There is always the temptation at this point to start thinking about music and instruments and genre. But that is getting things in the wrong order. It’s like hiring a chef with a priority on the presentation before the substance. The texts we speak, the prayers we pray, and the songs we sing are a deeply theological and pastoral responsibility. These are the truths that set us up for the sermon and get us home to heaven. We want to start with the priorities given to us by God and trust him to bless that. At our best, this has been our desire as a church, so let’s keep it.
For most of Heritage’s history we have had two staff roles devoted to the design and leadership of our Sunday gatherings. The Pastor for Preaching and Teaching oversees the service with responsibility for what we hear and sing and say together when we meet. But a second pastor-type role is a crucial partner in this.
That second role is given to several tasks. First, he develops our readings and cultivates our song collection. Second, he designs our orders of service week-to-week, shaping our gatherings with the gospel. In addition, he develops the teams involved in executing our Sunday gatherings. That includes musicians and ensembles, tech teams, and others. When we’re led on Sunday there are a variety of individuals working in a coordinated fashion. If it looks easy, that took work. Finally, this individual also provides public leadership at our Sunday gatherings both personally and in his development of other leaders. The exact way this all looks depends on the man and how he and the Preaching Pastor complement one another. But that’s a general sketch.
For all these reasons, we are committed to looking for the right man for our church. So, who is the right man for Heritage?
A Man with The Right Doctrine and Character
He must be the right man in several respects, first in terms of his theology and his character. Both are non-negotiables for this type of role: “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1Tim. 4:16). Given the public nature of his leadership, this man must meet the qualifications for eldership found in 1 Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:5–9. He must be a proven example to the flock in his character, humble, able to work under authority with joy, and a patient laborer for the church’s unity. He must love the church of the Lord Jesus Christ and his plan to manifest his grace and glory in the assembly of local churches. This role will begin as a director role but is intended, in the years ahead, to mature into an elder/pastor role. As with the rest of our director and pastor team, he will be involved in all of the normal pastoral care functions and may wear a few hats.
A Skilled Leader of Musicians and Gatherings
The right man for our church will have a few skills. He will be able to lead us vocally on Sundays with warmth, confidence, and clarity—likely from a piano or guitar. He will be more than a musician but a developer of ensembles, arrangements, and leaders for the unique purpose of congregational worship. He will have his own musical wheelhouse, but he should be able to leverage the unique strengths of both classical and band ensembles. He will have an approach to music that is modest because we are jealous to guard the congregation’s voice in worship, enhancing so that music helps the church make melody in her heart, excellent so that we are not distracted, and expressive because we sing to a God of manifold glory and grace. He will also be selective when it comes to the tunes we sing considering the nature of the human voice and our unique voice as a church, while stretching us musically. He will have a basic proficiency in the dynamics of live sound, monitoring, and the various technical aspects involved in large gatherings like ours.
A Good Fit
He needs to be a theological fit, aligned in his understanding of the church and her gathering in God’s plan. Then, there are some obvious intangibles with a hire like this. Is he a relational and philosophical fit with our Preaching Pastor? Is he a good fit with our key musicians and leaders? Is he a good fit for a multi-staff church like ours in a region like ours? Is he a fit with our ministry ethos and emphases? This is a staff director hire and not a hire directly to an elder role and for that reason it will not involve a congregational vote. But we’ll be gathering input from you in some thoughtful ways which we’ll share when the time comes.
A Word About Music While We’re at It
As I said recently, I have made a covenant with the Lord not to answer questions about instruments. I’ll add genre to that too. But I’m glad to speak generally to the topic of music.
First, music is from God and it is good. It’s hard to imagine the world and life without music. Apparently, God didn’t want us to. We don’t only praise him for it, but we praise him with it (Ps. 150). Of course, like all things lovely in this world, we have to be vigilant. Music is great but it’s a terrible God. So, we should make music without making too much of it. God is God and music is music.
Second, music is a blessed means of instruction and expression. By it we “[address] one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with [our hearts]” (Eph. 5:18). By it God impresses truth on our hearts as we sing our faith to one another. And by singing we express or hearts to him. This is why we want to artfully work to match the tunes to the texts we’re singing so that they hold out the truth in ways that fit that truth. We do not want to manipulate emotions with music. We want to oxygenate our faith with melody that carries truth to the heart and from the heart to God.
Third, music is not necessary for true worship. Jesus Christ and his perfect work are all we need to worship God with reverence and awe (1 Tim. 2:5; Heb. 12:28). If we hear ourselves saying, “I can’t worship God without a certain kind of music,” then we understand neither God, nor worship, nor music. We should be able to ditch our instruments and unplug our sound system and get along just fine because Jesus is with us when we gather (Matt. 18:20). Music doesn’t bring us into God’s presence, Jesus does. (Heb. 10:22). Let’s exalt our gracious Lord by embracing a less spiritually charged understanding of music.
Fourth, music is a gift, but it is not a spiritual gift. We are a church with members with many skills, from music to medicine. Sometimes I’ll hear, “I need to be able to serve with my musical gift.” I can appreciate the best spirit in which this comment is made, but this is not a biblical way to think either about our musical skills, the Spirit’s gifts, or about our role in the church.
Fifth, at its best music in the context of corporate worship can be both familiar and stretching. At Heritage, we are happy for our gatherings to be culturally anchored, to feel like us and our home—we want that for foreign peoples too. Jesus will have voices of every kind around his throne in the age to come which means each church can have its own voice in the age we’re in. On the other hand, flexibility can be a sign of health. It can be a sign that we’ve embraced an expansive vision of God’s glory and mission. It can be a sign that we treasure the objective gospel over our subjective tastes. As long as we don’t make musical variety into a new law, it can be a sign that we haven’t elevated our human traditions over God’s eternal Word.
Sixth, music is great, Jesus is greater. Take heart, friends, in this process you won’t hear any strained arguments about what God deserves or what our witness demands. We do not have to be all things to all people, or any one thing for God. He would have told us. Instead, you’ll hear a lot about what Christ has done for sinners and how that makes us sing. In the absence of Apostolic teaching on musical instruments and genre, music is a judgment call for every congregation. That judgment depends a good bit on who is hanging around here, what we can do well together musically, and who is leading. A new worship director will bring his own touch to the place. Let’s look forward to that.
The right man will share the right agenda for our church: to sing big truth with big heart.
Your Role as Members in this Process
Now, a final question: what is your role in this process? We want our Lord to smile on our church in this process. Here are four things we can do that we believe will invite his blessing.
First, Let’s Pray for The Right Man
Let’s pray for the Lord to provide the right man. The man is more important than the music. Remember Paul’s words to Timothy, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1Tim. 4:16).
Second, Let’s Love One Another More than The Music We Like the Most
We’re getting better at this all the time. Remember that verse about letting Christ dwell in us richly by singing to one another? Here’s what Paul wrote to that church just before that: “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful” (Col. 3:12–16). That’s the kind of church we’ll want to invite our neighbors to. It’s the kind of church we’ll want to raise our kids in. And it’s the kind of church the right man for this job will want to give his life to. So, let’s love him in advance by loving one another well.
Third, Let’s Grow in Budget and Sound Doctrine
We will start a public search for this role when the budget allows. In any given year we can only budget as much as came in the previous year. This commitment protects us from making presumptuous decisions. But it also means that we have to work strategically as a whole church in a scenario like this, where we would like to do something new. So, as we shared at the Family Meeting on February 28, we are asking you to partner as a church in raising our budget by $2,000 per week from here through the end of the fiscal year, the close of September. That will allow us to launch a public search for this role. The funds that we raise in this process will be dedicated to seeing our Lord worshiped among the Riau Melayu people, our newly adopted unreached people.
Let’s give to the budget, but let’s also grow in sound doctrine. Yes, that is a pun. Here are some suggestions for growing in your understanding of God’s purposes and instructions for our gathering. Watch or listen to Bob Kauflin’s excellent podcast Sound+Doctrine. Read Kauflin’s book for worship leaders, Worship Matters: Leading Others to Encounter the Greatness of God. Read Matt Merker’s new book on a theology of the church gathered, Corporate Worship: How the Church Gathers as God’s People. For a deeper dive in how the church has worshiped down the ages, read Bryan Chappell’s volume, Christ-Centered Worship. For help in connecting the gospel to the patterns of life and our life and worship as a church, read Mike Cosper’s, Rhythms of Grace: How the Church’s Worship Tells the Story of the Gospel. Listen to a sermon on singing from Colossians 3:15–17, “Christ-Centered Community.”
Finally, Let’s Worship While We Wait
There’s nothing keeping us from singing our hearts out right now. You are proving that every Sunday. Keep showing up and keep it going.
As we wait for a more vocationally devoted leader, we want to invest in our Sunday musicians and teams. In that vein, you’re invited to join us for a Hymn Sing on Sunday evening, April 11. We’ll host a weekend workshop for our Sunday musicians, and this will bring that weekend to a conclusion. We’ll have a guest in to run this workshop and lead us in singing through that weekend. More on this in the weeks ahead.
I look forward to seeing you and hearing you this Lord’s Day.