August 16, 2013
Friday Five: Stephen Miller
Should worship leaders be rock stars? We ask a popular recording artist and worship pastor.
Stephen serves as the worship pastor at The Journey in St. Louis, Missouri and travels with his band, leading worship in conferences around the world. His latest album, just released, is All Hail The King. Today we wanted to talk to him about his provocative new book, Worship Leaders, We are Not Rock Stars.
Worship Leaders, We are Not Rock Stars is a rather provocative title. What is the message you want to get across to worship leaders with this book?
I think a lot of times people want to use God to get what they want, rather than be used by God to get what He wants. So we can take our own sinful desire, slap some Christian language on it, and call it good motives. This really doesn't fool or help anyone. Our culture's obsession with the celebrity has seeped into the church and famous celebrity Christians are the norm now. That can be a very tempting thing to desire. But there is a difference between wanting to be famous and truly striving to influence the church for the glory of God. So the book really tries to deconstruct the idea that worship leaders are simply music guys finding their identity in how many followers and fans they have, and then give us something greater to aspire to. It's easy to be negative and to criticize, but I wanted to take a different route and encourage worship leaders toward a Biblical understanding of their foundational identity and functional roles within the church.
Seems a lot of successful artists got their start in church. Is it a bad thing for a worship leader to aspire to a career like this?
It depends. The local church isn't a stepping stone to something bigger and better. It's Christ's bride, body, and only plan to bring his salvation to the world! I would love to see more artists who are grounded in the local church; writing songs in their local church, for their local church, as expressions of their local church. If God chooses to take what He is doing there out of those walls and into the world, I think that's a great thing.
You're part of a growing movement writing hymns for the church and recapturing old hymns. How do you explain this new popularity?
People are hungry for substance. There is a reason so many of the old hymns have stood the test of time and we still have them today. For the most part, hymn writers were pastors and theologians whose primary concern was teaching powerful, right doctrine to their congregations in a memorable way. We have the privilege of standing on the shoulders of these giants and building on the foundations they laid in order to shape the Gospel in our people. A lot of my generation and the one coming after me has decided hymns are for their grandparents, so I personally want to take those songs and revamp them for a new context that would appeal to modern musical sensibilities. At the same time, there is certainly a recurring biblical mandate "to sing a new song". There is a tension there. While we have the privilege of church history, we should not cling to the past so hard that we abandon what God is doing here and now. The same principles that guided the hymns writers who have gone before us are good rails to work from. Let's write singable, memorable songs that teach people who God is, what he has done, and who we are in light of that, and then respond in worship. The book actually comes with a free download of my new album called All Hail The King, which features a bit of both revamped Hymns (Doxology, Crown Him with Many Crowns, O For a Thousand Tongues), as well as 10 original songs we wrote for our church to help them sing the Gospel.
You talk a lot of about the theology of our songs. Do Christians always know what they are singing?
I am always amazed at how my young kids know every song they listen to on the radio. They usually have no idea what they are singing or what it means, but they can sing every word. Whether they know it or not, that is shaping their worldview. So as a parent, I have to be careful what I let them listen to. I think the same thing applies in the church. People often tend to sing passively and not think through the words coming out of their mouths, but it gets in their brains over time and shapes the way they view God, themselves and the world. Worship leaders have a huge responsibility and privilege to put truth in the minds, mouths and memories of God's people and when necessary, explain that truth in language they can easily grasp. A great promise of scripture is that if people are singing the truth of God's Word, we can trust that over time the Holy Spirit will help them to understand it, apply it to their lives, and be set free by it.
What advice would you give to a young musician who wants to glorify God with his gifts?
I'll go super practical here. Work just as hard on your character as you do your talent. Practice holiness as much as you practice your instrument (note: you should be practicing both a lot). Love theology as much as you love theory. Worship more off stage than on. Have coaches and mentors in your life who challenge you to walk with Jesus and be a better musician. Finally, don't waste time comparing yourself to other people, or coveting their ministry. As amazing as Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, Hillsong, Paul Baloche, or whoever else you look up to are, God made you to be you. Learn from their example, glean from their wisdom, be grateful to God for them and pray for them - but the only person Jesus wants you longing to be like is himself. Be faithful where he has you and look forward to the day you hear the words, "Well done, good and faithful servant… Enter into the joy of your master."