Features, Pastorate, Theology
Leave a comment

Worship is the Way: Pastors as Worship Leaders

Maverick City Music has been helping me worship for weeks since I first heard their rendition of “Promises.” Here’s a sample of the lyrics that have saturated my soul:

God from age to age,
Though the earth may pass away, your word remains the same.
Your history can prove, there’s nothing You can’t do,

You’re faithful and true.
Though the storms may come, and the winds may blow,

I’ll remain steadfast.
And let my heart learn, when You speak a word, it will come to pass.

From the rising sun to the setting same
I will praise Your name,
Great is Your faithfulness to me.

Yes, I’ll still bless You.
In the middle of the storm,
In the middle of my trial,
In the middle of the road,
When I don’t know where to go,

I’ll still bless You.

Great is Your faithfulness to me.

The song speaks to the profound truth that God is to be worshiped through any and all circumstances. Whether in good times or bad, great is his faithfulness to us. And because God’s faithfulness does not wax and wane based on the diverse situations we find ourselves in, worship is the way for the Christian.

Worship is the way because God makes all the difference in every circumstance of our life. We worship God in “times of plenty” so that his good gifts don’t become idols. And we worship God in “times of famine” so that we don’t lose heart under the weight of trials. Faithful pastors know this and, therefore, see at the heart of their ministry to the church the effort to lead God’s people into worship. Understanding their ministry in this way, pastors are first and foremost worship leaders.

Of course, in evangelicalism worship leaders are typically seen as the musician or vocalist up-front leading the congregation in song. But worship understood biblically, is about far more than singing on Sunday mornings. Indeed, it is a way of life (see, for example, Philippians 1:18-26; 1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:12-17; and 1 Peter 2:9). The essence of the Christian life is summed up clearly by Jesus when he answers a lawyer’s question about the most significant part of the Law: “And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment’” (Matthew 22:37-38). In other words, the worship of God is paramount.

THE APOSTLE PETER AS WORSHIP LEADER

As a faithful shepherd in the early church, Peter labored to lead God’s people into worship. For he knew that whatever the circumstances, a worshiping church is a flourishing church able to withstand the assaults of the world, the flesh, and the devil. We see this pastoral theology working itself out in the earliest verses of his first epistle:

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,

To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood:

May grace and peace be multiplied to you.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (1 Peter 1:1-5).

Who were the recipients of Peter’s letter? He refers to his readers as “elect exiles of the Dispersion” (v. 1). These homesick sojourners were countless young believers living away from all that was familiar due to the severe persecution of the church that broke out shortly after the resurrection of Jesus Christ and his ascension to glory. The followers of Christ had been displaced throughout the known world. We can only begin to imagine what it must have been like for these new disciples to be learning to follow Christ when everything in their world had been turned upside down. The temptation for these Jewish Christians to turn back to old ways must have been overwhelming at times. Peter, sensing the urgency of the moment, writes with a palpable earnestness for the welfare of God’s scattered pilgrims. (This is seen in the structure of vv. 3-9 in 1 Peter. It’s one long sentence in Greek, which speaks to Peter’s determination to further ground his readers in the gospel knowing the threat of apostasy is real.)

A COUNTERINTUITIVE MOVEMENT

Peter begins by going Godward in praise. This is seen in the great doxology of v. 3: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!” You might expect Peter to immediately address the homesick pilgrims—these young Christians who are suffering under tremendous persecution. He will in short order, but first things first. Struggling pilgrims need to go Godward.

So much of our struggle in the Christian life is a result of “spiritual amnesia.” We forget about God, the One who makes all the difference in every equation of our life. Peter’s pastoral care sounds like an echo of Psalm 103 where the psalmist opens with praise to God with a plea to “forget not all his benefits”: “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits” (vv. 1-2). To shore up the faith of these elect exiles, Peter presents an exercise in remembrance.

PRAISE GOD FOR A LIVING HOPE

Peter, first, reminds suffering saints to praise God for their living hope. You see it in the second part of v. 3: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (italics added). God does not treat us according to our sins. No, instead of wrath (which we deserve because of our sin), we receive mercy in Christ. “According to his great mercy” God has acted. What, according to God’s great mercy, has he done? He has “caused us to be born again to a living hope.”

Where does Peter get this “born again” language? It’s important language to Peter as he’ll use it again in v. 23 when he reminds his readers that “you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.” This, of course, is New Covenant language that Jesus used in his earthly ministry. You’ll recall his interaction with Nicodemus in the gospel of John. It is there that Jesus makes clear how one can enter the kingdom of God:

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit (John 3:1-8).

This new birth in Christ (that is, the doctrine of regeneration) is what gives us our living hope. And unlike the dead hopes of the world (insert ‘money,’ ‘fame,’ ‘health,’ ‘power,’ ‘intelligence,’ ‘beauty’), our hope in Christ is living. How do I know this? Because it’s “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the basis for our new birth and living hope. Without the resurrection of Christ from the grave our new birth would be impossible and our hope meaningless. But he has risen from the grave. This was the testimony of the apostles in the book of Acts. Indeed, not only did Peter write about it here in his first epistle, but he proclaimed it on the day of Pentecost: “God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it” (Acts 2:24).

Pastor Peter writes to weary saints to assure them that their hope is not merely something future, but their present possession. Because he lives, we can face today with absolute confidence in the triumph of Christ. The faithful shepherd assures God’s people that their hope, because it’s living, will never put them to shame. This truth is designed to sanctify every suffering as it awakens worship in the church.

PRAISE GOD FOR A PRICELESS INHERITANCE 

Peter introduces inheritance language in v. 4 when he continues the thought of being born again “to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.” The word ‘inheritance’ calls to mind the death of a person who has willed his/her property to loved ones. Peter, however, casts the term in the context not of death, but of life. Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are born again to a priceless inheritance.

Peter is showing how the idea of ‘inheritance,’ so prominent in the Old Testament, has to do with eternal realities.

The inheritance Peter points to is the final salvation believers inherit when they leave this earthly scene and obtain eternal glory (see, for example, how Peter explains this in vv. 5 and 9 of this chapter). This is an inheritance “kept in heaven” for us, where God stores it safe and secure until the appointed time when we receive it.

How are we to think about this aspect of our salvation? Elsewhere in Scripture, we learn that salvation is, among other things, forgiveness of sins, reconciliation with God, and life everlasting. But here, Peter uses three adjectives to help us feel the weight of glory that awaits us.

First, Peter describes our salvation as imperishable. Our treasure is not subject to death or destruction. It is unbreakable. It can never perish. It is not, therefore, limited by time. It is eternal. This is the accent the Apostle Paul places on our salvation in 2 Cor. 4:17, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”

Second, Peter describes our salvation as undefiled. Our salvation can never be spoiled, corrupted, or polluted. It remains eternally free from any blemish, moral or otherwise. It’s the vision of the Apostle John in Revelation 21:27, “But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.”

Third, Peter describes our salvation as unfading. It is not and never can be subject to decay. Peter comes back to this theme in chapter five when he points us to the return of Christ, “And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory” (1 Peter 5:4). Precious gemstones may lose their vividness, their brilliance over time. But not so with our salvation. When we are glorified we will forever “shine like the sun in the kingdom of [our] Father” (Matthew 13:43).

Pastors of all people must know that the things of this world are perishable, defiled, and fading. Therefore, as the worship leaders of the church, we plead with our people to look by faith not to the things that are seen, but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal! We know this to be true because at the heart of our salvation is no one less than the triune God. This is the promise of the gospel: “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jeremiah 31:33). To secure this covenant relationship is why Jesus suffered and died, as Peter explains: “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18; italics added).

Pastors help God’s people examine their hearts to see what they’re investing in. Are we investing in the fleeting pleasures of this world or the eternal riches of Christ? (Matthew 6:19-20) Week in and week out Pastors, as worship leaders, echo the cry of the Lord from Isaiah 55:1-3:

Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live.

When all our earthly treasures are taken away from us we remember the priceless inheritance that is ours in Christ.

PRAISE FOR GOD’S MATCHLESS POWER 

Peter reminds us to praise God because nothing less than the power of God is directed toward us for our eternal good. Christians are a people “who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (v. 5).

Breathtaking.

Peter’s readers may have been anxious about whether they would have the strength to remain faithful to Christ should persecution or suffering increase. Peter assures them that God’s power will guard them against finally falling away. God, in other words, would be their ultimate protector and ensure that his elect exiles would make it to glory.

The word translated “guarded” means “kept safe, carefully watched.” The word is a present participle meaning “you are continually being guarded.” It reminds me of the simple yet powerful hymn and the lyrics, “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches over me.” Always.

This guarding is by God’s power but also “through faith.” This, of course, does not mean that our final salvation depends on us. It means that God will protect his children to the end by sustaining their faith (to see this in powerful narrative form, see Luke 22:31-32). It’s the promise of Philippians 1:6 where Paul assures the church “that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” After all, Jesus is “the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). All omnipotence will ensure that we experience nothing but “pleasures at this right hand forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).

CONCLUSION

Pastors are first and foremost worship leaders in the church. Worship of God is what we were made for and where we find our true humanity. This is why pastors must labor in a ministry of remembrance, helping our people “forget not all his benefits.” It is this ministry alone that will help the church sing,

God from age to age,
Though the earth may pass away, your word remains the same.
Your history can prove, there’s nothing You can’t do,

You’re faithful and true.
Though the storms may come, and the winds may blow,

I’ll remain steadfast.
And let my heart learn, when You speak a word, it will come to pass.

From the rising sun to the setting same
I will praise Your name,
Great is Your faithfulness to me.

Yes, I’ll still bless You.
In the middle of the storm,
In the middle of my trial,
In the middle of the road,
When I don’t know where to go,

I’ll still bless You.

Great is Your faithfulness to me.

Filed under: Features, Pastorate, Theology
Michael Pohlman

Michael Pohlman (PhD, Southern Seminary) is professor of Preaching and Pastoral Ministry and chair of the Department of Ministry and Proclamation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is founder and executive director of Some Pastors and Teachers.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.