Updated: Aug 29, 2022
by Dr. David Squires.
What we do as worship leaders can be described in various ways: how do I describe my calling and vocation within the Church? Well… I’m a leader, a planner, a designer… Constance Cherry’s two great books on worship and music call me an architect! These can be helpful descriptors, but... are titles really important? What do they signify, and what do they not?
In recent years the word curator – a term from the world of the art gallery or museum – has become more commonplace in a variety of settings. People speak of curating their office space, their social media spaces, or even their life! And…you can find numerous good books on curating worship. So…what’s in this title?
Back to the gallery for some perspective on the work of a curator. When we enter a gallery space, mostly we do so in order to see things: “Let’s check out the Van Gogh exhibit at the gallery tonight.” In reality, what happens in the gallery is that we experience Van Gogh’s work in a particular way because of how the gallery’s exhibit is setup. Blame it on the curator! The curator takes the works of the artist and determines how to organize, arrange, and display them so they have maximum effect. But that’s not all: the curator also pays attention to the environment of the gallery, thinking about the experience of the viewer as they encounter Van Gogh’s works. And all of this is towards a variety of goals which are larger than the artworks themselves – the viewer’s experience is just as much an object of concern as are the works of the artist.
So how does this apply to us as worship leaders? How does it change my view of my calling if I am concerned not only about the specific elements of a worship service, but how they are arranged, and then even how they are experienced? Go one question deeper: why are those elements even part of the service? This is like asking the gallery curator “why show us Van Gogh’s works?” In fact, this is such an important question, I believe it actually is the first question - the one which gives context to all the others. Let’s explore this a bit.
Remember, a significant goal of the worship gathering is the spiritual transformation of the worshipper – “…wait, what? Really? I thought we worship because God wants us to.” Yes, but why does he require it? Romans 12:1-2 helps us see that a whole-self/living-sacrifice life of worship leads to our transformation and renewal. Throughout both the Old and New Testament, we see that encounters with God lead to the transformation of the person/group. As leaders of worship gatherings, we’re involved in facilitating an encounter God wants to have with his people – one which is transformative of both the individual and the church. This leads us, then, back to the idea of curation: it’s not enough for me to simply choose/lead some good songs, prayers, readings, offering etc. To put it bluntly, “what’s the point?” Not, “this seems pointless”, but rather “what’s the goal?” A particular song may be a powerful expression of worship, but is this the end of my planning? Or do I examine how the thoughts and experience of that song lead to specific scriptures, or call for specific kinds of prayers, so that the worshipper is led on a journey which informs, nourishes, and transforms?
When I lead worship, I most often pray at the outset of a service that we would be different after spending time with God and each other. That we would be transformed over the course of our 90 or so minutes together. If not such a transformation, then what is the point of it all? But if so, then what is my role in designing and leading such a gathering? This is a pastoral concern! And seeing myself as a curator helps me in a number of ways: to remember the importance of the spiritual transformation of the worshipper; to be concerned about the nature of their experience; to examine the appropriateness of the tools at hand (songs, prayers etc); and then to lead pastorally through the journey. So go on… curate!
Dr. David Squires, PhD. is a veteran worship leader, pastor, composer, and long-time dean of the School of The Arts, Media, & Culture at Trinity Western University in Langley, B.C., Canada.