Hidden Agendas in Worship Leading

By Kenneth Berding May. 9, 2012 5:56 p.m. Church Life, Ministry and Leadership, Spiritual Formation

I recently led a seminar for students at Biola who are studying to become church worship leaders entitled:  "Hidden Agendas in Worship Leading."  I had them break into groups and discuss what sorts of hidden motivations sometimes lie under the surface in the process of planning and implementing times of worship.  When we came back together we drew up a list on the white board.  Here are some of the elements that made it onto that list:

  1. Desire to keep worship team members happy.
  2. Desire to prove that you are a good musician.
  3. Desire to not have to work too hard.
  4. Desire to not be viewed as old-fashioned by a newness-loving generation.
  5. Desire to distance oneself from the leadership of the church and the senior pastor in particular.
  6. Desire to impress a certain visitor.
  7. Desire to do music for recreation.
  8. Desire to prove you are in charge.
  9. Desire to push one’s own theological agenda through worship leading.
  10. Desire to avoid criticism.

After we drew up our list, I offered them a challenge from 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8.  In this passage, you can tell that Paul is responding to criticisms that his motivations are wrong.  You can infer six of their criticisms from this passage:

  1. They probably said that what he was teaching was in error (v. 3).
  2. They probably accused him of impure intentions; that is, to take advantage of them sexually.  (The word in v. 3 may suggest sexual impropriety.) 
  3. They probably said that he was using trickery and deceit (v. 3).
  4. They probably accused him of using flattery (v. 5). 
  5. They probably accused him of doing it for greed (v. 5).
  6. They probably accused him of doing it for praise from people (v. 6).

Now the main thrust of this passage concerns Paul describing the sincerity of his ministry among the Thessalonians.  The way he does this is by making real connections with what the Thessalonians already know about the ministry he did during the short time he was with them.  Notice how often he uses expressions whose only function is to make personal connections with what they already know.

  1. “For you yourselves know….” (v. 1)
  2. “as you know” (v. 2)
  3. “as you know” (v. 5)
  4. “For you recall” (v. 9)
  5. “you are witnesses” (v. 10)
  6. “you know” (v. 11)

He wanted them to remember that he truly and sincerely cared for them and was doing what he was doing for their sake.  Look how emphatic he was about it:  “I did not seek glory from men, or from you, or from anyone else!”

So if Paul were here and wanted to challenge us to pursue a sincere ministry devoid of hidden agendas, what might he share?  I have a pretty good guess because of what he shares in this passage.  Here are five things he would want to share with you.

  1. Do ministry as people approved of God (v. 4).
  2. Aim to please the God who examines our hearts (v. 4).
  3. Be gentle among those to whom you minister (v. 7).
  4. Love them! (v. 8).
  5. Don’t just carry a message; share your very souls (v. 8).

My prayer for all the worship leaders reading this right now is that you openly and honestly explore in the presence of the Lord the possibility of hidden agendas and hidden motivations in your worship leading.  Then allow God’s own probing Spirit to examine your heart and lead you into a more God-focused ministry—a ministry that is an overflow of his work in your heart.


  • John Goodrich May. 11, 2012 at 11:49 AM

    What a wonderful opportunity for Biola's future worship leaders. And great exposition of 1 Thess 2; your insights are quite appropriate for any kind of Christian service. Thanks for sharing this.


  • Tim May. 16, 2012 at 1:48 PM

    I would suggest that the very idea than one person see themselves as a worship leader in a gathering is a result of a hidden agenda. Eph. 5: 18-20 tells us that demonstration of being filled with the Spirit is mutual participation in both singing and speaking about the singing by the people, rather than by one person on a platform. All of the saints are to be worship leaders, not one expert. Mutual submission is not demonstrated by everyone being quiet so one guy can do all the heart expression, it is responding to each other's expression and recognizing the power of any given expression and enhancing it. 1 Cor. 14 tells us specifically about "each one" offering personal expression in offering a song, a teaching, etc. This flows from our identity as many parts of a body, not just one part of a body dominating. Where is the monolithic worship leader here? Nowhere.

    Because the American church is chained to a pulpit / pew orientation, it is easy to see Paul taking the place of the pulpit guy, when this is not the case. It was Paul's goal for all the Thessalonians to follow his example and be worship, teaching, encouraging, exhorting participants in their gathering. When you participate, you are a leader. Leading in the household of faith is never monolithic or one way expression. God is never a lecturer or a dominator of expression. The chief shepherd never stands behind a pulpit to dominate expression and repress immediate response and feed back. God wants our response and heart participation with Him. Human shepherds should be no different.

    In verse 9 Paul, as well as in chapter 3, Paul states his example of being a business man to meet his own needs while he helped the saints grow. Paul saw no advantage for any believer to never work a job and take all his needs our of the offering plate so he can devote "full time" to being a leader. There is no quicker way to dumb down God's people and train them to come together with NOTHING prepared to contribute from their heart than to hire experts to plan everything and perform it for them.

    I realize this confronts a very deep tradition, but I hope the scripture I give can have enough power to cause correction, rather than tradition justification.

  • Craig May. 23, 2012 at 3:40 PM

    Ken --
    That sounds like a deeply profitable session for budding leaders. Many of us who have been serving in this realm for half our lives are still aware of the pesky internal battles over motives. Am I still relevant to the younger set? Are we growing and challenging the traditionalists? Is the sound system optimized? Is the band tight enough? At some level, many of our common weekly concerns fall into the broad realm of seeking to please people. And yet, as we are inviting people to respond to God - their concerns are not irrelevant. It continues to be worthwhile to regularly do a motives check and to ask hard questions. Thanks for your contribution to these young developing leaders.

  • Craig May. 24, 2012 at 10:09 AM

    Tim --
    Your post makes an important contribution and has some validity. The parallels of Eph. 5:18-21 and Col. 3 are our clearest New Testament passages about what we nowadays call "worship singing." Each emphasize both edification and worship aspects of music ("to one another" and "to the Lord"/"to God") and transition to a discussion of submission. Meanwhile, 1 Cor. 14:26 (often overlooked, likely due to the controversies surrounding the whole chapter) gives an inspiring model for what "open worship" or "participative worship" might look like -- where many people bring their own contributions (a hymn, word of instruction, revelation, tongue/interpretation, etc.) for the edification purpose of "strengthening of the church." It is true that these 3 primary New Covenant worship gathering passages do not paint a picture of hero worship toward famous pulpiteers or worship performing artists.

    However, I think you have swung the pendulum too far in your posting. For example, even 1 Cor. 14 does not describe a leaderless or purely democratic meeting. Verse 29 describes a limited number of prophets (2-3) who should speak, and v.32 reveals that even those who speak do so under the authority ("control") of the prophets (often interpreted to be leaders perhaps functioning as Overseers here). So, an established leadership core is still in view as overseeing the process of the meeting.

    Similarly, in Acts 2, we have the model of both primary leadership combined with high and diverse participation of the body. Peter is clearly established in this chapter as the primary preaching voice. When the new community establishes their regular gatherings, there is a mixture of group participation and active leadership by a few. All believers are active in devoting themselves - and participating - in fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayer (v.42), while there is retained a primacy of teaching by "the apostles" -- clearly a limited group of established leaders. Also, unique wonders and miraculous signs are being performed by the apostles. At every stage of the development of the early church, leaders (such as Peter, Paul, and others) are strategic to the growth and gatherings of the church. And there is an active council of leaders in Acts 15.

    Throughout the New Testament, plural overseers/elders are set in place over the local gatherings of believers for times of prayer, worship, and teaching - where we have every reason to believe that they exercised actual leadership in those gatherings. Paul taught as a solitary voice for great lengths of time virtually everywhere he went. Similarly we know that Paul commanded Timothy to "preach the word" and exercise his ministry "charisma" (gift or ministry assignment). There are simply too many examples to ignore or demean this other side of the equation...

  • Craig May. 24, 2012 at 10:10 AM

    (Part 2)

    The balance here is that Scripture consistently gives us examples of BOTH a very active, participative body AND appropriate leadership to guide the processes. The leaders are not to abuse their authority by making everything about them. They are to equip and prepare an environment where the Spirit may liberally utilize various members of the body as He guides. There seems to be two opposite errors here: One, that would reduce the congregation to passive observers (perhaps like old Catholicism where only the priests took communion, prayed, and recited the liturgy); and Two, what you seem to be advocating -- of a vacancy of appropriate leadership. Certainly, the Old Testament is replete with multiple and rich models of worship leadership (prayers, proclamation, prophecy, confessions, and yes prepared/practiced/performed music, and dance, etc.), that are not over-ridden by New Testament practices.

    I don't think it is actually sensible to regard everyone as functioning as a "leader". It doubtlessly evacuates the term from any meaning. We can make efforts to create a culture that is conducive to high participation and include multiple key contributors - even those unprepared yet prompted in real-time by the Spirit. Yet, we can also effectively and biblically be guided in this very process (of "decency and order") through godly leaders who are not pursuing stardom, but are rather serving in their ministry callings as spiritual leaders.

    And Paul actually did give permission for shepherds to make their living from their ministry. He even asserts that the Lord has commanded this! He simply did not demand this privilege as his personal right (1 Cor. 9:7-16).

    Keep studying, brother. But watch that pendulum! Whenever we over-correct, we run the risk of creating another problem on the other side, sometimes just as severe as the one we were initially trying to solve. God bless.

  • Ken Berding May. 24, 2012 at 2:44 PM

    Thanks for your really helpful comments, Craig. They are solid biblically-rooted comments that reflect your many years in worship leadership.

  • Ken Berding May. 24, 2012 at 2:49 PM

    And thanks for your comments too, Tim. I think that Craig's words are worth pondering, but I do appreciate your desire to involve more people in the worship of the church. May God be glorified as we seek to guide and lead his people into a posture of worship that is both biblical and edifying to the community of faith.

  • Tim May. 24, 2012 at 7:54 PM

    From my reading of what you have responded, you are grabbing the pendulum and keeping it on the Catholic side for all of us protestants. Here I am protesting behavior that contradicts very specific instructions (not merely occurrences that seem to suggest one thing or another) demonstrated in 99.9% of evangelical churches. The protestant addiction to monolithic-one-way communication driven gathering is staggering. Both the "leaders" and the pew sitters love it. You offer only multiple yes -buts and a false assumption.

    "For example, even 1 Cor. 14 does not describe a leaderless or purely democratic meeting...So, an established leadership core is still in view as overseeing the process of the meeting. "

    Pulpit people have such a difficult time admitting that other believers, even non-overseers can be leaders - example setters in a gathering. Position driven authority complete with titles and major boost in meeting driving is such a bogus contradiction to clear NT teaching on example setting leaders that do not lord. (1 Peter) When one man dominates that gathering - he is lording. It's all considered normal in the evangelical church. The monolithic control and passivity of the gathered royal priests is staggering. The priesthood of the believer is truly dead when pulpits and pews are the setup. I know it is very difficult for platform people to let go of the notion that their expertise (power) is the key to the gathering being edifying. It is equally difficult for the saints to take up the supernatural position, power, and connections God has given to edify one another, not hire someone to do it for them.

    You may want to do a study that recognizes the translation errors that use "ruling" and insert "authority" when it is not there. Ruling is no different than lording, and lording is strictly forbidden - thus ruling is not contextually accurate. I know how hard it is for those who claim it, to let go of it for Jesus sake and His headship.

    Yes, Paul did a lot of talking, but nothing that reflects the current perpetual dependency. His talking was reproductive. The saints could do everything he did and knew what he knew so he could leave and let them do it. I can't say that anything indicates that he taught Timothy to lecture the word with zero freedom for anyone to add, object, question, or anything else. He certainly did not ask Timothy to lecture the word in one place for 20 - 30 years. Both Jesus Luke 6:40 and Paul 2 Tim. 2:2 taught reproductive teaching, not perpetual dependency information distribution.

    I urge you to look outside the box of what could be called expertise addicted gathering and see the beauty of the body of Christ that is being squandered and dumbed down.

  • Tim May. 24, 2012 at 7:58 PM

    The first 30 years of my life I was fed a steady diet of pulpit and pew orientation faith. I even majored in being a Bible lecturer in college. I felt that traditional "call to the ministry". I've pondered it all and saw huge tragic disobedience and disregard for the amazing things God has designed for His people and empowerment He has given them to accomplish it. When I see the opposite pushed as God's will, my heart grieves, knowing His heart is grieving also. I am thankful God freed me from the trap of tradition so I must do my part as His messenger to offer rebuke and correction, and leave the growth to Him. God's grace is big, that he does not open up the earth and swallow His people in their disobedience as He did long ago for their idolatry. There is time to repent. How much time, I don't know.

    Thank you men for responding. Most traditional leaders God connects me with will not respond at all. It took me 20 years to work it all through so will allow for that for others.

  • Sebastian Jun. 23, 2012 at 7:49 AM

    Hi I want to recommend a website to you, it has the Bible in songs, but it's unique in that the author has been working in the songs for over 35 years. This band has a lot of Psalms of the NIV in songs: www.abunoahiii.com

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