David as a Worship Leader

The convergence of these two activities, leadership and worship, occurred quite naturally in the life of King David.  David’s example as a worship leader has much to offer to those who minister in similar roles today.  The Psalms especially provide insight on David’s approach to the worship of God.  For our purposes, Psalm 62 may be effectively mined as a case study in worship leadership with the use of a little imagination.1

For instance, David understood that worship has a trajectory through two “audiences” before it reaches its primary “target audience”—God Himself.  This is implicit in David’s initial focus upon himself (vv. 1-7) before his attention shifts to calling the people to “pour out their heart” in worship to God (vv. 8-10). Lastly, and appropriately, God is the ultimate object of the adoration of David and the people (vv. 11-12). David knew that these steps in the process of the worship response to God were vital to preventing worship from degenerating into heartless ritual or crass performance.

As a prelude to leading God’s people in worship, the worship leader must first restore a right relationship with God as the exclusive spiritual resource for one’s life (cf. vv. 1-2, 5-7).  This instills confidence in God, not self (note the repetition of the clause “I will never be shaken,” vv. 2, 6).  The worship leader is thus enabled, indeed empowered, to exhort the congregation to do the same—rejecting society’s reliance upon status and wealth (vv. 9-10) for continual and unwavering “trust in Him” (v. 8).  Once both leader and people have “re-centered” their lives in the absolute trust of God, they are capable of rendering proper worship to God, fully cognizant of his transcendence (“you, O God, are strong,” v. 11) and his immanence (“you, O Lord, are loving,” v. 12).  The reminder that God is the supreme Judge of all humanity (v. 12) both seals and prompts the worshiper’s commitment to “trust in God at all times” (v. 8).

The worship leader, like a shepherd, knows the basic needs of her or his “flock.”  One need not be clairvoyant to determine these basic human needs since they are widely perceived as universal concerns. Drawing from other resources, Marva Dawn has compiled a list of seven fundamental needs of our being, including identity (who am I?), master story (how does it all fit together?), loyalty (to whom do I belong?), values (by what shall I live?), power (how can I protect myself?), meaning (what is the purpose of my life?), and hope (why should I go on?)2. The experienced worship leader realizes that meeting human need through the corporate worship experience cannot be “canned” in some programmatic formula or “packaged” in clever technique. Meeting human need is not the goal of worship, but one of the results of true worship.

An examination of Psalm 62 indicates that David intuitively dealt with similar basic human needs in his song of trust.  David’s identity and confidence as a man (v. 3) and a spiritual being was bound up in God alone (vv. 1, 5).  The idea that David’s “honor” or reputation (v. 7) was tied to God’s reputation casts David’s identity as a creature of dignity made in God’s image.  That imago dei built into our make-up as persons means we have divinely endowed capacities to worship God and enter into fellowship with Him (Gen. 3:8; Isa. 43:7).  Like God Himself, the worship leader “shows no partiality” and views every individual as a person made in God’s image and a potential worshiper of God (2 Chron. 19:7; Acts 10:34).

The master story that gives coherence to personal existence and human history is embedded in that word “salvation” (vv. 1, 6).  For David, salvation was the record of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt and his personal deliverance from political enemies and his own moral failure, his own sin (cf. Pss. 3:8; 25:6-11). For the Christian, salvation is the record of Christ’s atoning work upon the cross and personal deliverance from our moral failure by faith in God’s effective but mysterious redemptive plan for fallen creation. Worship celebrates the architect of the “master story”—the Triune God. The worship leader knows well both the Master and his master-story.

David’s loyalty is obvious.  There is no question as to whom David belonged, as he took his “rest” (v. 1) in God as his mighty rock and refuge (v. 7).  The emphasis on the personal pronoun “my” reinforces David’s conviction that he, indeed, belonged to God (vv. 1-2, 5-7).  David’s loyalty to God grew out of his understanding of the idea of covenant in the biblical world.  A covenant establishes a relationship between two parties. The worship leader facilitates the response of “covenant loyalty” by the worshiper as a part of the worship experience.

David’s values are revealed by way of negative example in his admonition against trusting in social status, unlawful activity, or wealth to secure identity and meaning in this life (vv. 9-10).  On the positive side, David’s values may be seen in “honor” that was dependent upon God’s “good name” (v. 7).  I believe David understood the two great commandments: to love God with our whole person and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Lev. 19:18; Deut. 6:5; cf. 2 Sam. 7:7-8; Ps. 18:1).  The worship leader understands how to translate this into the two great sacrifices of the Bible: the sacrifice of praise (i.e., worship) and the sacrifice of doing good (i.e., service to others) (Heb. 13:15-16).

David’s need for protection against those who would use power against him (vv. 3-4) was fulfilled in the power or might of his “strong God” (v. 11).  David understood that worship is a form of spiritual warfare (Pss. 4:2; 14:1-3; 40:4; 95:3; 96:4).  The worship leader must be aware of this cosmic battle, as well.  Like David, we find empowerment for this “battle” in the ministry Holy Spirit (Pss. 51:11; 143:10).

The destination of David’s quest for meaning and purpose in life was found in a “loving Lord” who “rewards” each person according to the life they have lived (v. 12).  What could make life any more meaningful than divine judgment of that life? (Cf. Eccl. 12:13-14.)  David’s approach to life anticipates the words of Christ, “well done…faithful servant” (Matt. 25:21) because he understood his life as a pilgrimage to “joy in God’s presence” (Ps. 16:11) and everlasting life “in the house of the Lord” (Ps. 23:6). The worship leader guides a band of “pilgrims” into the joy of God’s presence.

Finally, David’s hope was not something he manufactured by force of will or cleverness of imagination. Rather, his hope came from God Himself (v. 5) as a result of his relationship with the YHWH—the name of the covenant-making and covenant-keeping God (v. 12).  David’s hope was rooted in his faithful God (Pss. 25:10; 33:4).  The worship leader’s task is to help the worshiper encounter the Faithful God in worship.

1 The idea for utilizing Psalm 62 as a paradigm for worship leadership germinated from a sermon by John Casey, Senior Pastor at Blanchard Road Alliance Church (Wheaton, Ill.) entitled “How to Worship God in Trouble” (3.5.2000).

2 Marva Dawn, A Royal “Waste” of Time (Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans, 1999), pp. 23-36.


Author: Dr. Andrew Hill

Andrew E. Hill is Professor of Old Testament studies at Wheaton College (Wheaton, Illinois) where he has served on the faculty since 1984. He earned his Ph.D. at the University of Michigan in the Department of Near Eastern Studies (1981). He also teaches regularly at the Robert E. Webber Institute of Worship Studies (Orange Park, Florida). He is the author of numerous articles and several books, including: Enter His Courts with Praise! (Baker), Malachi (Anchor Bible 25D. Doubleday), and 1 & 2 Chronicles (NIVAC. Zondervan), Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi (TOTC. IVP), as well as Old Testament Survey and Old Testament Today (both co-authored with John H. Walton and published by Zondervan). Andrew and his wife Teri live in Wheaton (IL) and worship at the Church of the Resurrection (Wheaton, IL).

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