Thomas McKenzie
by grace alone
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Freelance Worship



I just had a phone conversation with someone who describes himself as a “freelance worship leader.”

Let’s talk about that for a second. I’m a Christian, and in Christianity there has been a strange shift taking place over the past several years. In the Reformation era, and among Protestant churches, the word “worship” has generally referred to a meeting in which preaching was the main component. In the Catholic churches, and related movements, the word “worship” describes a liturgy whose ultimate focus is communion.

Today, the word “worship” usually means “singing songs to/about God.” Of course, sometimes these songs have practically no content, and once in a while they are heretical. But the same can easily be said of sermons as well, probably some of my own!

In the Bible, the word “worship” relates to both “sacrifice” and “glorification.” Sacrifice, in that this is the means by which people worship the Bible’s God. Glorification, in that the ultimate purpose of worship is to give glory to God.

Now, a worship leader in this context is the person who leads other in the bringing of sacrifice. So, in the newest context, this would be the musician who leads the sacrifice of praise. In the Protestant context, this is the preacher who encourages the sacrifice of one’s self and a returning to the Word of God. In the Catholic context, it is both of these things, as well as the Table, which remembers (in the religious sense of that word) the ultimate sacrifice of Christ, through which we benefit.

The word “freelance” comes from medieval Europe, and refers to a person with a “lance,” a spear used from horseback. This person is “free” in that they have no master and are therefore willing to work for whoever pays them. (In Japan, this was a “ronin,” or “wave-man”)

The American Heritage Dictionary defines “freelance” thus:

1. A person who sells services to employers without a long-term commitment to any of them.
2. An uncommitted independent, as in politics or social life.
3. A medieval mercenary.

So, now I ask this simple question. In what way does someone with no commitment to a faith community lead them in a sacrifice which brings glory to God? What is the spiritual dynamic at work when the leader of worship is in not invested in the spiritual life of those who are led?

I am speaking here, of course, of a guy with a guitar and some important spiritual and musical gifts. But I am also speaking of the substitute priest or the guest preacher.

Now, I am well aware of reality. The reality that the people want to have a guest preacher, especially a well known one. The reality that if you don’t have a priest, you can’t have Mass, and Mass is the central worship act. The reality that you may only have one person in the congregation who can lead singing-worship, and that if this person goes out of town you are in trouble. And, obviously, there are times when outside people may come to assist with worship without –leading-- worship (the hired organist that day, or perhaps the guest preacher at Mass, or the soloist at the Protestant church’s offering time). So, I’m not even referring to them. I am asking the question:

Within Christianity, or any faith tradition with which you are associated, is the idea of the “freelance worship leader” legitimate?

Ponder with me . . . .

ChurchThomas McKenzie