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Blog / The Worship Pastor: An Interview with Zac Hicks

The Worship Pastor: An Interview with Zac Hicks

Zac HicksLeading worship is more than a performance; it’s about shaping souls and making disciples. How does the Bible offer a clear guide to leading worship?

Bible Gateway interviewed Zac Hicks (@zachicks) about his book, The Worship Pastor: A Call to Ministry for Worship Leaders and Teams (Zondervan, 2016) (book website).

Why do you emphasize that worship leaders are pastors?

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Zac Hicks: At the heart of many of today’s “worship problems” (ongoing style wars, thoughtless appropriation of cultural practices, segregation of ages, lack of theological depth, etc.) is the loss of a pastoral vision for what worship leadership is. Whether or not worship leaders are formally ordained, have seminary degrees, or bear the title “pastor,” what they do, week in and week out, has a shaping effect on the people they lead. The acts of planning and leading worship are pastoral works. Song selection, prayers, service structure, and even one’s actions and mannerisms, give people a certain vision of who God is and how he’s to be approached and followed. There’s no way around the pastoral nature of the worship leader’s call.

How were Adam and Eve the first worship pastors?

Zac Hicks: The Bible describes Adam’s vocation as “working” and “taking care of” the garden (Gen 2:15). Scholars point out that these terms aren’t actually the standard words for gardening. Rather, they’re “cultic” terms (meaning, “related to worship”)—words and phrases that we find being used of priests, whose job it is to lead worship (for example, Num 3:7-8; 8:26; 18:5-6). Scholars also point out the many linguistic connections between the way the garden is described and the way the tabernacle and temple are depicted. Eden, as a microcosm of all of creation, was a “house of worship.” One could say that Adam and Eve’s mandate as stewards of the earth was to be “worship pastors” of creation—to cultivate creation’s giving glory to its Maker.

How is the worship pastor a “corporate mystic”?

Zac Hicks: Christian mystics believe that encountering the presence of God is part and parcel to our discipleship. Depending on one’s tradition, this “mystical” idea that God is actually present with us as we gather corporately in worship may be lost on us. Worshipers always run the risk of downgrading worship into mere ritual. Worship pastors who take their call as “corporate mystics” seriously recognize the corporate worship experience as nothing short of Divine encounter, and they long for their local body to embrace the fullness of all that it means that God is present among us as we sing, pray, preach, baptize, and receive the Lord’s Supper.

What is a philosophy of worship?

Zac Hicks: A philosophy of worship is, most simply, one’s answer to all the “why’s” of worship. Why do we sing for long chunks of time? (The answer to that articulates your philosophy.) Why do we take an offering? (The answer again is your philosophy.) Why do or don’t we allow non-Christians to lead music? Can the sermon be replaced by a dramatic performance? Why do we utilize lights and haze? Why do we employ choir and organ? All these questions are philosophical. The reality is that every worship leader has a philosophy of worship. But the big question is: Is your philosophy biblical and intentional?

How should worship serve as a disciple-making opportunity?

Zac Hicks: For too long, we’ve separated worship from discipleship. We think of discipleship as all those things that take place outside of worship—small groups, Bible studies, one on one relational ministry, etc. Against that idea, we should see worship as disciple-making territory. Worship has a shaping effect on the way people relate to God the other six days of the week. It informs people’s theology. It teaches them how to pray. Worship leaders have a pastoral opportunity to understand that the worship services they plan and lead provide the core practices and principles of our spiritual formation.

How should the worship pastor use the Bible when planning a worship service?

Zac Hicks: Simply put, a worship service without the Bible is not a Christian worship service. It might be inspiring. It might motivate you to be a better person. But unless the Scriptures are central, it cannot be truly Christian. The Bible is the revelation of Christ. Without it, we have no sure hope of how to be saved from sin and death.

And yet the Bible is a daunting, intimidating book. I’d encourage the worship pastor to start with studying, praying, and meditating on the Psalms. Martin Luther called the Psalms “the little Bible,” and John Calvin described it as “an anatomy of all the parts of the soul.” The Psalms train us how to pray the Bible—how to worship biblically. Open up your Bible (or Bible Gateway), and read a Psalm a day. As you hear the Psalms, begin to ask, “Does the language of our worship services match the language (the emotional spectrum, the theological content) of the Psalms?” Chances are, if you ask questions like that one, you’ll find your worship more and more coming into conformity with the vision of worship laid out in the Psalms. And if your worship is conforming to the Psalms, it’ll conform to the Bible.

Briefly explain your chapter, “The Worship Pastor as Mortician.”

Zac Hicks: I know, it sounds morbid. But hang with me. Just as a mortician’s job is to carefully prepare a body for burial, so too one of our tasks as worship pastors is to prepare the Body of Christ for her encounter with death. In my North American context, death isn’t popular to talk about. We’ve invented thousands of ways to deny it, sweep it under the rug, and push it from out of sight. For this reason, death might just be the “elephant in the sanctuary” each and every week. Christianity doesn’t run away from death. Christianity answers death. More precisely, Christ answered death once and for all by rising from the dead. This means that, in a way, every worship service is Easter Sunday. And Easter Sunday is an answer to death. Worship pastors function as good “morticians” when they allow death to be addressed honestly in worship—through lamentation, through hope, through the gospel, and through a vision of the enduring, eternal Kingdom of God.

What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway and the Bible Gateway App?

Zac Hicks: It’s not a stretch to say that I use Bible Gateway on a nearly daily basis. As a worship planner and leader, if a certain passage comes to mind but I can’t quite remember its reference, a quick search in Bible Gateway finds it for me. I also work in a church where our people come from a variety of backgrounds and traditions, which inevitably means that they’re reading different English translations. It’s very helpful to “cross examine” biblical passages simply by clicking from one version to another.

If Bible Gateway ever went away, for me personally there would be weeping and gnashing of teeth, and I would probably despair over whether the internet has not altogether lost its meaning and value. 😉

Zac Hicks is Canon for Worship and Liturgy at Cathedral Church of the Advent, Birmingham, AL. He’s the author of The Worship Pastor and he writes regularly at He and his wife, Abby, have been married for over 15 years and have four children.

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Filed under Books, Interviews, Worship