I’m encouraged to see a renaissance of worship leaders composing hymns and writing songs that communicate rich theological truths and are easy to sing. Matt Boswell (pastor of ministries and worship at Providence Church) and Michael Bleecker (worship pastor at The Village Church) are at the forefront of this movement. (Check out Matt’s Messenger Hymns. “O Fount of Love” is a personal favorite.)

Matt has brought together a dozen worship pastors to contribute to a new book – Doxology and Theology: How the Gospel Forms the Worship Leader. I read an advance copy and offered this word of recommendation:

Doxology and Theology is filled with gospel truth and practical application for those who have the important task of lifting our hearts in song to the Triune God who in love has saved us. May this book equip church musicians, songwriters, and worship leaders to celebrate and savor the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Today, Matt and Michael join me on the blog for a conversation about doxology and theology.

Trevin Wax: Matt, you say that one of the greatest needs of the modern church is theologically driven worship leaders. What other things end up driving worship leaders today?

Matt Boswell: On the heels of the praise and worship movement of the 70’s and 80’s, the role of the worship leader became heavily influenced by record labels and worship leader celebrities. In some circles, style became the focus rather than substance.

This new paradigm has caused worship leaders to be driven primarily by two different voices: pragmatism or existentialism. On either side of this equation, we need to allow the Word of God to call, inform, and shape how our churches worship. There are many echoes in the world of worship leaders, but few voices. We are praying for voices to continually call churches back to the sufficiency of Scripture and centrality of the gospel. 

Michael Bleecker: Emotionalism also drives worship leaders. Emoting, of course, isn’t wrong, but when emotions stop being roused and shaped by the word of God, we find “a zeal for God, but it is not according to knowledge.” (Rom. 10:2).

Conversely, I have also seen emotionlessness in some worship leaders. Perhaps they have seen emotionalism abused – not grounded in and pushed out by Truth – and have swung the other way, or they may fear they are distraction to those they are leading.

Whatever the case, spontaneous and strong affections from a heart that tastes and sees how good our God is should erupt and instead it is subdued or nonexistent. Jesus tells us in John 4:23 that “true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.” Mind and heart. Thought and affection.

Trevin Wax: What is the relationship between doxology (worship), theology, and engaging in God’s mission?

Michael Bleecker: The relationship should be one of harmony and constancy.

If God’s mission for us is to proclaim the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9) and to make disciples of all nations, teaching them to observe everything he commanded us (Matt 28:19-20), we must be those worship leaders who worship the Lord personally and corporately, who study the Word of God and hide it in our hearts and who are constantly reminded of his mission, making every effort to proclaim His gospel.

Matt Boswell: Right theology leads us to rightful doxology, and both propel the mission of God in the world. As John Piper rightly says, “Worship is the fuel and goal of missions.”

Psalm 96 presents a compelling call to God-centered, theological, missional worship. I hope to move the conversation from theocentric vs. anthropocentric worship services, and instead show how a God-centered view of the Christian life is the greatest good of every person.

Our worship must be rightfully centered on the glory of God, because only then are the desires and needs of man informed and met. As we exalt Christ and glorify God, we are professing things that are true to those in our gatherings who are separated from God by sin. The aim of the mission of God is that all the peoples of the earth would glorify God. God’s mission in the world is accomplished when He is the praise of every tribe, and tongue, and nation.

Trevin Wax: What are some practical steps you’d recommend for worship leaders who want to incorporate a more Scripture-focused, gospel-centered approach to their ministry?

Matt Boswell: In our church, Scripture plays a vital role from the beginning of a gathering to the end. Scripture is read for a call to worship and for times of confession. Scripture is on the screens when there is an instrumental part of a song. Scripture is read before the sermon is preached, and Scripture is our benediction. In the culture of today’s non-liturgical church this idea may seem foreign, but allowing Scripture to shape our practice of worship keeps us tethered to God’s Word.

Michael Bleecker: I would begin with the songs they sing. Do they understand everything they are singing so that they’re able to teach it? Are the lyrics of their songs biblical? Have they taken the time to match Scriptures to the lyrics?

On each of my charts I have a few Scriptures typed in at the top so I’m able to reference them while I’m singing, playing or praying. I also add Scriptures to the bottom of the slides so the church is able to reference them while they are singing as well.

If we’re singing “here I raise my Ebenezer,” 1 Samuel 7:12 will be at the bottom of that slide. If we’re singing “my name is graven on His hands,” Isaiah 49:16 will be at the bottom of that slide. The slides aren’t as clean as they were before, but it’s a great trade for informed worshipers.

Next I would make sure you are preparing your heart before anyone else shows up for the weekend. I get to the church a couple of hours before anyone else so that I can pray. When the band and A/V team show up, we get a quick sound check at the start of rehearsal, I read Scripture over them, pray and we fan out over the sanctuary while a recorded worship song is played over us. We spend that time confessing our sins, singing loudly, raising our hands, getting on our knees, etc. It’s a sweet start to a long weekend.

I want everything I do to be saturated with Scripture, knowing that it will not return void.

Trevin Wax: Often, church members think of worship as the “singing before the sermon.” Why do you recommend seeing worship more holistically, including the preaching of God’s Word?

Matt Boswell: Worship is a holistic practice. The promise of the new covenant is that Jesus is the true and better temple, the true and better mount. The regulations of time and place have been fulfilled in Christ.

This means we are a continually worshipping people, in heart, soul, and mind. The way the church has adopted the use of the word worship is a difficult reality we are faced with. When our people say they enjoyed the worship, I understand they mean the singing, and Scripture reading, and time of confession.

At the same time, when we walk with a robust view of what congregational worship is, everything falls rightly into its place. The singing of songs is not elevated to a level it is not meant for, and the Scripture readings are not demeaned as a necessary obligation.

When we look at a liturgy from beginning to end as the people of God gathered to engage with Him and rehearse the Gospel, an unbroken chain is formed. Every element of a worship gathering is an important tool in the hand of God. At the center of the church gathered is the one element absolutely necessary: the word of God laid open in the midst of His people.

Trevin Wax: What was your experience like as you brought together all these worship leaders to contribute to this book? What do you hope the book will accomplish?

Matt Boswell: These group of worship leaders are some of the most careful thinkers I know pertaining to the role of the worship leader. These men are practitioners who love and serve their local congregation, and also are helping shape the worship of the church at large.

My goal in this project was that if we gathered our voices there would be much greater strength than if we continued to speak independent of one another. We want to see a reformation of the role of the worship leader away from a singer of songs toward a shepherd of souls. We are praying for a generation of men who would lead their congregations in biblical, gospel-wrought worship.