A SCRIPTURAL STUDY ON WORSHIP LEADERS
by Ralph Sorter
Worship of our triune God is a subject woven throughout the Scriptures from beginning to end. From the very first sacrifice of Cain and Able to the angels before the throne in Heaven, worship is declared in the Bible as man’s highest priority. Our God is a jealous God and requires that we worship no one else. This commandment is reflected in the first two of the ten commandments. Our eternal relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in our eternal state is centered around worship. Therefore we can conclude that there is no higher calling of man than worship of God.
That leads to the calling of the worship leader. What standards does God expect of those who lead His people in worship? Let’s probe that subject throughout the Scriptures and see what we discover.
1. Ex. 27:21-28:3
In this passage God declares his choice of Aaron and his sons to be priests unto God perpetually throughout the generations of Israel. They were to make holy garments and consecrate themselves. (See also 1 Chr. 23:13.)
This shows us that those who were to minister before God were a special people, and they were to set themselves apart from the other tribes of Israel to be used in temple service unto God. Not just anybody could be a priest, but only those selected by God.
2. 2 Chronicles 29:1-11
After many years of neglect of the worship of God, when Hezekiah became King of Israel, he ordered the priests to consecrate themselves and cleanse the Temple. They were to carry away the uncleanness from the holy place because their fathers did evil and turned their back on God and God had made them an object of terror. Hezekiah charged the priests, “Do not be negligent now, for the Lord has chosen you to stand before Him, to minister to Him, and to be His ministers and burn incense.”
Once again the selection of those to be priests was specific. Their’s was a special work, for they were to carry away the uncleanness from the holy place. To do this sacred work, they had to be consecrated for the work and cleanse themselves first. God does not want people leading in worship who are not clean themselves.
3. Luke 1:5-9
This is the story where Zacharias and Elizabeth are told by an angel that they have been chosen by God to bring John the Baptist into the world. Zacharias is a priest in the temple, and the Scripture records that both of them were righteous in the sight of God and walked blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.
Such a high calling to be special parents came because of their spiritual walk before God. We, too, have a high calling to serve as worship leaders before God; and so, also, our walk ought to be righteous and blameless.
4. Heb. 9:1-6
In this passage the Hebrew writer states that the first covenant had regulations for divine worship according to God’s declaration. All the parts of the Temple and it’s instruments of worship were prepared to perform divine worship by the priests. When those instruments were prepared, they continually entered the outer temple to perform worship. We have seen those regulations in previous passages. The passage goes on to state that the priests could not enter into the most holy place to offer worship. That was reserved for the high priest, who entered only once a year with blood to offer sacrificed. Now that Christ has become our high priest, there is no need to approach God with blood, because the blood of Christ cleanses from all sin.
The point here is that there were regulations declared by God because of the high calling of leading in worship. As His priests, each of us are cleansed for offering worship by the blood of Christ. Under the new covenant, the blood of Christ is sprinkled on all those who are children of God, Christians.
5. Num. 16:1-50
This is the story of the Korah rebellion of 250 men against the leadership and authority of Moses and Aaron to lead people in worship. In order to reveal whom God had appointed as leaders in worship, Moses told the men to burn incense in their firepans and the Lord would reveal whom He had chosen. God opened the earth and swallowed up their tents, belongings, family, and fire came down out of heaven and consumed the 250 men. Verse 40 states that this dramatic scene was to be a reminder to everyone that no one other than the sons of Aaron should offer incense to the Lord.
Conclusions from this dramatic story are that God did not want unauthorized worship to be offered up to Him. God had chosen the sons of Aaron to be those who led in worship, and they were given instructions on how that worship was to be offered. Today we can apply this to those who lead worship must be dedicated in their worship and not be self-styled with wrong motives. Worship which usurps any authority God puts in place will not be tolerated by God.
6. 2 Chr. 26:14-21
In this story, King Uzziah has earned a great reputation as a man of war, but his pride gets the best of him and he acts corruptly. He entered the Temple to burn incense on the altar. Azariah, the priest, opposed him and told him, “It is not for you to burn incense to the Lord, but for priests who are consecrated” and told him to leave. Uzziah became enraged, so God smote him with leprosy until the day of his death.
Once again we can conclude that leading of worship under the old covenant was specified for only certain personnel. Uzziah tried to usurp the authorities God put in place for the spiritual leadership of the children of Israel. His position as king did not give him authority to do so. Such rebellion brought on a hard divine judgment. In the body of Christ, we too, must be in submission to the spiritual authorities God has place over us in the church. Another interesting thing in this passage is the mention that the priests must also be consecrated. Today, worship leaders also need to be consecrated unto God to lead others in worship. Consecration means you set your heart and life in a pattern that glorifies Him always. Nothing about our life should have any resemblance of “acting corruptly.”
7. Lev. 10:1-11
This passage is the story of the sons of Aaron burning strange fire unto the Lord. Though they were appointed priests to lead in worship, the worship they offered was not as God instructed them; they offered “strange fire.” The passage reveals that fire came down from Heaven and consumed them in divine judgment. Moses quoted God from an earlier conversation: “By those who come near Me I will be treated as holy.” In addressing the seriousness of the occasion, Moses commanded Aaron saying, “Do not drink wine or strong drink, neither you nor your sons with you, when you come into the tent of meeting, so that you will not die, it is a perpetual statue throughout your generations and so as to make a distinction between the holy and the profane, and between the unclean and the clean, and so as to teach the sons of Israel…”
What an enlightening passage! Once again we see God acting in harsh divine judgment against self-styled worship. We can’t disobey the authorities over us and go off on a tangent of our own agenda and please God. Secondly, those who lead others in worship have a standard to live by, and God does not want that standard compromised so as to profane that which is holy. Specifically, God set down an eternal standard for worship leaders not to be a consumer of alcoholic beverages when they enter the house of the Lord so as to make a distinction between those who are set apart for leading worship and those who are not consecrated. God wants a clear distinction between that which is clean and that which is not. Worship leaders are to set examples and their life is the classroom, not just an hour on Sunday morning.