Who Leads Our Worship?

In today’s PCA, there is a wide variation among titles for church officers and ministry staff positions. One trend that our Reformed denomination has taken on (with increasing regularity) is to employ a “worship leader” or a variation of that title, such as “praise leader.” Some churches have a “pastor/director of worship and arts.” No doubt, what most churches mean is someone who leads the music, singing, and liturgy during the Lord’s Day worship services. This has not only become commonplace lingo, but it could even be considered a necessity as more and more PCA churches abandon traditional worship for a broader evangelical style. This article isn’t intended to discuss the types of worship styles per se, but rather I want to consider the question of who actually leads worship for God’s people on the Lord’s Day. The answer to that question may come as a surprise for some.

Scripture gives us the answer with a verse that is somewhat easy to overlook if you’re not paying close attention. In Hebrews 2:12 the writer turns to the well-known messianic 22nd Psalm to show that Christ is the fulfillment of the messianic prophecies and is the long-awaited Savior of God’s people. One might think the author would utilize verse 1—“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”—which Christ famously repeated on the cross. However, the author actually chooses to quote verse 22 to make a different point. In Hebrews 2:12, Christ is the speaker who says, “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.” In this text, we see that Jesus is leading the congregation in proclamation and singing.

In a post-resurrection context, this means that the risen and reigning Christ, who is present by His Spirit, leads His people in a heavenly chorus that unites our praise with all the heavenly hosts, as well as the church triumphant gone before us. This is a glorious truth which ought to lift our hearts in adoration of the work of Christ, who in His work as Mediator is not only present with us, but is leading us when we gather together. John Calvin articulated this well in his commentary on Hebrews: “And it is a truth, which may serve as a most powerful stimulant, and may lead us most fervently to praise God, when we hear that Christ leads our songs, and is the chief composer of our hymns.”[1]

This idea that Jesus, the Lord of all creation, singing may seem odd to many at first, but it’s a truth found elsewhere in Scripture. First, we must take note that immediately after the Last Supper, Jesus and His disciples sing a hymn together (cf. Matt. 26:30, Mark 14:26). Jesus, as the host of the meal, who is soon to give Himself over to be crucified, actually leads His disciples in song. I cannot fathom what kind of moment that must have been as Jesus sings with those whom He loves, knowing that He will give his life for them in a mere matter of hours. Next, we see Paul making this point in Romans 15:9, as Jesus leads in praise over the “divine name among the Gentiles, bringing them salvation… Behind the single mouth by which believing Jews and Gentiles glorify God is the mouth of the Messiah, who makes known the name of God to them.”[2]

This isn’t just a New Testament concept either. Rather, in Zephaniah 3:17 we see that God is not only a mighty Savior in the midst of his people, but He also rejoices over His people with gladness and exults over us with “loud singing.” This hyperbolic language is meant to show that God is a joyful God who loves His people deeply and is so joyful that He actually sings loudly over us. He is a great Husband who is delighted with His bride. As J. Alec Motyer states in his commentary on Zephaniah, “This too is the Lord’s love for his people, a love that delights him, makes him contemplate his beloved with wordless adoration, a love that cannot be contained but bursts into elated singing.”[3]

You may be wondering then, what is the problem with the term or position of “worship leader?” The problem is that to place such a high premium on this position or title is to unintentionally rob Jesus of part of His mediatorial glory and to miss a heart-ravishing aspect of His work for the elect. Not only that, but we are removing the joyful task of the minister who is to be the worship leader for the church. Jesus charged Peter to feed His sheep (John 21:17). We automatically assume that the role of feeding the sheep is the role of the minister who preaches. That is most certainly true, but perhaps we need to broaden our understanding of, or perhaps recover, the role of the minister as worship leader.

As faithful under-shepherds who serve under the Good Shepherd (John 10:11), we are not only tasked with preaching Christ, but with leading the church in praise of Christ. The One who is preached about is the One who speaks to us by His Spirit; and in the same vein, the One who receives our worship is the One who leads our worship—using His ministers to accomplish this task. Brothers, as we seek to serve and preach, as Jesus taught us, let us also follow His example in leading the people of God in the worship of God.


[1] John Calvin, Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 66–67.

[2] Mark Seifrid in Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, ed. G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson (Baker Academic, 2007), 689.

[3] J. Alec Motyer, The Minor Prophets, vol. 3, ed. Thomas McComiskey (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998), 958.