Lessons on Worship Leading from 1 Timothy


by Shane Heilman

When thinking of worship-leading “coaches” from Scripture, we’re more often inclined to think of David than of Paul. After all, David was a skilled musician who wrote history’s most influential worship songs (the Psalms) and arranged the 24/7 tabernacle worship. There is certainly much to learn from David’s life, his songs, and his philosophy of worship – lessons that could probably fill up an entire blog series itself. Yet, it’s quite possible that Paul’s writings have taught me more about corporate worship than David has.

Several years ago, I was reading 1 Timothy when the Holy Spirit expressly spoke to me some truths about worship leading. These truths instantly took the gatherings I led to new levels of intimacy with God.

1 Timothy is known as one of the three “pastoral epistles,” (1 & 2 Timothy, Titus), so-called because in them Paul is giving explicit instruction on church order to the titular pastors, some of which involves how to conduct worship services.

Here is one of the verses that stood out to me in 1 Timothy pertaining to worship leading:

First of all, then (emphasis mine), I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people…” 1 Timothy 2:1

Again, Paul’s purpose in this letter is instructing Timothy in how to lead the church. In Chapter 2, Paul turns to church function, behavior, and order. First of all, Paul says (indicating primacy), pray for “all people,” which in context refers to “all kinds of people.” Paul also mentions different types of prayer: supplications, intercession, and thanksgivings. This is a comprehensive prayer strategy for the church. Paul indicates its importance as primary.

Yet how much of our corporate worship time is devoted to strategic prayer, to praying out loud for those in attendance, to praying for specific people not in attendance, to praying for each other, touching the heart of God? Songs may act as prayers at times, but prayer must also be specific and personal in corporate worship. Prayer is the primary means by which believers connect to God and to each other, yet strategic, intercessory prayer is often neglected in worship gatherings. It is often reserved only for the pastor’s pre-and-post message prayer, or maybe a prayer tossed up by the worship leader before or after the singing. In one megachurch I attended there was no prayer at all until 45 minutes into the service! Some churches do have a specific “quiet prayer time” set aside in the service to pray for specific people and needs, and this is an excellent practice.

Still, I’m not sure if I’ve ever been in a worship service that spent enough time in prayer.

After reading 1 Timothy 2 one day, the Spirit spoke to me: when were the most powerful, intimate, and life-altering moments of worship that I’ve experienced? Almost all occurred when prayer was central to what was happening in the corporate worship gathering. An elder prayed over me during the final songs of a worship set, or I prayed for someone else. The worship leader offered a powerful, intentional, effectual prayer over the individuals in the congregation, cutting us to the heart and ministering a timely, living word from God to us (these prayers were likely prayerfully crafted and delivered out of intimacy with God before being delivered corporately). The church joined together in prayer for a sick brother or sister. A brother or sister poured his/her heart out to God before the whole congregation. The examples go on and on. The conclusion was inexorable: intentional corporate prayer time is primary and foundational for an effective and intimate corporate worship gathering.

I began incorporating prayer of different kinds into my worship planning in a variety of ways. Here are just some of the ideas I began to implement:

– Hearing from God during the week and composing a Biblical, timely prayer (like a modified, personalized version of Ephesians 3, for example) that would minister to, reassure, and challenge the congregation and the individuals within it, and reciting or reading that prayer during a strategic point in the worship set. These prayers really “opened things up” in the worship gathering. It created freedom in the room for people to engage God more personally. The personal, individualized nature of the words made the gathering feel more “real,” more organic, more vulnerable.

– Asking congregants to pray for each other. Often people need a little direction, such as what to pray for, but getting people outside their comfort zone to pray and minister to the people right next to them is what the church is all about!

– Setting aside a “quiet prayer time” for the congregation to pray for specific requests submitted to the elders (those that are not confidential, obviously), to pray for issues of local or national importance, and to pray silently or out loud for whatever is specifically on their hearts. I usually had an elder a week lead these prayers, but also left quiet time for people to pray on their own and touch the Lord.

– Calling up elders and prayer leaders at strategic points in the service to offer hands-on prayer ministry for people dealing with specific issues, often during the final few songs or in response to the sermon. Very, very powerful ministry, including healings, happen during these times when people have been broken by the Word!

A common concern amongst worship leaders is that too much “prayer time” or “liturgical time” will bog down the flow and bore the congregation. I couldn’t disagree more! When done with spiritual authority, prayer is an extremely engaging experience, even for the seeker. Furthermore, even if some people are coming to church just to be entertained, an intimate time with the Lord will quickly reveal to them that their desire to be entertained can only be fulfilled by the living God. What people are really longing for is connection, whether they realize it or not. It’s our job as worship leaders to give them the time, space, and opportunity to do that.

Another verse that struck me from 1 Timothy was 4:13: “Devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture.” We as worship leaders tend to underestimate just how powerful it is to simply pull out the Bible and read it with authority! There is power in the Word of God!! I always put it this way: when God speaks, people are saved, healed, and delivered. When man speaks, no one is saved, healed, or delivered. In the worship services you plan, how much time is set aside just to allow God to speak? Who is primarily doing the speaking in your worship services, man or God? I realize that the pastor will do most of the “speaking,” but let the reader understand: either a person is blabbing under their own power and wisdom, or a Spirit-filled, Bible-saturated saint is pouring forth living bread and living water, the pure milk of the Word, giving adequate time for reflection and for the Spirit of God to move. Which characterizes your worship gatherings?

One of my favorite ways to incorporate more public reading of Scripture was to memorize Psalms and recite them passionately while repeating an appropriate chord progression. SO POWERFUL! As I looked out at the congregation, I could see the spiritual and emotional response. It was like watching heaviness fall off people and watching them be set free! Memorize Psalms. When memorized, you can also “pull them out of your pocket” at any appropriate, Spirit-led time of worship. They work as prayer as well as encouragement, intercession, praise, lament, exhortation, etc.

I hope these lessons from 1 Timothy have been a blessing to you, and I hope you’re excited to see how God works and speaks in your next worship gathering as you give primacy to prayer and the the reading of Scripture. Unchain the word, let God speak, and enjoy Him as He moves and answers the prayers of your congregation!

Shane Heilman is songwriter and producer at The Psalms Project.

Being Above Reproach

By Greg Brewton

above reproachAs a worship minister serving in the church, we must always seek to be above reproach. Our work is a holy work and deserves Christ-like leaders. It seems every month or so, I hear of a minister who has fallen and is forced to leave the ministry. I don’t believe a minister consciously sets out to destroy his own ministry by falling into sinful habits or practice. It is a slow drift that can be imperceptible at first yet takes a minister way off the path in a short while. Being above reproach is a constant fight on the part of the minister. We are in a spiritual battle for our ministries each day and if we do not recognize the spiritual warfare, we too will fall.

When thinking about how to be of above reproach, a good place to reference is Titus chapter 1. In verses 5-9 the Apostle Paul gives us a list of qualifications for elders in the church. Though every worship ministry position may not be considered an elder-type position, these verses should function as a checklist for the worship minister. Here is a quick listing of the characteristics of an elder: husband of one wife, children are believers, a steward of God, not arrogant, not quick tempered, not a drunkard, not violent, not greedy for gain, hospitable, lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, disciplined, holds firm to the Word of God, gives instruction in sound doctrine, respectable, not a recent convert, and well thought of by outsiders.

This list is really all about the character of the minister. The church leader must be free from sinful behaviors that would prevent him from being a Christ-like example for his congregation. The call to ministry is a call to holiness. Robert Murray M’Cheyne, well-known Scottish preacher from the nineteenth century said,

It is not great talents God blesses so much as likeness to Jesus. A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God. What my people need most is my personal holiness.

Though no follower of Christ is without sin, those who are ministers in the church must be willing to live to the high standard that is set forth in Titus for an elder. Ministers who will not live above reproach should not go into ministry.

Here are 7 guidelines to practicing being above reproach.

  1. We must be under constant nourishment from Scripture. Ministers who do not spend daily time in the Word are already drifting. It’s a dangerous thing to think that we do not have time for God’s Word in our ministries. (Psalm 119: 11, 105)
  2. We must reserve time for prayer in our ministries. Perhaps the single most important influence we have as ministers is being a prayer warrior for our homes and ministries. (Ephesians 6: 18-19)
  3. We must guard our hearts. Be on the alert for improper thoughts or emotions we may have towards another church member or staff person. Never be alone with a person of the opposite sex that is not your spouse. If you think you are strong and above temptation, you will be the first to fall. (I Corinthians 10: 12-13)
  4. We must avoid the appearance of evil. Think about how an action or activity may appear to another church member or neighbor. It may be an innocent activity, but if it looks improper, perhaps you should not be involved. Don’t destroy your witness for something you think you have a right to do. This is being above reproach. (I Thessalonians 5:22)
  5. Don’t put yourself in places of temptation. You know how you are wired and where your weak areas are. Run from these places. If you are viewing pornography, you must escape this sin immediately. It will destroy your family and your ministry. Put in safeguards to prevent you from slipping in this area. (Hebrews 12:1-4)
  6. Get accountability. Sometimes ministers can be the loneliest people. We must have friends and build relationships with someone who can hold us accountable. (Romans 1:8-15)
  7. Never handle money at your church. Always get someone else to collect money or get money deposited. (I Timothy 6:6-16)

Being above reproach can seem like an impossible task outside of the work of Holy Spirit in our lives. I need to be reminded daily how weak and desperate I am in my own strength and how easily I can fall. We are called to be holy ministers for Christ. We can’t do this in our own strength. Every morning before we leave our homes we need to seek the Spirit’s power to live the life of a minister that is above reproach.


Greg Brewton is an associate professor of worship and chair of the Department of Biblical Worship at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY



“Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on” (Matthew 6:25).

“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take no thought for the morrow. . . .” (6:33-34).

“For your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him” (6:8).