The Elephant In The Room – Should Worship Leaders Be Paid?


Re-posted with permission from Brenton Brown.

I’m sure it hasn’t escaped your notice that there’s definitely an awkward incongruity with the genre of music we call ‘worship’. My job as a worship leader, my primary purpose – really the only purpose – is to lift the name of Jesus above every other name and to help others do the same. To lift His name above all the other names and words and tasks and things and people that clamor for our attention in this world. As worship leaders this is our task. We are to simply lead others and indeed even our own souls in the worship of God.

But as musicians who aspire to, and in fact do occasionally make a living making this kind of music, one of our important goals is to make our own names known. Obscurity does not feed a family. As working musicians our job is to sell records. And to do that we have to let people know about us. In a very real and practical way we have to lift our names above all the other names – even the other names in ‘worship’ – so that people will recognize, acknowledge and hopefully buy what we make! I think everyone who bumps into the ‘worship’ genre, even unbelievers, quickly becomes aware of it’s tricky combination of priorities. We’re people who promote our names and then go onto to say that Jesus’ name is above every other name… hmmm.

I suppose it’s worth saying that the awkwardness is not quite as severe for CCM musicians. There, it seems, the goal is to make art that also makes known our God. But the language is clearer. They are artists. They make art. They sell art. No problems. The categories seem easier to see and recognize. But worship leaders on the other hand – a title, by the way, that does not exist in either the Old or New Testaments – are ‘afflicted’ with the reminder of our purpose every time we’re mentioned, interviewed, advertised, played on radio, pasted on a poster, tagged on a webpage. Whenever our name is being lifted up as worship leaders, we’re reminded that it’s Jesus’ name who should be lifted higher still.

It’s definitely awkward! And for those of you who know me or maybe track what I do, I just needed to mention the elephant shuffling his feet quietly in the room. Jude tells me I should probably relax. That unless I ’speak up’ the message won’t be heard. I guess in the same way that John the Baptist spoke up to announce and make way for the (humble) King of Glory. But if you ever see me enlarging my name in a way that doesn’t make His name higher or honor Him, please let me know. This is a pretty narrow road – no doubt the same kind of road that all of us walk. But like any path walked in faith, it can be done much more easily within the safety of the community of believers…

Maybe another answer to the awkwardness lies in that little comment I made about ‘worship leading’ not being a named category in scripture. We all know what we mean by the words ‘worship leader’. They’re shorthand for describing the person who leads the singing we do when we get together to meet with each other and worship God. Put it this way – a song leader – the ‘role’ becomes significantly less elevated or bloated. Who’s Brenton Brown or Matt Redman or Paul Baloche or Kathryn Scott etc? They’re just people in our community of believers who happen to write songs, songs that the church sometimes makes use of to worship God.

But God’s mission, God’s church and God’s kingdom will certainly continue to grow with or without these songs! The increase of His government will know no end whether a few musicians in the 20th century throw their tunes into the mix or not. In the light of God’s sovereign plan for His people and the earth, it’s laughable to think that a few song leaders would make a difference either way in His purposes. In the end we’re just musicians – maybe we’re ‘artists’, who knows – who go about their work in this time of history and hope that it helps the cause of God’s mission and God’s people. We are no more sacred or secular than carpenters or firemen or painters or artists. We are just people who have been welcomed into the wide, wide world of God’s love and grace. And as working musicians this is what we bring when we meet.

Brenton Brown is a worship leader/songwriter/worship mentor who travels teaching leadership in worship. With some of modern worship’s most loved and used songs, recorded by the like of Tomlin and Brewster, Brown is a very influential voice in modern worship.