IBW Interview Series: Jonathan Welch

This time in the IBW Interview series we interviewed Jonathan Welch from The Summit Church in Durham, North Carolina.  Jonathan serves as worship pastor at The Summit Church.  

What books have been the most influential in shaping your understanding of corporate worship?

The books that I recommend the most frequently to worship leaders:

·      Worship Matters – Bob Kauflin

·      For the Glory of God – Dan Block

·      Music Through the Eyes of Faith – Harold Best

·      Rhythms of Grace – Mike Cosper

In addition, a few more that have impacted my personal understanding of worship:

·      Center Church – Tim Keller

·      Recalling the Hope of Glory – Allen Ross

·      Engaging With God – David Peterson

·      Gospel – J.D. Greear

If you could go back in time and give yourself 2 or 3 pieces of advice as a young worship leader, what would they be?

Godliness with contentment is great gain (1 Timothy 6:6). Contentment is a realistic and unexpected struggle for many. Your identity is determined solely by the steadfast love of God for you in the gospel, not in what you do or what you accomplish for God’s glory. When fighting for joy and contentment, you are never truly alone in Christ. Pray the Psalms. For example, Psalm 90:14 and 84:10 have become regular prayers in my life. 

Measure excellence as stewardship (Matthew 25:14-30). In a digital age, it’s quite easy to compare yourself and your work to others. I’m indebted to Harold Best and Andreas Köstenberger for teaching me that excellence is about me becoming better than I once was, not in becoming better than someone else.

People are the mission. Thus, worship is not done for the congregation but by the congregation. Regardless of what your title is on Sunday mornings, don’t just lead songs, lead people. That’s what God has called you to as a shepherd from the stage. Love God by faithfully loving his flock.

What process do you go through in designing the weekly order of worship?

I serve in a multisite church, so our worship planning process involves communication and coordination between many pastors and worship leaders. We have a centralized order of worship that could be seen as a monthly liturgical cycle. In the scope of roughly four weeks, we’ll rotate through a sequence of elements, such as: the Lord’s Supper, baptism, commissioning prayers, intercessory prayers, personal testimonies, and extended proclamations and exhortations from the Word. Each week, we’ll have one or two of these elements placed in the order of worship amidst a handful of songs, sermon, offering, pastoral application, and what we call a “missional blessing” (or benediction).

Within this framework, our campus worship leaders choose their own songs from a common list of songs. When I select songs to lead, my first step is to ask God, in addition to the sermon, what he wants to say to his people. As much as possible, I start looking for anchor verses to read with our people in gathered worship. Sometimes this is a verse from our primary sermon text. One goal is to infuse the Word as much as I can, whether that’s as a call to worship up front, as a congregational reading of Scripture, or on the screen during a musical interlude in a song.

Lastly, I’ll sketch out a flow of songs that might serve our people by:

·      Moving us through an intentional progression. For example, as a reminder of the gospel, I often try to start with a song about God’s glory, move to a confession of our sin and our need for a Savior, and then to some expressions that exalt Christ—in his substitutionary death and glorious resurrection.

·      Encouraging congregational participation. We intentionally schedule multiple vocalists on our teams, so we have an opportunity to have capable vocalists carry the melody at different points in the gathering. This approach to shared leadership helps communicate that we are one body and many parts.

·      Adding some variety in our musical expressions. I serve in a multicultural city, so I want to make an intentional effort to select and arrange songs that appeal to worshipers from a variety of backgrounds. Additionally, I try to include a balance of at least one traditional song/hymn, a contemporary song, and a song written for our local congregation.

In what ways do you think corporate gatherings will change in the next ten years?

I’ll throw out a few observations about emerging trends in the broader landscape of worship-related issues.

First, I pray that every local church takes strides by God’s grace to better love and serve communities that are becoming increasingly multicultural and multiethnic. In our efforts as Christians to speak against the prevalence of discrimination and racism, worship leaders must lead multicultural lives and craft liturgies that exalt Christ, demonstrate appreciation for representative cultural diversity, and promote unity as brothers and sisters in Christ.

Second, as the American religious climate changes, cultural Christians are disappearing. As a result, it is paramount for worship leaders to be intentional and intelligible. Intentionality means not assuming our people know what to do, providing directives at the right moments with brevity and strength. Intelligibility means speaking in a way that people—whether Christian or not—can understand and avoiding the insider language of churchy clichés.

Third, for the past twenty-five years, many churches have chosen to fund vocational worship leader staff positions, but the changing dynamics of the American church hint that more and more worship leaders will be bi-vocational or purely volunteer. This doesn’t have to be a negative thing. The role of the vocational worship leader is a modern invention, not a biblical office. So, in the years to come, I expect to see American churches provide more training and resources to non-staff worship leaders.

I’ll also speculate that gender roles will get more attention in nearly every way—including worship. We desperately need a biblical understanding of what it means to be made in the image of God and what it means to be created male and female. For example, from a complementarian perspective, we are asking questions about how we can better encourage women to use their musical and leadership gifts for the edification of the church in gathered worship.

What kinds of safeguards are in your life to protect your marriage and your family?

The most important part is what you preach to yourself. For this reason, I frequently say to myself and our team: “Personal worship and family worship always come before Summit Worship.”

Secondarily, I believe it helps to set some practical expectations with your spouse and your family. My wife and I have regular date nights set on the calendar. We block off regular times each week to reserve as “family time.” We take time to pray through our daily, weekly, and annual rhythms together, as we see our marriage and our family as our primary mission field.

Additionally, I make myself vulnerable and accountable to others. God tells us that those who isolate themselves are unwise (Proverbs 18:1). So, practically, various friends know different aspects of my life and rhythms. The goal is that someone sees every part of my life. I am blessed to have a community—including our staff team—who are quick to take initiative and ask caring questions.

The next installment of the IBW Interview Series will feature Charlie Hall of Frontline Church in Oklahoma City, OK.