Are Worship Leading And Preaching Different Gifts?

Mike Bossingham thinks so. (PDF of article here; equivalent Facebook discussion here.) For my money, I think they are different, too, and I agree with Mike that the culture established in the Methodist Church where the worship leader is just Santa’s little helper to the preacher is all wrong. So too is the notion that if you can preach you can lead worship, but if you can lead worship you can’t necessarily preach. I have always thought my primary gifting was in preaching, but in Methodism that means I normally have to lead worship as well. At that point I break down for ongoing creative ideas.

The Facebook thread goes on to debate Mike’s idea of balancing contemporary and traditional elements in worship, but to me that’s a separate argument.

What are your thoughts?


  1. I actually think that preaching and leading worship are two different gifts. I also think that leading worship in different genres (e.g. “traditional worship” and “modern worship”) may also be different gifts. E.g. someone can have a gift of leading “modern worship” and not be good at “traditional worship” and vice versa.

    I do wish there were a “place” where it was acknowledged that these two different forms of worship are personal preferences. I’m so tired of the “modern = good / traditional = bad” or “traditional = good / modern = bad” arguments.

    As someone who is now currently in an area of the UMC where “modern” worship is de rigeur I can attest to the fact that modern worship can be done very badly indeed. (And as someone with a personal preference for traditional worship, modern worship done badly leaves me colder than cold.)

    I’m going to make a daring statement based on my current position as a person in the pew: I wonder if most people leading worship in most contexts aren’t actually gifted at it? And before someone says this is an argument for every member ministry, most of the bad worship leading I’m seeing is being done by laypeople.


    1. Pam,

      Thanks for the useful clarification between leading different kinds of worship.

      There are diplomatic reasons why I’d better not comment about laypeople and worship leading, so I’ll leave that one!


  2. oh man… don’t get me started on this.
    Worship is a lifestyle, not something reserved for a sunday morning… even less something we need someone to ‘lead’ us in.
    Jesus never asked us to sing in a choir every sunday morning.
    The early church may have sung sometimes, but then they also pretty much lived together, shared possessions and money, etc… and they messed up often enough that we ought not to feel obliged to copy.
    Preaching… leading worship… these are all just ‘traditions’ and surely not the essence of what it means to live as a Christian. It may have been relevant in Jesus’ time to stand on a street corner and deliver a bit of a lecture about what you believed in (no doubt the listeners butted in when they had a question though, and people discussed what was being said)… but today’s culture doesn’t lend itself to this, imho.
    It would be great to see more discussion on a Sunday morning (why does it have to be on a sunday morning?!) and learning together… rather than putting the pressure on one individual who is expected to deliver God’s message to the people week in, week out… rather like a priest or prophet in the OT.
    We’re living in NT times guys… hasn’t anyone noticed?!
    anyway, rant over.
    I don’t care if they are the same gift or different gifts or one eighth of a whole host of other gifts… God’s surely far more interested in our lifestyles than he is our ‘organisation’ for an hour and a half, one day a week.
    sermon over!


    1. Annie,

      I agree wholeheartedly that worship is a lifestyle and I am weary of churches for whom Sunday morning is the main event, if not the exclusive event. However, does the gathering for worship in some sense function as being corporately representative of our worship lifestyle?

      As for learning together as a church, yes indeed! I’m very committed to preaching (I think there is still a place for it), but I love it when I serve a church where people are keen to learn together about their faith. And put it into practice, mind!


  3. What a massive subject. As others have already reflected, worship is more than Sunday and I would suggest more than singing. And singing has always been a big part of me and is a big part of my own worship. I have known an individual who felt music got in the way of worship. Interesting comment. I would see our whole time together on a sunday as an act of CORPORATE worship – a gathering of the congregation for that purpose. It may include praise, thanksgiving, confession, intercession, the reading and exposition of the Word, and Holy Communion. And not in the same balance, or all present on every occaision. Music may be part of the expression of some of these but does not have to be music every time. Our Ash Wednesday communion had no hymns – my wife who is the most regular accompanist was at the maternity hospital with our daughter and latest grandson – and was deep, peaceful and worshipful for that.

    Whre is this leading? It seems to me from experience and common sense that the one with a gift for preaching may or may not “be good” at leading the whole event or the musical element of it. And vice versa. So perhaps they are different gifts, related maybe, but different.


    1. Thanks for another thoughtful comment, Colin. I think in a way you are highlighting something Pam alludes to earlier, namely that different styles of worship require different skills in leading. For someone in the Methodist tradition, music is central to my spirituality – as the preface to our old 1936 hymn book begins, ‘Methodism was born in song.’ I can go so far in choosing music that fits a theme for the service or a certain part in the sequence or flow of the service. However, I am not a musician or a singer and there are certain areas of knowledge consequently closed to me. Equally, I can do some of the ‘right’ things in putting together a spoken liturgy – I would know where to find the appropriate Collect for a particular Sunday, and so on. However, I don’t have the intuitive feel for that kind of worship that someone steeped in a liturgical tradition would have.


  4. I think you are absolutely right Dave about different styles of worship needing different skills but I would also say there is a need for the person leading to feel the worship and enter into it.

    From a purely personal perspective I find liturgical worship difficult both when leading or being part of it, and at one service when I was rather more formal than I normally am (Remembrance Sunday) a member of the congregation asked my wife if I was unwell. After the act of remembrance I felt comfortable slipping back into my normal style and the same lady said to my thanks goodness he’s back to himself.

    If I am totally honest I would say that I can go with either modern or traditional worship and I am fortunate in being a member of the church where they will go with the flow whatever the type of worship being led.

    I agree with you Dave about the importance of music and in fact I probably spend as much time choosing the musical elements of the service as I do writing a sermon – there is great importance in both and I have to say I don’t always go with the ‘theme’ idea that some people seem to think is vitally important.

    In respect of music I always work on the basis of using something at either end of the service that the congregation should know well and can have a good sing and then dabble in the middle with lesser known stuff.

    One thing I have done in a number of our churches is to sing the Psalm (with the congregation) using the book by Martin E Leckebusch called The Psalms which I would probably never have bought except it was reduced from £14-99 to £1-99. In the book you will find all 150 Psalms and suggested tunes for singing them to. On each occasion I have done this there have been a number of favourable comments from members of the congregation and I consider the £1-99 to be excellent value for a book that was actually well worth the original asking price.

    I do note the comments about worship as a lifestyle and fully agree that this is the case, however I do think our corporate worship can be almost like going to the petrol station for a refill – it is good to sing great songs of praise and feel the connectedness of being part of the family of God joined together to worship the creator.


    1. Hi Ian,

      Yes, it seems to me we need to be both the ‘church gathered’ (corporate worship) and the ‘church dispersed’ (worship as a lifestyle; mission). I have problems with those who put all the stress on Sunday, making it a performance and leading to missionary language of the ‘why won’t they come to us?’ variety. At the same time, mission can only be sustained through the various activities of gathering together – the ‘cell, congregation and celebration’ that some have spoken about.

      There is certainly, then, an intrinsic link between the gathering for worship and the dispersal for mission. John Piper (not someone I’d often quote approvingly, given his Calvinist and complementarian convictions) has said that ‘Mission exists because worship doesn’t’. That is, we engage in mission in the world because there are people who not yet worshippers of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Of course, that might be to go off on another tangent – it’s certainly quite a way from where this post started!


  5. However I do think our corporate worship can be almost like going to the petrol station for a refill – it is good to sing great songs of praise and feel the connectedness of being part of the family of God joined together to worship the creator.

    I totally agree with you, Ian. But I think that what is being said by a lot of people in our day and age is that they don’t feel “filled up” by corporate worship but that it’s rather like a long, boring meeting to be endured and which drains them rather than energizes them. For me, it’s hard to understand how to respond to that.


    1. Pam,

      I do believe you’ve introduced the nail to the head of the hammer. And the trouble is, the problem you describe is one I observe in a whole variety of worship traditions. I see it in the disengagement from ‘traditional’ worship and in the emerging church reactions to contemporary worship. The question may well involve cultural relevance, but it has to be more and deeper than that. It has to be about relationships with one another and God at least, I guess. Well, that’s my initial gut reaction. Your thought deserves sustained reflection.


  6. Some interesting discussion here, just thought I’d add a couple of things.

    First off I’d like to add my recommendation of Mike Bossingham’s work. I’ve met Mike on several occasions and I know if his commitment and thoughtfulness.

    Anyway, leading worship (I’m using this to mean collective Christian worship – Sunday or not) and Preaching are both gifts, sometimes present in the same person – but not always.

    As leading worship is a gift we must assume that God is involved in what happens somewhere along the line. What I mean is that if you have the gift then your style will be appropriate to the way you feel God is leading you. Surely we can trust God to help us to worship. I’m not advocating a free for all here – I believe God works through order and training as well as anything but let’s not forget where the gift comes from in the first place.

    I’ve just spend the last 10 years not worshiping in a Methodist church and have experienced all kinds of worship from house churches to High Church Anglican. I’ve got something from all of them – but not every week. Some of my times in corporate worship have been the best times of my life and other times they have been among the worst.

    I fear that perhaps we are not so good at recognising gifts when they come, and then when we are sure they haven’t come we are not so good at telling people that they don’t have them. I suspect this is the biggest problem – after all why would God give someone a gift that is just going to bore us rigid?

    It’s a personal opinion, but I think we need to start thinking in different terms to modern/contemporary and traditional and just concentrate on the worship.


    1. Chris,

      Welcome here, and thanks for such a thoughtful contribution. I’d be really fascinated by some expansion of your last paragraph, if you get a moment to do so.


  7. Hi everyone
    Thanks for the really interesting read. As part of a Methodist /C of E church, we’ve been taking part in a Fresh Expressions workshop recently and have had to think outside the box once again about worship – from skateboarding church to bread baking meditation/candle style last week and now we are doing Toddler Messy Church with all sorts of stuff for under 5s. Time to hit the cornflour and glupe as worship! I having so much fun as an over 50!

    It is exciting that God created us with so many different ways to express our worship of him – the tricky bits seems to be connecting with others and sharing them together but when you do it can be great – or not so brilliant :0) It’s fun and hard but rewarding work at times – bit like life!
    I’m kinda glad we keep on trying….there are so many new things to learn from under 5s and over 50s and those inbetween.. Blessya


    1. Hi Mandy,

      Good to hear from you again. If you ever want contact with the vicar of the parish that set up the ‘skateboarding church’ that is featured on the first Fresh Expressions DVD, let me know, as he co-ordinates the New Wine leaders’ network meeting I attend here.


      1. Hi Dave
        Well – we do have a new easy access ramp out the front of the building…..but somehow I don’t think it was intended for that – shame!


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