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Why are we in this mess?

One of the most frequent questions I get as I travel the country or through email is why I think worship has so many problems today. The simple answer is sin–worship has always had problems because worshipers are sinners.

But there are, I think, specific reasons for the current problems we face today, problems that we should trace and seek to solve. That is one of the burdens that drives my ministry.

One of the most significant reasons for problems with worship today, among many others, has to do with pastors and their leadership (or lack thereof) in worship.

The first problem that occurred in this regard is that many, if not most, pastors gave over the leadership of worship to theologically untrained and often spiritually unqualified individuals. As long as the church musicians got people into the seats and left plenty of time for the sermon, pastors were happy.

More recently, however, I have observed more and more pastors taking back this lost leadership role, and for this I am very thankful. Pastors are the primary leaders of churches, and they should be, therefore, the primary leaders of worship. Worship is, after all, one of the most important acts of a church, an act that shapes the beliefs, affections, and morals of God’s people. Pastors must oversee the worship of the church.

Yet during the period in which pastors gave little attention to worship another problem occurred: education in the arts and in the history of worship fell away from necessary pastor training. While a full liberal arts education, complete with studies in music and poetry, was part of the expected curriculum for ministers, this is no longer the case.

Thus, while pastors are thankfully recognizing their leadership role in the worship of the church, they are nevertheless as unqualified in many important areas related to worship as the church musicians were in theology. This has led to different, but equally significant, problems with worship.

In the first issue of The Artistic Theologian, a scholarly journal that I helped to edit and publish, Kevin Bauder addresses this very issue. He suggests that pastors must, indeed, be trained in worship and music. He argues this thesis by presenting a series of nine propositions:

  1. Pastors Lead by Example and Teaching
  2. Pastors Must Teach the Whole Faith
  3. The Faith Centers upon the Greatest Commandment
  4. The Great Commandment Is About Worship
  5. Worship Involves Affection
  6. Affection Grows from Imagination
  7. Affection Results in Expression
  8. Worshipful Expression Employs Music
  9. Worship Music Must Be True

In short, part of a pastor’s responsibility to lead and teach involves in the areas of worship and music. Bauder concludes,

Pastors bear a heavy responsibility. They oversee the flock of God (Acts 20:28). They participate in building God’s temple (1 Cor 3:10). They labor in God’s field, the church (1 Cor 3:8–9).

Pastors lead churches. Their tools of leadership are their example and their teaching. As they teach, they must neglect nothing of God’s counsel, but must communicate his entire purpose to their churches.

God’s ultimate design—his purpose in both creation and redemption—is to fill the moral universe with worshipers. The true worshipers of God are those who come to love him with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. In order to love God so fully, they must imagine God rightly.

True worshipers must also express their worship ordinately. One of the principal mechanisms through which right responses are both shaped and expressed is hymnody, which combines the arts of music and poetry. Hymnody is a powerful tool of teaching and response.

All of these matters fall under the pastor’s purview. He cannot simply shrug off the responsibility by asking someone else to assume it. Since he is responsible for the church’s worship, and since the church’s worship is so greatly influenced by its music and poetry, the pastor must be sufficiently learned to make discerning judgments about these areas. A pastor who cannot judge these matters wisely will not be able to lead his flock to love God rightly. He will be like the preacher who never studied Greek or Hebrew—always forced to rely upon somebody else’s work, and always at the mercy of somebody else’s opinion. His ministry will always be secondary and derivative. He can hope only to be a faithful echo rather than a thoughtful voice. Useful as such echoes may be in some settings, pastors need to find their own voices. Let them be learned men: learned in Scripture, learned in theology, learned in worship, and learned in poetry and music.

Martin Luther once said that he would not ordain a man to ministry who was not trained in music. He so recognized the power of music and its importance in worship that he expected ministers to have at least some knowledge in it.

I have always believed that a seminary curriculum for future pastors should have at least one course in Christian worship, a class that deals with the history of worship and culture. It wouldn’t solve every problem, but it would be a start.

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is director of doctoral worship studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.