Complementarianism, Mailbag, Worship

The Mailbag: Women “Worship Leaders” and Confusing Ecclesiology

I have read on previous pages about your response to female worship leaders, and reading your article Women Preaching: It’s Not a Secondary Doctrinal Issue prompted a few questions from me. Our church is now allowing women to lead worship from the stage. The official music director is male. Women will now be allowed to fill the role of band leader on a rotating basis on Sundays (along with a few males). They will pick songs for their Sunday set that must be approved by the music director and elders. It is being put forth to us as not being a problem because the preaching elder is the actual “worship leader” and that this is no different than women leading a few songs in a worship set. And that it doesn’t violate authority because she can’t “teach in an authoritative way.” And we have an upcoming discussion with the elders because we believe this violates the authority aspect of 1 Timothy 2:12. Can you weigh in? Are we wrong in this? Also, is this a sin issue or a secondary issue?

I’m so sorry this has become a dilemma in your church. I know things like this can be distressing when you love your church and are concerned about its fidelity to Scripture.

I’m really sorry, but I am thoroughly confused by what it is that these women are actually doing with regard to leading the music portion of the worship service, and who is in charge of, or leading, what. And I suspect this confusion points to a deeper issue. So let me just offer a few general thoughts and principles.

Part of the confusion here (at least on my part) is the term “worship leader”. It’s too generic and interpreted in so many different ways by different people.

I understand what your pastor (preaching elder) is saying when he says that he is the “worship leader” because I’ve heard other pastors say this as something of a pushback against the idea that “worship” equals “singing,” when, really, all of the worship service (preaching, prayer, singing, etc.) is worship.

So he’s saying he’s the “worship leader” because the buck stops with him on all elements of the worship service, and he’s leading the worship service. I don’t disagree with that, but the terminology is confusing, and this concept muddies the water when it comes to biblical ecclesiology and to questions like yours. It is not biblical for a woman to serve as this kind of “worship leader” because the biblical terminology for this position is “pastor” or “elder” and Scripture prohibits women from being pastors and elders.

Then you have people who use the term “worship leader” to mean “minister of music” or “music pastor” – the pastor who oversees and puts together the music portion of the worship service and directs the choir, instruments, and congregation during the worship service. It is not biblical for a woman (or a biblically unqualified man) to serve as this kind of “worship leader” because this is a pastoral/elder position of leadership in the church, and Scripture prohibits women (and unqualified men) from being pastors and elders.

Finally, there are people who use the term “worship leader” to mean anyone on the platform who’s directing, singing, or playing an instrument. People in the choir or on the praise team are “worship leaders”, the pianist and drummer are “worship leaders”, etc. With the exception of filling the position of minister of music, it is biblical for women to be this kind of “worship leader” – singing and playing instruments under the leadership of the minister of music. The problem here is the word “leader”. These women are not leading, they are being led by the minister of music.

So the term “worship leader” is already confusing. Now we’ve got women “leading worship from the stage,” “official music director,” “band leader,” and women “leading a few songs in a worship set”. Please understand, dear reader, that I’m not faulting or criticizing you for using any of this terminology – I completely understand that you were only trying to be clear. But it’s still all very confusing to me, because it seems to be a confusing model for worship.

When you say women are “leading worship from the stage” and “leading a few songs in a worship set,” I don’t know if that means they are stepping up and acting as if they’re the minister of music, or if they’re simply on the platform singing under the direction of the minister of music, or if they’re singing a solo during one of the songs. Are “official music director” and “band leader” the same thing or two different positions? Is this person only conducting the musicians on the platform or the entire congregation? When you say that songs must be approved by the “music director and elders” does this mean the person in charge of the music portion of the worship service is not an elder (even though this is a pastoral position)?

My point here is that if I’m confused, and you’re unclear on whether or not women should be doing whatever it is they’re doing, musically, before and during the worship service, there are probably a lot of people in your church who are also confused and unclear.

I suspect that most, if not all, of this confusion could be cleared up if your church had a solid ecclesiology regarding the pastoral/elder position of minister of music. Because, right now, what should be one pastor/elder in the position of minister of music, who should be overseeing and leading all of the things you mentioned, sounds like a chaotic revolving door of a multitude of people (most of whom, I doubt are biblically qualified as pastors/elders). I’m guessing the foundational problem here is not what the women are or aren’t doing, but that you don’t have a pastor/elder in the position of minister of music.

Also at issue is that it sounds like your church is following what I call a “concert” model of worship rather than a “congregational” model of worship. There’s nothing wrong with Christian bands and concerts per se, but that is extra-curricular worshiptainment, not a model for the church’s worship service. The music portion of the worship service is not to be led by a “band” performing a “concert,” and the people in their “audience” can sing along if they want to, and happen to know the words and melody, and can follow all the bridges and ad libbing.

The music portion of the worship service is where the pastor/elder of music shepherds, leads, and instructs the congregation in skillfully and worshipfully praising and exalting God together as a body and building one another up through the Word in song:

…be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.

Ephesians 5:18b-20, Colossians 3:16

The confusion and chaos taking place in your church seems to prove these things out. And remember what the Bible tells us in 1 Corinthians 14, that great chapter on orderly worship:

God is not a God of confusion but of peace.

1 Corinthians 14:33a

Regarding the selection of songs for the worship service: Again, this would not be an issue if you had one pastor/elder as a minister of music. There’s certainly nothing wrong with any church member suggesting a particular song to the minister of music. He can prayerfully consider the suggestion and use it or not as it fits in with his pastoral objective for the music portion of the worship service. But with this “revolving door” leadership model at your church, there’s confusion, and the issue of women planning the worship service arises, when that’s really the job of the pastor/elder minister of music.

To me, the questions of “Is this sin or a secondary issue?” and “Does this violate the authority clause of 1 Timothy 2:12?” as it pertains to your particular church are nearly moot. The main issue is not what the women are doing. The women are like pictures hanging crookedly on the wall of a house that has a crack in the foundation. The issue is not the crooked pictures, but that the foundation needs to be fixed. When the crack in the foundation is fixed, the pictures will hang straight.

How to get started fixing that foundation? I would highly recommend that your elders keep an eye out for the next G3 Worship Workshop and make every effort to attend. And also that they should read everything they can get their hands on by Scott Aniol.

I want to commend you and your husband for meeting with the elders to calmly, biblically, and directly discuss your concerns. That’s exactly what you should be doing and exactly what I recommend church members do in situations like this. Great job!

For anyone who would like to explore the subject more, I have explained in more detail why women should not fill the position of minister of music in my article Rock Your Role FAQs (#16).

If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.

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