11.21.19

Can Kanye West Be Your Worship Pastor?

For several weeks now, Kanye West has been grabbing attention and headlines with his “Sunday Service” impromptu worship concerts across the country, news of his conversion, a new album entitled “Jesus Is King,” and appearances in a couple of high-profile mega-churches like Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church. The artist’s moves have generated mixed reactions, from elation to skepticism. For my part, I think there’s a great deal to be excited about and to give God praise for.

However, Kanye’s appearances at churches prompts a question for me. Not about Kanye, but about churches and standards of Christian worship. Think for a moment: Could Kanye West be a worship pastor at your church?

If you answer, “yes,” what does that reveal about the expectations and standards your church holds for public worship? What qualifications for leading God’s people in public worship does your church require? Is the primary (sole?) qualification musical skill and creativity? What about character and Christian maturity? Should the persons who lead the gathered assembly of God’s people not only point us to Jesus through the music we sing but also point us to Jesus through their lives and teaching? After all, music does teach ().

But that last sentence—music does teach ()—suggests something about the nature of gathered Christian worship. It’s more than a concert. It’s more than hype and flow and even feeling. It’s instruction and admonishment. Corporate singing is, in fact, part of the ministry of the word. We should be singing things that are theologically true. Leaders should introduce and bridge songs in ways that are pastorally wise and theologically responsible.

So, what does it mean for a church to invite Kanye West to “lead their service” or “perform” during their Lord’s Day gathering? Again, I’m not interested in critiquing Kanye. I watched the “Sunday service” in Salt Lake City, Utah. I was impressed by his testimony. I found his theological correction of “Jesus Walks” very compelling and edifying. The music was banging—as is “Jesus Is King.” Kanye is fine, although he’s a new Christian. But how do our worship leaders compare to Kanye—not in musical ability—but in maturity, character, discernment and pastoral bearing?

Here are three principles for leadership of congregational worship.

1. Pastors should lead God’s people in worship.

Pastoral ministry is more than preaching. As mentioned earlier, the ministry of the word is more than preaching; it includes public praise as well. As the church officers specifically called to lead the ministry of the word, pastors should have primary responsibility for the corporate singing of God’s people.

By this, I do not mean the senior pastor must be the one who does all the singing and plays all the instruments. Or that everyone in the music ministry needs to be a pastor. I simply mean the pastors should supervise public worship, select or guide the selection of songs, and make sure what’s sang and said in public worship is theologically accurate, true, edifying, and pastorally sensitive.

2. Worship leaders should be mature and sound in character.

Character trumps musicianship and vocal ability. We never want to sacrifice character or competence. But if we must lean in one direction or the other, we should choose character. We should choose character for at least two reasons. First, the Bible chooses character in and other places. Wherever ministry qualifications are the focus of a biblical text (; ; ; etc), the biblical text emphasizes spiritual maturity and never emphasizes technical competence. We should emphasize what the Bible emphasizes: character.

Second, we want to emphasize character over competence (if we have to!) because worship affects people. Christian praise of God should involve the entire being (). Such worship should be in spirit and in truth ()—never feigned (; ) or manipulative (). The worship leader causes us to feel a great deal that brings us joy. So, congregations can get emotionally attached to those who lead them in public praise. That attachment can be disastrous if it involves a person of unproven or unsound character.

Third, we want to avoid putting unproven persons in the Satanic and unique temptations and pressures leaders face. The alarming rationale  of applies to worship leaders as much as pastors. Pride and the enemy’s condemnation can befall the novice with sudden force. That’s why it’s unwise for the Joel Osteen’s of the world to take a new Christian like Kanye–however talented–and platform them inside the church. The world and worldly Christians may fawn over him because of his celebrity. But wise Christians should understand that premature promotion poses a danger for Kanye and any other novice worship leader. We should lovingly keep them from such danger by allowing them time to mature over years rather than months.

3. Worship leaders should have some theological training.

Because public singing is a ministry of the word, the lyrical content of our songs is very important. We must sing true things about God and His work in the world. We must sing things that anchor our faith and hope in what is actually promised in the scripture. Our music ministers should provide the kind of pastoral care and commentary that nourishes the saints in the “green pastures” the Lord leads us through. For that to happen in consistently rich ways, our worship leaders (anyone directing the congregation in singing and speaking up front) should have some theological training.

Not everyone needs to go to seminary or have degrees in theology to lead worship. No one in the first century church had such degrees. But, some should go on to gain degrees where there is capacity and desire. Others should participate in courses and conferences that include theological teaching. Every worship leader should receive some discipleship and theological formation from the pastors in their local churches. And, independently, as disciples, worship leaders should be committed to reading solid doctrinal books alongside the things they consume regarding music and singing. The worship leaders who know God best will also lead worship best.

Conclusion

If Kanye West—a new Christian with exceptional musical gifts—were in my city, I’d be happy for the sheep in my care to check out one of his “Sunday services” gatherings. I think they would be highly edified.

But Christians should not expect to be led Sunday after Sunday by someone with musical gifting but as yet undeveloped Christian character and theology. What we enjoy as entertainment cannot be safely inserted in the place of congregational worship. More is going on than artistry. In our services, we’re being led into the presence of a God who has holy standards for both how we worship and who leads us in it.

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3:1 The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.

Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. 11 Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. 12 Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. 13 For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.

14 I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, 15 if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth. 16 Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:

He was manifested in the flesh,
vindicated by the Spirit,
seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory. (ESV)

3:1 The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.

Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. 11 Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. 12 Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. 13 For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus. (ESV)

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4:1 This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy. (ESV)

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He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. (ESV)

Thabiti Anyabwile
Thabiti Anyabwile serves as a pastor of Anacostia River Church (Washington DC). He is the happy husband of Kristie and the adoring father of two daughters and one son. Holler at him on Twitter: @ThabitiAnyabwil

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