Building a Worship Team that God Wants to Listen to

By Bill Itzel

Steward.  It’s a word that means “House Manager”.  Biblically, it is the designation of those entrusted with the care of Christ’s bride.  Paul writes to the Corinthians, “Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.” (1 Corinthians 4:2), and gives further insight as to what that means to Titus, “For an overseer, as God's steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” (Titus 1:7-9). 

As a worship leader for over 30 years, I have made it my sole purpose, to lead His people in the kind of worship that will please the Master of the house, not the servants.  Oh, those who are true servants of the Master will also be pleased by true worship in spirit and truth (John 4:23-24), but pleasing people has not been what drives me. 

While a worship leader is not necessarily a pastor or elder, a congregation learns much of their theology by the songs they sing.  I have taken my calling very seriously as a steward of the time, talents, and teaching I have been given.  While I am far from perfect in my role, I do believe I have done a few things well and would like to share three building blocks I learned in developing my worship program to be one that would be pleasing to God and faithful in our calling.

God is pleased when we worship with a right heart

One of the greatest joys of building a worship team at a church, was the “audition” process.  I’ve known pastors and worship leaders who define worship as a warm-up preliminary concert of everyone’s favorite top 40 hits on the radio, and thus look for “the voice” rather than looking for “the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).  Sadly, most “Attractional model” churches, pastors and worship leaders never stop to think about what God wants to hear.  Looking and sounding like Bethel Music or Jesus Culture wasn’t my goal.  I had higher aspirations than becoming a mediocre heretic cover band.

God cares less about how awesome the music sounds than the motivation of the one singing and playing it.  That’s why I refused to do the “American Idol” style tryouts that could very well pick great singers, whose hearts are full of dead men’s bones, and instead, spent the bulk of the “Audition” hearing their testimony of salvation, philosophy of music, and

beliefs about worship.  I wanted to see if their heart was passionate for the Lord, they were growing in  holiness, and if they were teachable.  I can work with someone who can sing on pitch, has a good tone, and can hold their part with other harmonies around them.  It takes me 3 minutes to find that out.  I can’t work with someone who is unrepentant in their sin or isn’t even saved, but you’d never get to that little nugget of information if all you’re doing is holding tryouts for “Church’s Got Talent”. People can grow in their talents, and a good worship leader will develop those with God-given abilities, but only if the heart is one that is in submission to the Master of the house. (Matthew 24:14-30).

God is pleased when we worship with a sound doctrine

This one should go without saying, but sadly, with the rise of sloppily written, self-esteem focused, doctrinally vague, or even downright heretical songs, it needs to be said.  There are way too many “Worship songs” that make much of man and his abilities, and in contrast, so little of God.  Man is seen as the hero, worth it, enough, strong, powerful, valuable, beautiful, flawless, sovereign, and the center of attention while God is viewed as needy, lonely, reckless, and exists to serve, "create an atmosphere", and do all He does for man rather than His own glory.

How can you please God if you are singing songs that teach a blasphemous view of Him?  We must worship in Spirit and truth.  Being sincere, but teaching error is not pleasing to the Lord.  Our heart must be right but so must our doctrine.  Now, you’ll have a hard time finding a blatantly heretical worship song; Satan is much more slick than that.  What you’ll find is subtle heresy.  Vague lyrics that could mean many things to many people are gobbled up like grandma’s stuffing on Thanksgiving day by undiscerning church leadership with glazed over eyes at the slick packaging and promises of popularity served up by worldly record companies.  This is one of the reasons why I started my blog, Exegeting the Hymns, that breaks down the words to songs we sing in worship to our Master.

God is pleased when we worship with a biblical purpose

It is truly the height of arrogance to think that God will simply be pleased with whatever we throw at Him. God has dealt harshly with those who offer unacceptable worship (Genesis 4:2-8, Exodus 20:3-6, Leviticus 10:1-3, Deuteronomy 12:29-32, Romans 1:18-23, 2 Corinthians 6:14-18). Too many pastors and worship leaders today, when building their worship ministry, start with the audience-based, man-centered question of what do people want to sing, rather than asking the right question, what does God want us to sing, how does God want us to worship.  Nothing is worse than a pastor or worship leader who usurps that position.

When it comes to the worship of God in the church, it is the job of the pastors, elders, and music leaders to steward God’s people in the way that God has commanded.  It isn’t the steward’s job to “create a vision” for God’s worship, although this is common practice in evangelical churches today.  Stewards are to be found faithful (trustworthy, loyal, responsible, accountable) to God’s Word, not their own desires, not the desires of their congregation, and certainly not the desires of the world.  

2 Timothy 2:4 says, “No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer.”  Following the commands of God from holy scripture will lead to gold and precious stones on the day of judgment.  Following our own whims, pragmatic schemes, and attractional models based on drawing a desired demographic will be burnt up as wood, hay, and stubble on the last day.  God is clear, and as leaders of His people in His worship, we should be excited about what God is excited about…and we find that in scripture alone. Worshipping God "in Spirit and in Truth" was not a throw-away line from our Savior. It was a clear parameter on worship given by the Master of the house, who is returning, and will hold His stewards accountable. Will we be found faithful?