When I was in seminary I read Jim Collins’ book, Good to Great, and resonated with what he calls the “Hedgehog Concept.” In brief, the hedgehog is an animal that does one thing really well: when it is in danger, it huddles down and sticks out its spines, and thus avoids getting eaten by the fox. The hedgehog always wins the day because he defends himself so perfectly. An ancient Greek parable states, “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” Thus, this concept of doing one thing really well applies to many aspects of life, especially some of the great companies that Collins highlights in his book.
More recently I’ve been thinking of the hedgehog concept in my ministry as a worship leader at my church. Since moving to Houston in 2012, I’ve made it my goal to do one thing well: I want to put the Word of God in the mouths of the people of God for the glory of God. This is exactly what Paul encourages us to do in Colossians 3:16, to “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” How does one do this? “By teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, by singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
Worship leaders are called “leaders” mainly because they lead out in the singing, which is all well and good. But if “leading” is confined to music and singing then I think we’ve missed the point of what the New Testament says about leading worship services. My leading must take on a much more serious tone and biblical focus because leading in song is not the chief aim of Colossians 3—getting the word of Christ to dwell richly in the hearts of the church is. Fortunately, there are many ways to do this, chiefly by teaching and preaching, which Paul states first. Therein Scripture is unpacked and explained in great detail.
But in Colossians 3:16 Paul also provides some other ways related to the task of a worship leader, namely by singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Singing, therefore, is a God-ordained way to get into the lives of people the rich, glorious truth of the Gospel. Indeed, music fit to truth is in itself God-honoring, rich, and glorious. The only problem with music is the lack of full development in expression that we have in preaching.
So if a worship leader is convinced that Paul is right in Colossians 3:16 (and he is) that he should do this one thing really well, what sort of man must he be to lead the church? Where should his focus be, and what should characterize his life?
1. The Worship Leader must be Word-Centered. This point is nonnegotiable. Notice in Colossians 3:16 that it is the “word of Christ” that is the subject. It is not the atmosphere or ambiance or the musical and stylistic variations that should dwell in the hearts of believers. It is the word of God. When a worship leader leads, he has a sobering responsibility. He is causing the church to say certain words and phrases, and so it’s absolutely necessary that these words and phrases are biblical and God-honoring. Thus he must labor to ensure that it is the centrality of “word of Christ” that characterizes all that he says and does, especially in the songs that he leads.
2. The Worship Leader must be Christ-Centered. Paul says that it is the good news of Jesus, the very Word of God incarnate, that governs our psalms/hymns/spiritual songs. Like Paul when he told the Corinthians that he seeks to do one thing well—to preach Christ and him crucified (1 Corinthians 1:23)—I would suggest that worship leaders do the same. In the songs that we’re asking our people to sing, we should be preaching Christ, his life, death, burial, and resurrection. It is not about my word or Chris Tomlin’s word or Bob Kauflin’s word. The word of Christ is our song everlasting.
3. The Worship Leader must be a Shepherd. The purpose of singing and teaching the word of Christ is that it might “dwell richly” in the hearts of the people. This is a goal of the preaching pastor, too. If I dwell on the word of Christ throughout the week it will be evident as I lead. A worship leader pastors or shepherds the church in the way he handles the word of God. He should model biblical fidelity and holiness. And, therefore, as he thinks about and ponders the word of Christ, it will overflow into the people as he leads in their praise to God, hopefully to the extent that they also will dwell richly in the word and think and ponder the beauty of God throughout their lives.
So the worship leader is not called to be funny or flamboyant. He is not called to be a rock star or virtuosic. He is not called to be atmospheric or eccentric. Nor is he called to wear so many hats for so many services. The worship leader has one central aim, and that’s to ensure that the word of Christ is dwelling richly in the hearts of our congregations as they sing, pray, and respond. If you’re a worship leader, do this one thing well.
Josh Philpot is husband to Jennifer and father of three children. He serves as the Pastor for Worship and Administration at Founders Baptist Church in Spring, Texas, and he earned a PhD in Old Testament from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He blogs at joshphilpot.com and tweets from @joshphilpot.