ministry

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.

Seven Essential Characteristics of an Effective Worship Leader

I have the privilege of training worship leaders. This means that I have the task of preparing musicians to lead their congregations in doing something that they will continue to do in eternity. Done well this act should help teach people how to live in faith and one day die with hope. Leading a task that engages a holy God with such eternal implications should not be handled tritely. It takes a substantive person to plan, prepare, and lead what should be a substantive act. Here is what I believe a worship leader must demonstrate in order to be effective for this significant task:

  1. Musical talent. This is the only characteristic on the list that must be present at birth. Some people have a gift for music and others do not. For those that do, that talent must be developed and refined. This takes time and work, but the combination of these two demonstrates the presence of talent. Effective worship leaders practice and get better.
    Psalm 33:3 (ESV) – “Sing to him a new song; play skillfully…”

  2. Teachability. Regardless of how talented a worship leader is, teachability is always required. Good worship leaders are continually learning and seeking instruction. A worship leader who resists instruction will be a poor teacher himself. Effective worship leaders strive to be teachable.
    Proverbs 13:18 – “Poverty and disgrace come to him who ignores instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is honored.”

  3. Biblical Knowledge. This is a characteristic that everyone begins life with a total absence of. It is necessary to create a lifelong appetite for God’s word. Every week worship leaders point people to God while also representing the character and works of God in song and speech. Too many do so out of theological and biblical ignorance. Effective worship leaders develop a reservoir of Biblical truth within them so they can speak and lead intelligently.
    2 Timothy 3:16 – “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”

  4. Character. The hypocrisy of a duplicitous life on any platform will eventually be revealed. Standing on a platform to lead worship is essentially saying “Follow me while I follow Christ.” Perfection is unattainable for anyone, but sanctification is honest about sin and progressive in growth because it comes from following Christ intentionally. Unfortunately, talent has a way of taking musicians farther than their character can sustain them. Effective worship leaders grow in godliness.
    1 Samuel 16:17b – “For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

  5. Passion. Worship should have an appropriate and authentic emotional component. I am not referring to pep rally emotionalism, but neither should there be the appearance of apathy or disinterest. Worship should reflect deep-seated joy, true brokenness over sin, and authentic (even euphoric) gratefulness for the Savior. Effective worship leaders cultivate the capacity to be appropriately affected emotionally because worship is an unparalleled journey of enjoying ultimate fulfillment at Christ’s expense.
    Psalm 84:2b – “My heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.”

  6. Humility. This may be the most elusive characteristic on the list. Performing music can tend to make musicians arrogant. A musical skill can become a motive for boasting in an otherwise reserved individual. The types of thoughts that can come to mind while leading worship can be startling if evaluated honestly. Effective worship leaders pursue God’s glory over their own glory.
    James 4:6 – “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

  7. Love for the Church. This can often be the most forgotten item on the list. If allowed, love for music can eclipse love for the people. The true allegiance of our affections will be on display in numerous decisions that we make every week. Effective worship leaders examine their motives and advance strategies that make music a servant, not a master.
    Romans 12:10 – “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.”

Being a worship leader is a journey. Proper orientation in these things reflects one’s capability and fitness for being used in a role that none of us truly deserves to hold. We serve at God’s pleasure. Enter humbly, grow intentionally!


Dr. Scott Connell is Assistant Professor of Music and Worship Leadership; Program Coordinator, Worship and Music Studies at Boyce College in Louisville, KY.

Confessions of a Fallen Worship Pastor

So, whoever thinks he stands must be careful not to fall (1 Corinthians 10:12, HCSB).

Three times each semester the Institute for Biblical Worship at Southern Seminary hosts a special speaker and lunch for the worship majors enrolled in the Boyce College and Seminary music and worship programs. In the past we've had a wide variety of guests including Matt Boswell, Keith Getty and Mike Harland. We try to expose our students to influential voices in the area of worship leadership and ministry beyond the classroom. You can hear recordings of past presentations here.

In his chapel message at Southern Seminary on February 21, 2017, Dr. Denny Burke spoke on 2 Timothy 2:22, where Paul reminded Timothy to “flee youthful passions.” It is not coincidental that Dr. Burke is sensing the same concern for students throughout the entire seminary that we have for our worship majors. Please listen to his message here.

Last week we had a speaker named Brandon Watkins. Brandon drives a Schwan's food truck. He gets up every morning at 2:30 am and delivers frozen food to the customers on his route in this region of Kentucky. He didn't always work for Schwan's. Several years ago he was a student at Southern in what was then the School of Church Music. Throughout his high school and college years, Brandon sang for a traveling evangelist in a ministry that took him all over the world. When Brandon speaks you can tell he can sing... he has that natural, resonant quality to his vocal tone you often hear from someone on a stage in Nashville.

Until about seven years ago, Brandon was a full-time worship pastor in a large, growing church in the south. He was married and had two little girls. But he lost them and everything else in life because of an addiction. While he was in high school he, like so many other young men, began looking at pornography. As a Christian and a traveling musician in an evangelistic ministry, he convinced himself that he could "manage" the sin. After all, good Christians (especially traveling evangelists) aren't supposed to struggle with bad things like porn, and he didn't want to admit he had a problem. Brandon said this to our students: "When sin isn't exposed to the light, it leads to a stronghold, and when a stronghold isn't dealt with, it leads to an addiction."

Brandon's story is heartbreaking. At the height of his deception, he still thought he could "manage" the double life of being a worship pastor and a daily customer at a strip club. He justified his actions by saying that God didn’t answer his prayers. Here was his prayer: “God, if You want me to quit going to the strip club, then take my voice away from me.” He told our students it was incredible the things he would come up with to justify his double life. His singing voice stayed strong, the ministry at his church flourished, and he kept right on living in the darkness of what he thought was a secret sin.

Finally, the stress and burden of lies and deceit became too much and he confessed to his wife, his pastor, and his church what he had been hiding. For the next six months, he lived the life of the prodigal son. There was no more hiding what he had become, and he stepped completely out of the light and into darkness. Five months later, on his 31st birthday, he was alone on the back porch of his empty house. The water and heat had been turned off, and other than a mattress and a table, there was not any furniture in the empty rooms of the home he once shared with his family. As he sat on his porch and looked down at the half-empty bottle of Jack Daniels next to him, reality finally hit him – he had hit bottom.

Brandon Watkins' testimony opened the eyes and ears of several of our students last week. He told them his pride kept him from asking for help and his arrogance duped him into thinking at each stage of his growing addiction that he could "manage" his sin and deceive everyone around him. Through his tears, he looked at our students and said, "Each one of you is living in one of three categories right now: (1) You are actively and intentionally protecting yourself from a fall because you know you are vulnerable. (2) You are in the middle of a fall. Or, (3) you are arrogantly thinking you will never fall—and if that's the case—you'll be calling me within five years and asking for my help because you've lost everything."

I once heard a pastor say that among men who are no longer in ministry because of moral failure, the fall was never a moral blowout, but a slow leak. Those men let down their guard on the small things, like a second look at the tabloid in the grocery store check-out line, or a daydream that fueled lustful thoughts. For Brandon, and all of us, this is a battle that never ends. The measures of protection match the severity of the sin. Brandon and his new wife, Kala, do not have internet at their house.

Why should we take up blog space on the Institute for Biblical Worship website with a topic like this? Because so many worship leaders and pastors are struggling with the devastating sin of pornography. During the Q&A time with Brandon, one of the students asked, "Why aren't we talking about this more and being proactive in battling against it?” Brandon said that when he was younger he didn't want to share his battle because a worship leader wasn't supposed to be dealing with a sin like porn.

As he ended his testimony, Brandon introduced his mentor, Ray Carroll, who has a book and a ministry called Fallen Pastor (www.fallenpastor.com).  In the last few years since he began this ministry, Ray has spoken with over 500 pastors who have fallen. Over and over throughout Brandon and Ray’s talk with our students, they encouraged the students to seek help, develop true accountability, and shed light on the sin.

So, whoever thinks he stands must be careful not to fall. No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humanity. God is faithful, and He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape so that you are able to bear it (1 Corinthians 10:12-13).