Guest Author

Challenges to Think Through as a Worship Pastor

In today’s ever-changing culture, the worship ministry finds itself facing new challenges almost daily. Worship pastors are tasked with planning and executing worship services that speak the unchanging Word of God to a fluid culture. This challenge exemplifies the growing need for intentionality in ministry, since the culture seems to pivot on a dime week-by-week. Not only that, but worship pastors must be ahead of the game in thinking through issues that can and will arise in many of our situations so that they might answer their people's inevitable questions.

Here, we’ve provided a short list of questions for you to ponder to help you think through some of these issues. Our hope is that by engaging with these questions, you’ll be better equipped to serve the needs of your local congregation, whatever the context. Can you point to a biblical passage that speaks truth into each situation? Please note that many of these questions do not have concrete, neatly packaged answers and will often vary from church to church. Our goal is not to endorse one line of reasoning over another, but simply to help you think.

  1. If your church has multiple services, do band members take the Lord’s Supper each service, or just once? How would that affect their example of leadership?
  2. If your church has multiple services, do band members need to sit in the congregation and listen to the sermon every time, or just once? Is it alright for them to sit backstage during one of the service for a bit of reprieve?
  3. If your church has multiple services, do you sing the same “spontaneous” song in each service? Is the song even spontaneous at that point? If you don’t sing it, is this shorting out the other congregants from a powerful time of worship experienced by another portion of the church?
  4. Do you need hard guidelines for what makes a good song, or are you laxer in certain areas if you are desperate and looking for songs to round out your repertoire? How far will you compromise, if you do?
  5. What do you do with songs that you teach your congregation over a few weeks only to begin to realize that its not clicking with them at all? Do you keep singing it, or simply throw it out?
  6. What place do solos have in your service? What makes a solo or small ensemble performance different from a choral anthem? (Related to that, what place, if any, do instrumental solos have during the middle of congregational song?)
  7. How does social media play into your expectations for worship team members? If they post something questionable, do you sideline them? But, nobody’s perfect, right? Do you hold the nursery worker or greeter to the same standard?
  8. Are you okay with singing songs from churches with questionable theology, even if the song itself is gospel-centered and/or theologically sound?
  9. Should you use only the musicians your church has available, or are digital music production programs acceptable? Does Ableton and other looping programs ultimately create an inauthentic atmosphere, or can they meaningfully enhance worship?
  10. Is it inauthentic or culturally dishonest to recontextualize music specifically written for one style and rearrange it to another? For example, changing a black gospel song to a country-bluegrass style? Or adding a funk beat to “Come, Christians Join to Sing?” What’s the line that can’t be crossed between stylistic differences, if there is one?
  11. Is it appropriate to sing in another language if only a subsection of the congregation can speak it? Is there a way to teach non-speakers what the words mean? Can you have the congregation sing in two languages at once?

As you think through some of these questions, what are some other topics and dilemmas that come to mind? Let us know in the comments section. We’d love to hear from you so that we can think through these issues together.


Austin Collins serves as the research assistant at the Institute for Biblical Worship. He and his wife Liz currently lead worship at Harrison Hills Baptist Church in Lanesville, IN, while he pursues his Master of Divinity in Worship Leadership at Southern Seminary.

7 Tips for Writing a Philosophy of Worship

Whether it’s an intricately written document providing guiding principles and goals or it’s a “shotgun” approach of firing off new ideas and hoping you hit the target, every pastor has a ministry philosophy. The same is true for worship ministry. Too often, a culturally-shaped methodology informs our philosophy of worship. Over time, this chips away at theology, and we can find ourselves falling into pragmatism or even unorthodoxy. Instead, what we believe about God must always sculpt our philosophy which then informs our practice. Does doctrine determine what you do?

Have you considered writing a philosophy of worship ministry to use as a guide and check for crafting Christ-centered worship services? Though the task might seem daunting, a written philosophy can prove vital to maintaining integrity in ministry and casting a vision for worship in the congregation. Here are seven tips for writing a philosophy of worship ministry for the local church.

  1. Keep it Trinitarian: If worship is to be Trinitarian in nature, then our definitions of worship should be. Look to Paul’s doxology in Ephesians 1 as a model where he echoes over and over “to the praise of his glory” while describing the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We worship the triune God, and worship that neglects any of the persons is simply unchristian.
  2. Keep it biblical: Let the Word determine your belief and practice. A powerful philosophy of worship oozes Scripture from every pore. If we desire our people to be rooted in the Bible, then our ministries must be as well. Build your ministry upon the Rock of Ages (Matt 7:24-27).
  3. Keep it focused: Avoid tangents or words that might open yourself up to speculation or question. Make every phrase crystal clear. Determine from the outset what the most important aspects of worship ministry are in your local church and stick to them. The old communication adage goes “Say what you’re going to say. Say it. Tell them what you said.” The same is true for writing a concise, focused philosophy of ministry.
  4. Keep it timeless: Avoid common buzzwords that float around in the blogosphere. Write timelessly that your philosophy will endure and be as relevant in 50 years as it is today. Words like “energy” and “experience” will fade from vernacular, but biblical words like “truth” and “gospel” will stand forever (Isa 40:7-8).
  5. Keep it simple: Though you might have a seminary education, most of your congregation will not. Use words that they know and can latch on to. Use these words in your conversations with your bands and choirs and from the platform. They might not know what “hypostatic union” means, but they do know Jesus was “fully God and fully man.” Ministry is about the people, so your philosophy should serve them.
  6. Keep it practical: How does the philosophy you write actively spell out in your local church? Rooting ourselves in the Gospel truth of the Word is paramount, but with faith comes obedience (James 2:14-19). All theology is ultimately practical because it tells us not only who God is but also how to worship and love him. Does your worship philosophy do the same? 
  7. Keep it short: Limit yourself to a two-page document. This is plenty of space to provide short, to-the-point principles. Learn to condense your writing. Make every sentence count and maximize your impact by using specific, detailed wording. Never say in two sentences what you can say in one. Would your philosophy easily fit on your church’s webpage? Could someone interested in visiting your church learn your stance on worship without reading a novel or sending a clarifying e-mail?

So, what about you? Have you thought through your approach to ministry? Do you have a theology of worship guiding the songs you choose, the instrumentation you implement, or the services you craft? Spend some time sitting down and crafting a philosophy for worship ministry informed by and rooted in the Word. Your ministry and people will no doubt benefit from it. You can find a couple of sample philosophies of worship on our website here and here which might help guide your thoughts. We’d also love to hear from you, so feel free to share your philosophy of ministry with us over on the Contact page.

May the Word shape and guide your worship ministry.


Austin Collins serves as the research assistant at the Institute for Biblical Worship. He and his wife Liz currently lead worship at Harrison Hills Baptist Church in Lanesville, IN, while he pursues his Master of Divinity in Worship Leadership at Southern Seminary.

A Sample Vision for Worship and the Creative Arts

Worship and Creative Arts Ministry

Christian worship is both the corporate and private response of a redeemed people to the revelation of the triune God found in the Word, to the glory of the Father, by the mediation of Jesus Christ the Son and his atoning work, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

The church gathers each week united in the Holy Spirit to glorify God the Father through the blood of Christ poured out on Calvary. The gospel shapes corporate worship practice by providing the Christ-centered foundation by which men and women worship God in Spirit and truth for his glory and for their own edification through biblical, congregational elements. The worship pastor’s task, then, is to help provide a renewed glimpse of the gospel each week through biblical and artistically creative means.

Worship should be gospel-shaped, theologically enriching, congregationally driven, missionally focused, and centered on the Word, ultimately uniting believers with Christ and one another in Spirit and truth (John 4:23-24).

Gospel-Shaped Worship

Union with Christ in Spirit results from an authentic encounter with the triune God as the Holy Spirit guides worship of the Father through Christ. Worshipers seeking to engage with God must understand this Trinitarian source, therefore worship must paint a full picture of God, not neglecting any of the persons. Through worshiping Jesus, believers “who [are] joined to the Lord becom[e] one spirit with him” (1 Cor 6:17; cf. John 37b-39a; Rom 6:5). Participating in gospel-shaped worship is one of the primary ways in which believers unify their spirits with Christ. Re-presenting the gospel story of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation each week reminds Christians that “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness … so that through them [we] may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire” (2 Pet 1:3-4). Our spiritual union with Christ through the workings of the Holy Spirit to the glory of the Father leads believers into worship.

Believers are not only unified with Christ through worship, but also with one another since “there is one body and one Spirit – just as [we] were called to the one hope that belongs to [our] call – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph 4:4-6).

Theologically-Enriching Worship

Worship must also be done in truth. Christians gather in worship to impart doctrine to one another through teaching, singing, praying, and artistic endeavors. Paul urged the church in Colossae to “let the word of Christ dwell in [them] richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in [their] hearts to God” (Col 3:16). Music and song are not just about the artistic expression of the worshiper as a response to God’s revelation but also about spiritual formation. The Word of Christ dwells richly among his people when they glorify God and edify one another through song and the arts. We disciple one another by singing the truth, and that truth is the Word of God. Through art, Christians declare truth for the glory of God. The gospel provides the firm foundation on which doctrinally rich, transformative, and fresh encounters with the one, true God take place. The eternal truth of God also connects Christians to the historical and global church.

Congregationally-Driven Worship

Christians congregating for worship are a continuation of the grand story of God’s chosen people living in the world. No Christian is isolated from the narrative of God’s redemptive plan for the world, and corporate worship is a vivid reminder of this fact. Believers of countless backgrounds, races, ethnicities, and cultures gather together to witness one another affirm the same truths and grow from participating in worship, discipling one another in the process. (Rev 7:9-10). True worship of the living God includes the redeemed from every nation and tribe.

Paul also reminds his readers that participation in worship holds utmost importance: “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them” (Rom 12:4-6a). Worship is not passive, but active. Christians should therefore employ their spiritual gifts in service to the Lord and the church body in a variety of ways (Rom 12:1-2).

Missionally-Focused Worship

One of the goals of corporate worship is to put words in the mouth of the people: battle cries, funeral dirges, victory chants, and songs for everything in between, to carry into everyday life and shape our devotion to the Lord. Through personal and corporate encounters with God, Christians are energized to proclaim and live out their faith to a lost and dying world. As Christians worship, the Word of God alone provides the transformative power for Christlikeness in the lives of God’s people. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17).

Word-Centered Worship

The Bible not only provides a clear picture of gospel-shaped worship, but it also regulates the approach to worship. Through the Word, God mandates what must take place during corporate worship. The Bible depicts worship practice through:

  • declaration with song and voice (Ps. 96, 150; 1 Cor 14:15; Eph 5:19; Col 3:16; Titus 2:11-15)
  • praying (Acts 2:42, 4:23-31, Eph 6:18)
  • public reading of Scripture (Ezra 8:3; 1 Tim 4:13)
  • teaching and preaching (Ezra 8:8; Acts 2:42, 5:42; 2 Tim 4:2)
  • service and the giving of resources (Acts 2:44-45; 2 Cor 9:6-7; Phil 4:16)
  • baptism (Acts 2:41; Eph 4:5)
  • observance of the Lord’s Supper (Acts 2:42; 1 Cor 11:17-24)
  • exercise of spiritual disciplines (Acts 13:2-3; 1 Tim 4:7)

This regulation may appear restricting, but in reality, it allows for creativity within biblical bounds. The Lord delights in the creative nature of his people, and Christians glorify God through creative endeavors. What is crucial to this regulative principle of worship is the centrality of the Word to worship. The Word guides and shepherds man, while providing the substance of worship – the revelation of Jesus Christ. God directly reveals himself to man through the Scriptures, and so man’s understanding of who God is and the redemptive work of Christ comes from the text. God’s revelation fuels and appropriates man’s response. The Bible gives us glimpses into the lives of those who had direct encounters with God (Ex 33:17-23; 2 Chr 5-7; Isa 6, Acts 4:42-47; Rev 4:8-11) and lets us see how people in the Scriptures responded to God’s revelation in various scenarios. The responses always take the form of the elements listed above. The Scriptures, then, provide the guiding principles for worship.

The Word made flesh, Jesus Christ – eternally begotten of the Father and giver of the Holy Spirit – is the source, mediator, and object of our worship, now and forevermore. “For his steadfast love endures forever and his faithfulness to all generations” (Psalm 100:5). May we, his redeemed people, worship him now both in Spirit and truth by the power of the gospel!


Austin Collins serves as the research assistant at the Institute for Biblical Worship. He and his wife Liz currently lead worship at Harrison Hills Baptist Church in Lanesville, IN, while he pursues his Master of Divinity in Worship Leadership at Southern Seminary.

Christ's Ascension Matters

Scripture reports that after his resurrection, Jesus appeared several times in physical form to many people. Forty days later, the book of Acts tells that Jesus was again with his disciples:

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power then the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven. (Acts 1:6-11 ESV)

Last Friday I had the privilege to attend commencement ceremonies at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. President R. Albert Mohler’s address to graduates was inspired by the account of Stephen, Christianity’s first martyr. His message was entitled, “As if It Had Been the Face of an Angel.” This title harkened to verse 15 of Acts chapter 6: And gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel. (Acts 6:15)

Stephen’s vision and testimony were not only the deciding factor upon which the council stoned him, they also hold a key to every Christian’s faith and our hope for heaven: Christ’s ascension.

Dr. Mohler pointed out that the original text indicates Stephen’s face had the same other-worldly glow as did Moses’ face after spending time in God’s presence and receiving the Ten Commandments. Scripture gives even more explanation of Stephen’s angelic countenance: But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God. (Acts 7:55-56)

Stephen’s vision and testimony were not only the deciding factor upon which the council stoned him, they also hold a key to every Christian’s faith and our hope for heaven: Christ’s ascension. Jesus Christ did ascend to heaven – not as a non-corporal spirit being, rather, in a new physical body given by God at his resurrection.

Why is this important? As Gerrit Scott Dawson writes, “Through the ascension we discover that the incarnation continues. Jesus remains united to our human nature ... If Jesus’ new life does not continue, then he could have died again ... The resurrection requires an ascension to be completed ... To put it bluntly, if Jesus did not go up as a man, he cannot come again as a man. The Judge would not be our Brother, not the one tempted in all ways as we are, not the man with the nail-scarred hands and the ‘rich wounds yet visible above.’ He might be God in that case, but he would not be human. And we would be lost."[1]

What God allowed Stephen to see gives a clear and true understanding of the role Christ now plays on our behalf.

Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man. (Hebrews 8:1-2)

Robert Webber put it this way, “Jesus Christ, this man who is God, participated in our humanity to die for us and to be resurrected for us, and he now has ascended to the very throne of God to continually represent us to the Father. For ‘he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence’(Hebrews 9:24 NIV). He who did everything that ever needed to be done to save us now continually stands before the Father interceding for us!"[2]

This year (2017), Ascension Day is Thursday, May 25th. If Jesus Christ is your Savior and the Lord of your life, take some time to reflect on how perfectly he loves us and how grateful we are for his continuing work on our behalf before the throne of God in heaven.

[1]. Dawson, Gerrit Scott. Jesus Ascended: The Meaning of Christ’s Continuing Incarnation. (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2004), 3-5.

[2]. Webber, Robert E. Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality through the Christian Year. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2004), 159.


Marc Brown serves as the Minister of Worship and the Arts at First Baptist Church Mount Washington, Kentucky, where he lives and serves with his wife Cyndi and their daughter, Miriam. Marc earned a B.A. in music from Western Kentucky University, a Masters of Church Music from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the Doctor of Worship Studies degree from the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies.

Provisions for Worship in the Desert

We’ve all been there. It’s the new year and our plan to read through the Scriptures is blowing full steam ahead. But suddenly, something happens: we reach Exodus 20 and the Law “proper,” full of seemingly obscure commands for cleansing fungal infections and slaughtering various animals, and our fervor for reading the Word often drains. To top it off, the Law begins with a lengthy description of the tabernacle, the ark, the altar, and other articles of worship – something for which many of us (including myself) are grateful for the helpful pictures found in study Bibles. Moses is given specific instructions on how to build God’s dwelling place on earth, where God and man may meet in holy communion. In Exodus 25:1-9, God tells Moses what building and crafting materials he is to collect from the people. The ark of the covenant is to be overlaid in pure gold, the high priest’s robes are to contain precious jewels representing the twelve tribes, the altar is to be coated in bronze, even the poles used for transportation are to be made of the finest wood. The tabernacle is to be a shining display of God’s glory among his people.

But weren’t the Israelites dwelling in the desert as nomads? Where would they have acquired all this wealth? The answer is found a few chapters back in Exodus 3.

Before the Lord hurled his many plagues against the Egyptians, he spoke to Moses in the burning bush, declaring freedom and redemption for Israel. Once he finishes giving his instructions to Moses, God gives a final promise: “And I will give these people such favor with the Egyptians that when you go, you will not go empty-handed. Each woman will ask her neighbor and any woman staying in her house for silver and gold jewelry, and clothing, and you will put them on your sons and daughters. So you will plunder the Egyptians.” (Ex 3:21-22 CSB). And that brings us to this key point: God provides the means by which his people are to worship him. Pastor and theologian David Peterson is helpful here when he posits, “[T]he worship of the living and true God is essentially an engagement with him on the terms that he proposes and in the way that he alone makes possible.” [1]

The Lord was always aware of the broken state of the Israelites, not just from the elements of the world, but also from their sin, and yet he always provided deliverance for those whom he called to worship him.

God’s desire in rescuing his people from slavery was for them to worship him in the land he promised to their forefather Abraham. For them to do so in the way he commanded, God had to provide the resources they needed to construct the tent and its furnishings. As Pharaoh begs the Israelites to leave after the death of the firstborn, they take with them the fortunes of Egypt. Those once in bondage now carry the wealth of nations, yet not for themselves, but for the glory of God.

Even then, God knew that as the Israelites camped around Sinai they would misuse the gold and make an idol, and still he allowed Moses to intercede on their behalf (Ex 32). He knew they would rebel against his chosen leader leading to punishment by the venom of asps, and still he provided deliverance through the bronze serpent (Num 21). He knew they would reject his commands to drive out the Canaanites, and still he gave them the land in the end (Num 13-14, Josh 13). He knew they would sojourn for 40 years in a barren land, and still he provided manna from heaven and water from rocks (Ex 16). He knew kings would swoop in to attack the weakened and helpless Israelites, and still he provided victory in battle (Ex 17). The Lord was always aware of the broken state of the Israelites, not just from the elements of the world, but also from their sin, and yet he always provided deliverance for those whom he called to worship him.

Jesus reminded his hearers that, “everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin” (John 8:34). Just like the Israelites, and apart from Christ, we are bound by our depravity, held fast in the chains of evil and transgression. God provided the means for the Israelites to escape the bondage of their sin through the sacrificial system. But God also knew that “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Heb 10:4), and so he sent Jesus to die “once for all time when he offered up himself” (Heb 7:27). Through his death, resurrection, and ascension to the right hand of the Father, Jesus Christ now mediates on behalf of his people, providing entrance into the most holy place before God (Heb 4:14-16). Just like the once enslaved Israelites who were freed, carrying with them the riches of the Egyptians, we today are freed from sin by the blood of Christ as he invites us into the presence of God and the riches of his glorious grace (Eph 1:7-8).

God does not need humanity to worship him, but he does desire a relationship with his creation, and so we have the privilege of witnessing the glory of the Lord through his Son, the God-man Jesus Christ. “But an hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth. Yes, the Father wants such people to worship him” (John 4:23). Even then, our direct access to God the Father is provided through the mediation of Christ. Though our pews are not made of bronze nor our PAR 58 light fixtures coated in gold, God has still given his church what she needs to glorify him: the provider in the sinful desert of the soul, Jesus Christ.

[1] . David Peterson, Engaging with God (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1992), 20.


Austin Collins serves as the research assistant at the Institute for Biblical Worship. He and his wife Liz currently lead worship at Harrison Hills Baptist Church in Lanesville, IN, while he pursues his Master of Divinity in Worship Leadership at Southern Seminary.