I had a conversation recently with a pianist who is serving on a search committee for a minister of music at her church. She was frustrated by her pastor who had recently made the comment that the new music minister did not have to read music as long as he was good on the platform. The pianist obviously did not agree with the pastor because she knew she would be the one who would have to carry the weight of knowing how to make the music work if the minister of music did not read music.
In the pastor’s defense I agree that we want a worship leader who knows how to communicate clearly and inspire the congregation to join in the musical portion of the worship service. It does not matter how skilled the musician is if he cannot effectively lead the congregation in worship.
Finding the worship leader who is a skilled musician and an effective communicator is not always easy. I would also want this person to have a strong sense of calling and a heart for the Lord. Churches often struggle to find this combination in one person. Yet I see the approach of settling for a music minister who has no music reading skills as a last resort.
There seems to be a double standard when we expect the pastor to get theological training and some level of ability to search the Scriptures in the original languages but we don’t have the same level of expectation for another minister who is leading the church in worship and discipling the congregation (all ages) in the Gospel through music.
I encourage persons who feel called to some type of music ministry to get the training they need to do the work God has called them to do. Students preparing for music ministry or worship leadership need in depth training (both musical and theological) just like we expect for pastors who are preaching. In my 30 years of involvement in music ministry I have seen a lot of change in styles and methods of music ministry. A well trained music minister is better prepared to adjust to these changes when they come.
It seems that in our contemporary culture there has been a “dumbing down” of all areas of society. This is reflected in the comment of the pastor who says that he does not really care if his worship leader can read music. A worship pastor who does not understand the ins and outs of music reading is handicapped from the start. He has to depend on others who work with him to figure out the music.
I once heard a pastor of a mega church brag about the fact that his worship leader did not read music. This worship leader was an effective worship leader from the platform but I was thinking how much more effective he would be if he could relate to his musicians in the language that they understand and interpret every time they sit down to play.
Worship leaders should be as well prepared to do their job as any other ministers in the church. I encourage my students to get a full “toolbox” of music tools while they are in school. You may only be using one or two tools right now, but you never know what the Lord may lead you to do down the road and you want to be prepared to answer the call. I have found that to be very true in my own life.
So the answer to the question of whether a worship pastor should be able to read music is yes, of course. How much more effective will this person be in his service to the Lord and his congregation!
Boyce College Presents
The Heart of Worship Conference 2009
January 30-31, Friday evening – Saturday
On the campus of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY
A Conference for High School and Middle School Students who sing in choirs, play instruments in the worship band or help with sound and media.
Complete information available at: