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.

Church, Discernment, Worship

Throwback Thursday ~ The Way We Wor(ship)

Originally published on May 22, 2013

mt_sinai

And you shall set limits for the people all around, saying, ‘Take care not to go up into the mountain or touch the edge of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death.  No hand shall touch him, but he shall be stoned or shot; whether beast or man, he shall not live.’ When the trumpet sounds a long blast, they shall come up to the mountain.”
Exodus 19:12-13

From Cain and Abel to the Israelites in the wilderness to Ananias and Sapphira, God sets limits on the way we may approach Him. He has always said “whosoever will” may come to Him, but He is just as exacting about the way in which we come to Him today as He was back then.

It’s no small matter that many people in the Bible were put to death for approaching God in anything less than an attitude of utmost awe, fear, and reverence for His holiness. Uzzah touched the Ark of the Covenant. Nadab and Abihu offered strange fire before the Lord. The Corinthians took the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner.

I recently heard Perry Noble, a well known leader of a seeker sensitive megachurch, who has done such things as having his church’s band play AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” on Easter Sunday, say, “I’m willing to offend the church people to reach people for Jesus.” When asked where he drew the line at what was too offensive in church, he went on to say, “I probably wouldn’t have a stripper on stage…” and continued to justify using worldly and irreverent antics in church in order to “bring people to Jesus.”

But Perry has missed the point. Worship isn’t about people and what they like or don’t like. It isn’t about entertaining people and making sure they have some sort of enjoyable or emotional experience. It isn’t about attracting the attention of people.

Worship is about God.

What does God think? How does He want to be worshiped? What does He find offensive?

God is not the God of “anything goes.” If you doubt that, go back to the Old Testament and read His precise instructions on constructing the tabernacle, offering sacrifices, the behavior and duties of priests and Levites, and so on. Anything goes? Far from it.

Christ should be the sun in our solar system of worship. Just as the sun’s gravity exerts just the right force on each planet, keeping them revolving around it in exactly the right path, so, when Christ is at the center of our worship, every song, every prayer, every word spoken will fall into exactly the right orbit around Him.

What about your church? The next time you attend a worship service, sit back and view it through the lens of discernment. Is it designed to make you happy? Comfortable? Entertained? Emotional? Or is every element of the service centered on Christ– His holiness, His sacrifice for sin, His love and grace — leading you to exalt Him and forget about yourself?

Pastors and worship leaders, one day you will answer to God for the way you led your church. Do you design worship services to attract and hold the attention of people, manipulate their emotions, and entertain them, or do you sit at your desk, pray, and consider what will please God, how you can best lift up the name of Christ, expose His glory, and keep things centered on Him? God has not called you to be a shock jock, stand up comedian, or motivational speaker. He has called you to preach Christ and Him crucified.

Let’s stop the silliness and stupidity, and repent. Worship is serious business.

Church

Throwback Thursday ~ Axiom Questions, I’ll Tell You No Lies

Originally published May 1, 2015

axioms

Why do churches do church the way churches do church?

Ever thought about that? Moreover, have you ever thought about why churches take for granted that they have to do certain things or do things a certain way? Is there an unspoken assumption at your church that you have to have a sermon outline in the bulletin (or for that matter, that you have to have a bulletin), that Vacation Bible School is a non-negotiable event, or that the deacons absolutely must wear ties when serving the Lord’s Supper? Has it gone on for so long that now “it goes without saying”?

Don’t get me wrong- sermon outlines and bulletins can be very helpful, VBS is a great outreach, and I’m in favor of more men wearing ties to church, period. And I’m not talking about irrefutable biblical truths, either, such as, “faith in Christ is the only way of salvation,” or “God created the world,” or “women are not to instruct or hold authority over men in the church.” What I’m trying to get at here is that there are lots of church practices, preferences, and philosophies that we take as axiomatic. We never question them. We just assume they’re true. We act on them as though they’re immutable laws of physics or something. And every once in a while, somebody notices this and wants to change things up.

When it’s an axiom that’s been around for a few decades, the people who hold to that particular ideal are often chided (sometimes deservedly, sometimes not) by those who are pressing for changes. They’re called “inflexible” or “enslaved to tradition.” They’re labled as the “We’ve never done it that way before,” or “We’ve always done it this way,” people.

But have we ever stopped to think that, in many cases, the changes people seek to make today are the outmoded preferences of tomorrow? Often, we’re not making the church better or more biblical, we’re just adding a new premise here or trading one axiom for another there. Like rearranging deck chairs on a cruise ship. Or the Titanic.

Let’s take a look at some of those new axioms that have materialized over the last couple of decades and are now assumed to be a “given” when it comes to ecclesiology.

1. Pastors need to “cast vision,” and churches need a vision/mission statement.
No, they don’t. Christ is the head of the church, the CEO, if you will. Therefore, He is the only one whose place it is to have a vision for the church and to set a mission statement for it. And He has already done that for us. It was one of the last items on His agenda before leaving earth. It’s called the Great Commission:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20

2. Churches have to be attractional.
Should you invite people to church? Absolutely. Should you be kind and welcoming to visitors? Of course. But that’s not what “attractional” means these days. Attractional means assimilating church into the culture so that lost people will think it’s a cool and groovy place and will flock through the door in droves. That’s why you see pastors coming out onto a stage and giving a Tonight Show-esque monologue while dressed like a teenager at a concert, churches playing music that sounds like what you hear on the radio (sometimes music that is on the radio) accompanied by bands that mimic whichever artist is popular at the moment, no choirs, no pews, no crosses, no pulpits, no hymnals, but a Starbucks in the lobby. Everything a sinner is used to in his daily life. Everything that will make him perfectly comfortable.

Where is this model of doing church found in the Bible? If you answered, “nowhere,” you’d be correct. The church, by definition, is made up of believers. Christ Himself is what is attractional to people who have genuinely been born again. And when we meet together, we have one purpose: to worship and grow in Him. The Bible never tells the church to make itself look like the world to bring lost people into the church. Christ tells us, believers, the church, to go out and make disciples, to go out into the highways and byways and urge the lost to trust Christ so that His house might be filled…with believers.

3. Church should be fun.
Nope, not going to find that one in the Bible either. Worshiping Christ should bring us the deepest joy we can fathom, but that’s not the same thing as rock concert, bouncy house, stand up comedian, outlandish props and gimmicks, music video back up dancers, cash and prizes giveaway, “fun”. Church should be joyful, welcoming, warm, and pleasant. It should also be reverent, solemn, and, often, serious. Worshiping Christ, handling and learning His word, partaking of communion and baptism– these are not frivolous things, and the climate of the church should reflect that.

4. When it comes to the size of a local church, bigger is not only better, but more spiritual.
I see articles from denominational leaders and church growth gurus all the time that start with the presupposition that if your church isn’t constantly growing until you’ve reached thousands in attendance and have to go multi-site, you need to get on that problem, pronto. Or that if your attendance numbers are “stuck” around the 200 or 300 mark, it’s a crisis that needs to be addressed. Pastor, you need to do something about that. It’s assumed that you want to do something about that.

Says who? Says people who have made a lot of money selling church growth materials and want to make more, that’s who. The fact of the matter is, mega churches are the exception, not the rule. The average size of a church in the U.S. is 186 people, and 94% of church goers attend a church of under 500 members.

There are many perfectly legitimate and biblical reasons why a local church might be small. Smaller churches foster intimacy in fellowship, accountability in discipleship, and make it easier for pastors to shepherd individuals and small groups. Certainly, a church should welcome any newcomers wishing to join and should seek to minister to the surrounding community, but if zeal for the gospel is in place, there is no shame in being a small church.

5. Our worship music has to be contemporary.
Why? No, really. Why does it have to be pop-contemorary style? Because we’ll lose or fail to attract young people? First of all, there are plenty of young people who, believe it or not, like hymns and traditional worship music. Why aren’t we concerned about alienating them? What about the older people who like hymns? What about the young people who like country music, or classical music, or rap, or screamo, or death metal, or opera? How come we don’t cater to any of their musical preferences (assuming that’s the basis on which you choose the genre of worship music) during the worship hour?

Up until the early ’80’s or so, when you went to church, you expected to sing hymns out of a hymnal. There’s nothing wrong with adding new songs here and there to the church’s repertoire, but there is something wrong with trying to replicate what’s going on in the world in order to entice lost people into the church. When people go to a funeral they expect to hear funeral music. When they go to a fais do do they expect to hear Cajun music. And have you seen how incensed people get when somebody tries to put a fresh spin on the National Anthem? It’s perfectly all right for church music to sound churchy. We don’t need to apologize for that.

6. Leaving a church (or deciding not to join one) because you don’t like contemporary worship music is selfish, petty, and reeks of spiritual immaturity.
Really? I thought you just said we had to use contemporary music to get young people to join and keep them from leaving. Are they selfish, petty, and spiritually immature for having their music preference catered to? Why don’t they have to suck it up and sing hymns? Would you go to a church that used only a genre of music you hate, like rap or opera? Does that make you selfish, petty, and spiritually immature?

It’s time we stopped shaming people for wanting to leave a church that has changed to a genre of music or a worship style that they hate. There will be times in every church when a particular song (or maybe even several) is sung that you don’t like. That’s normal no matter which genre your church uses. But music is a huge part of our worship services, and if, even after making an effort to embrace the music, you are so distracted by the genre that you’re incapable of focus on Christ, you need to go to a church- a doctrinally sound one, mind you – where you can worship.

We make a lot of assumptions about the way we should do church. Maybe it’s time to start questioning some of them.

What are some other church axioms you’ve noticed?

Mailbag

The Mailbag: Female Pastors- False Teachers or Just Sinning?

Originally published July 24, 2017

 

Is a woman who is in the position of pastor to be considered a false teacher or merely disobedient to The Word of God? Some churches in my area place pastors’ wives in the position of “co-pastor.” Would she have to be teaching some false doctrine to be considered a false teacher or does the fact that she is in the position in the first place make her a false teacher?

I love it when I hear from women – like the reader who sent in this question – who are thinking deeply and seriously about the things of God. It brings me so much joy to see God working in the hearts and minds of Christian women.

Before we start parsing these ideas out, let’s bottom line this thing. Scripture is both explicitly and implicitly clear that women are not to serve as pastors. Regardless of whether we call what she’s doing sin or false teaching, it is definitely unbiblical for a church to install a woman in the position of pastor, and for the woman to accept the position. So the bottom line is, it’s wrong and nobody should be attending such a church.

Now, onward and upward with the parsing…

The term “false teacher” is generally reserved for people (male or female) who actually teach – via speaking or writing – false doctrine. So if you if you want to get technical about it, if the woman in question simply holds the position of pastor but either does not preach/teach at all or does not preach/teach any sort of false doctrine, she, and the church that installed her, are simply sinning.

But there are a few more things to consider here:

♦ I’m familiar with various churches and denominations (none of which teach sound doctrine, including the specific ones the reader mentioned in her original e-mail) where a husband and wife serve as “co-pastors,” but I’ve never seen one in which the wife doesn’t preach/teach at all. It may not be often, but preaching is seen as part of her duties, otherwise, why would she be considered a co-pastor? (I suppose there could be churches where “co-pastor” is merely an honorific for the pastor’s wife, it’s just that I’ve never seen one.)

♦ Assuming preaching is one of her duties, I find it very difficult to imagine a woman who: sees nothing wrong with female pastors, is married to and pastored by a man who sees nothing wrong with female pastors, and attends a doctrinally unsound church that sees nothing wrong with female pastors, would get up in the pulpit and preach sound doctrine. Again, I suppose it could happen in theory, but how likely is it?

♦ As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, women teaching men and women teaching false doctrine are highly correlated. I have researched scores of women teachers. Every single one of them who unrepentantly teaches men also teaches false doctrine in some other aspect of her theology (usually Word of Faith or New Apostolic Reformation). In other words, if a woman teaches men, you can just about take it to the bank that she also teaches false doctrine.

♦ Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that this woman gets up and preaches sound doctrine every time she’s in the pulpit. So what? She’s still sinning by preaching to men, regardless of the content of her “sermon.” I have known of Reformed male pastors who preach perfectly sound doctrine, yet litter their sermons with foul language. I’ve known of other pastors who delivered biblical sermons every Sunday, but were sleeping with women in their congregations or were addicted to pornography or were molesting their own children. The point is- sound doctrine is not the only qualification for pastors. There are a number of observable and behavioral requirements for pastors listed in 1 Timothy and Titus – one of which is being a man – and violation of any of these requirements disqualifies a person from the role of pastor.

♦ While, technically, we would not label a female pastor a false teacher unless she’s overtly teaching false doctrine, the fact remains that she is teaching something unbiblical every time she stands in the pulpit. She is teaching, via her behavior, that it’s OK for her, her church, the church at large, the women of her congregation, and Christian women everywhere, to live in open rebellion against this portion of Scripture. Any pastor who, by his (her) own behavior, leads people to believe it is OK to ignore or rebel against God’s word has disqualified himself (herself) from the office of pastor.


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.

Podcast Appearances

Equipping Eve Podcast Guest Appearance: The Church

 

Several weeks ago, I had the most fun ever sitting down and talking with my friend Erin Benziger of the Equipping Eve podcast and blog about the church, its joys and challenges, and our roles as church members. 

Click here to listen.

Listen in and let us know what you think, or suggest a topic for a future episode. Subscribe to No Compromise Radio (Equipping Eve’s parent network) on iTunes so you won’t miss future episodes of Equipping Eve. And don’t forget to follow Equipping Eve on Facebook and Twitter!


Got a podcast of your own or have a podcasting friend who needs a guest? Need a speaker for a women’s conference or church event? Click the “Speaking Engagements” tab at the top of this page, drop me an e-mail, and let’s chat!