Mike Harland has served as the director of worship at LifeWay Christian Resources since 2005. He is a Dove Award-winning songwriter, a published author, and a worship leader who sings and speaks nationally and internationally.
Harland will provide equipping and encouragement for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s Renewing Worship Expo, scheduled for Friday and Saturday, Aug. 2-3 at Calvary Baptist Church’s West Campus in Advance, N.C. The expo will feature training for anyone involved in any aspect of worship ministry all in one place.
Harland recently took time to answer some questions about worship in the local church, why worship leaders should view themselves as disciple-makers, and what he plans to share at the expo.
You’ve spent a lot of time around worship ministries in churches of different backgrounds, contexts and sizes. What are some things you’ve learned about worship in the local church over the course of your 30-plus years in ministry?
One size doesn’t fit all; each context has its own challenges and opportunities. And because that is true, what works down the street or in your last church, or what worked 10 years ago may not be what you should do now. Worship leadership is spiritual in nature – the music piece is a significant part of the work, but does not encompass it. The role is one of a shepherd – an artistic one for sure, but the leader has to be far more than an artist.
You’ve noted that perhaps no subject in the local church produces more opinions and passions than the subject of worship. Why is that so?
My mother used to say, “Opinions are like noses – everybody has one, and they are all different.” Music is a subjective art form with a wide range of nuances and styles. As the centuries have rolled on, more and more diversity in the art form has developed, and that diversity is certainly present in our churches. When you combine that with the wide range of spiritual maturity present in our congregations, it fosters opinion and passion over styles in churches. We should never be surprised when this happens. This reality is why it is so vital that we lead spiritually around principles that transcend the stylistic preferences of the people we lead.
How is what we are doing in worship contributing to the mission of the church?
In your recent book Worship Essentials, you discuss the role of a worship leader as one who doesn’t just make music, but makes disciples. How are worship and discipleship intertwined?
The commission Jesus gave us was to “go and make disciples.” As far as I can tell, the music ministries of our churches are not exempt from this directive. That means the music ministry leader needs to constantly ask the question, “How is what we are doing in worship contributing to the mission of the church?”
Worship and discipleship link up in at least three ways – organizationally, instructionally and inspirationally. The organization we lead (choirs, bands, teams) give us direct access to people in a ministry setting. We contribute to disciple-making when we lead those people spiritually through teaching God’s Word, praying together, practicing spiritual disciplines as a group and by modeling those disciplines as we grow ourselves. The content of the songs we sing and lead instruct the congregant in biblical truth, doctrines and confessions, while at the same time, equipping the person to carry out a vital spiritual discipline – praise. Finally, the worship ministry inspires the believer by fostering a community experience of worship that emboldens the heart, holds each one accountable to our beliefs and encourages the spirit of the worshipper.
We’re looking forward to having you join us at our upcoming Renewing Worship Expo training event. This event is designed to offer comprehensive training for anyone involved in any capacity of their church’s worship ministry. What would you say to those who might be thinking about attending a training event such as this one?
Conferences like this are an important aspect of any leader’s experience in ministry. Jesus modeled the discipline of pulling aside with His leaders to equip, encourage and refresh their spirits. Conferences like this inform, but they also inspire and refresh the leader. When we gather with other leaders, we learn from each other and encourage each other in the race. I love a quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln – “If I had four hours to cut wood, I’d spend the first three sharpening my ax.” That’s what conferences like this do – they help us sharpen our ax.
What do you plan to share in order to encourage and equip attendees, and what do you hope they will take away from the event?
I love to spend time with people who lead and serve in worship ministry. They are my favorite people! It would be my hope that our time together will help each one look deeply at their work and gain a fresh perspective of what God has called us to do and how we can be more effective in our leadership. I want the Word of God to challenge all of us as we look at the essentials of worship together.