According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a directive is “an official order or instruction.”
Blog posts rarely consists of directives. It would be far more common to see a title like “Three Songwriting Suggestions” or “Ideas for Making Your Worship Sizzle.” The implication behind these kinds of posts is that, while you might find their content helpful or entertaining, the authors don’t have the authority to tell you what you must do.
It’s true that the worship ministries of our respective local churches may look very different from one another. Faithfulness to Christ will not produce cultural (or procedural) homogeneity. But it’s also true — and of infinitely greater importance — that some characteristics of a worship ministry are non-negotiable, since they issue from divine directives. Here are three.
1. Be Clean
True worship is internal and pervasive, not external and ceremonial. During His earthly ministry, Jesus reserved His harshest words for those who pretended to be outwardly self-righteous but were actually living in pride and conceit. He quotes Isaiah 29: “These people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. They are worshiping me in vain!” Instead, Jesus says, the Father is seeking worshipers with pure hearts to worship Him “in spirit and in truth” (John 4).
Corporate worship on Sunday must be an outflow of private worship throughout the week. It’s true that our righteousness is based on the finished work of Christ, and not on our own efforts. But for us to be qualified to lead worship publicly, we must be consistently giving ourselves to prayer, growing in the Word, confessing sin, and pursuing right relationships with others. Psalm 51 is a beautiful picture of the inseparable link between confession and proclamation. When we confess our sin (v. 4), God restores the joy of our salvation to us (v. 12), and then He opens our mouth to declare his praises (v. 15). You can’t publicly proclaim until you’ve privately confessed.
2. Be Excellent
Throughout the Scriptures, worshiping God is portrayed as a sacrificial act. God instructed Abraham, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love…” (Genesis 22). David displayed sacrificial worship when he bought the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite, saying, “I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing” (2 Samuel 24).
In one of the greatest displays of worship in the New Testament, Mary pours out her costly perfume – worth a year’s wages – on the feet of Christ. John tells us the reason for Judas’ objection, which was his greed. But it’s likely that the other disciples also may have wondered at this apparent waste. Their unspoken question can be ours as well: “Would it not be better stewardship to give this money/effort/time to a more immediately obvious cause?”
But Jesus validates Mary’s sacrificial act. And as we sacrifice our time and energy and resources each week to bring extravagant worship to the feet of Christ, our labors are validated as well. Excellence in worship is not primarily about adherence to a man-made musical standard, but it is instead a deep and abiding commitment by each team member to offer the Lord his or her best. To this end, we should strive to pursue an excellence that minimizes distractions, draws attention away from us and our presentation, and points the congregation to the manifold riches of Christ and the gospel. Don’t bring the Lord offerings that are blind or lame. Bring the best you have, as an expression of worship and adoration.
3. Be Nobody
The leading of corporate praise is the most visible ministry in the church. It’s easy to become focused on performance and the approval of others. When we use our God-given gifts to bring to glory to ourselves, we’re stealing the glory that rightly belongs to God. “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to Your name give glory, for the sake of Your steadfast love and your faithfulness!” (Psalm 115)
Since we seek to draw attention to the Lord and away from ourselves, our constant goal is to have a demeanor of Christ-like humility. We reject the culture of modern, commercialized performance that glorifies the performer and trivializes the character of God. Our prayer should be that of John the Baptist: “He must increase, and I must decrease” (John 3).
Being “nobody” doesn’t mean we demean ourselves, minimizing our gifts in false humility. As C.S. Lewis so adroitly put it, “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” So lead and worship and serve in a spirit of humility that causes the gathered church to give all attention to Christ. They should leave every Sunday forgetting our names and remembering His.
Be clean. Be excellent. Be nobody. For a faithful worship ministry, these are more than human suggestions – they’re divine directives.