“Music Leader” and “Worship Pastor:” What’s the Difference?


What do you call the person (besides the preacher) who is upfront for most of your church’s Sunday morning service? Let’s consider two descriptions—“music leader” and “worship pastor”—as two different ways of leading God’s people in corporate worship.


A “music leader,” as I am using the term, is a musician who is recognized as uniquely talented among the congregation. Usually, they have more musical training or more public performing experience than other people in their congregation.

When a music leader plans church events, they import the values of their musical training and performing experience into the worship service. If they are classically trained and have performed in concert and recital halls, they might evaluate their worship services for their rhythmic accuracy, perfection of pitch, and attention to historical nuance. If they are self-taught and have performed in popular and rock music venues, they might evaluate their services in terms of spectacle, daring stage antics, and building a shared experience with other people of the same demographic.

Either way, music leaders choose songs that fit them, or songs they feel comfortable performing. Often, when their congregation expresses feedback (or criticism) to improve services, a music leader is stunned. Musicians normally play to a paying and appreciative audience. The people who disapprove of a musician’s music don’t normally complain; they just go somewhere else in order to listen to someone else.


By contrast, a “worship pastor” recognizes that the key noun in their job description is pastor. And as pastors, they labor to know the world of their people—their joys and successes, their burdens and laments—and they labor to know to know the world of the Scriptures. Worship pastors live, to use John Stott’s phrase, “between two worlds”

Worship pastors work to plan worship services that survey the grand themes of Scripture—the goodness of creation, the perversion of sin, the brokenness of our fallen world, and the person and work of the Lord Jesus. Worship pastors inform their personal preferences and broaden their limited perspectives by studying the worship practices of the gathered church around the globe and throughout church history.

Worship pastors ask questions like, “If my congregation had to explain the gospel to an unbeliever using only the lyrics of the songs we sang last Sunday, could they do it?”

Worship pastors receive feedback (or criticism) from their congregation as a grace from God. While they will not implement every suggestion from every church member, they care about how their ministry is serving their people. As pastors, they love their people and want to see them grow in their ability to know the gospel and recognize the riches that are theirs in Christ.


Now certainly the extreme differences that I’m describing between “music leaders” and “worship pastors” don’t exist in real life.  There are, of course, many faithful people who serve in the worship ministries of their local churches under the oversight of their elders. Seen this way, facilitating the upfront portion of a worship service is more diaconal than pastoral. Different local churches who desire biblically faithful worship ministry structures can choose from many options.

But at Bethlehem College & Seminary, we are investing in the paradigm of the Worship Pastor. We are training men who are steeped in the Scriptures, flipping Greek vocabulary cards and devoting time to hiding God’s Word in their hearts. We are training men who are proficient on their musical instruments and skilled to lead other musicians.

Above all, we are training men who love God and use music, and who refuse to switch those two priorities.


Because the glory of God will cover the earth like the waters cover the sea, worship pastors are part of an unstoppable and invincible task. Consider joining us. If you know qualified men who aspire to become worship pastors, encourage them to enroll at Bethlehem College & Seminary. And consider investing your heart and resources in the one thing that will last for eternity: the everlasting worship of our eternal God. For he alone is worthy.

Matthew Westerholm

Assistant Professor of Worship and Music