As a Worship Pastor and occasional preacher, the topic “Preaching and Worship” itself is a point of contention for me. I am not someone who gets caught up in titles, but my title is a bit misleading because the pastor of a church is always the leader in worship. Why? Because worship is not just the songs we sing on Sunday; it is the way we live our lives the rest of the week as well. Romans 12:1 (NASB) says that our “spiritual service of worship” is to present ourselves as a “living and holy sacrifice,” so to simply say that worship a song service is to dumb down the expectation for what worship should look like. However, for the purposes of this blog post, I want to talk about the relationship between the preaching and singing in a church service and how they must work together to communicate the truth of Scripture.
I have served bivocationally and full-time for over twelve years now, and I have never been in a position where the sermons were prepared far enough in advance for me to be able to coordinate song choices exactly with the theme of the message. However, in all those years, that has never been an issue. It has actually been my experience that, more often than not, God coordinates the two much better than I ever could. Many times a pastor or guest preacher has used a quote from one of our songs in his message even though I had no idea what his message would be when I picked out the songs. The point is, if the person choosing the music is walking clean and close with Christ and the preacher is doing the same, the themes usually line up just fine. If there is disharmony between the staff or sin in the life of one of them, no amount of planning can overcome that problem.
Another critical piece of the puzzle is humility. I have found that pride is my biggest enemy when it comes to what songs I pick or what message I preach. If I pick only the songs I really like, only the songs that I sound great singing, or only the songs that I know will be a hit with our praise band, then I am only picking for pride rather than for obedience. Sometimes we need to sing songs we don’t love because the lyrics are necessary for someone in the congregation to hear from God. The same applies to preaching. Recently, my pastor gave me the opportunity to lead our Wednesday night Bible study for five weeks, and I was very excited about teaching. I wanted to teach on James or Paul’s letters to Timothy because of the deep challenges found in those passages—and because I wanted to use some of my newly honed seminary skills or flex my preaching muscles a little bit. I was more than a little disappointed when God kept leading me to Malachi. I thought, “Malachi?! Who in 2018 wants to hear about a minor prophet from 400 years before John the Baptist?!” Since God would not let me get away from it, I dove into the book to study and prepare as best as I could, even doing so a bit reluctantly. I have had so many positive comments and deep discussions with people after teaching through this great book. I know it was the Spirit’s leading more than my teaching and that just further affirms to me that I cannot let my pride direct my preaching either.
Ultimately, our success or failure as a church is much more dependent on our personal walk with Jesus, how we model that walk for our people, and our faithfulness to the truth of Scripture than a flashy sermon series with cool graphics, theatrical production through music and lighting, or any other gimmick that comes out tomorrow. Being faithful may not be flashy, but it is definitely foundational for any successful church service. Every follower of Jesus in a church service is helping to lead in worship simply by being there with clean hands and a pure heart (Psalm 24:4), surrendered to God in an attitude of worship. It is our job as ministers/pastors to help get them to that point and to have the same attitude as we lead or preach.
Kevin Cobb is the Worship and College Pastor at West Mobile Baptist Church in Mobile, Alabama.