How to get along with your worship leader (It’s not as hard as you think)

There are certain ministry roles have more conflict between them than others.

By Tim Spivey

AsONe_Logo-640x360Senior Pastors and Youth Pastors, Church Administrators and Youth Ministers, for example. There is also sometimes significant tension between the Worship Leader and the one preaching Sunday. This is obviously not the case in every church, but it is in many churches.

Truth be told, I understand, but haven’t experienced it a lot. I had the unusual experience of spending nearly five years as a Worship Minister before entering the pulpit. I’m sure that’s helped me empathize with the trials and travails of those called to the lead God’s people in worship. It’s also given me a profound appreciation for their ministry — and I hope that comes through on a daily basis.

In my 19 years of ministry, I’ve been blessed to serve alongside two worship leaders. I hired both of them within a year of my arrival at the churches I’ve served, and we have served together until either I transitioned out (Chad Higgins — who just celebrated 12 years of ministry at HOCC) or…we’re still serving together (Peter Wilson at NVC). We’ve been not only partners in ministry, but true friends.

I don’t want to leave the impression I’ve never had conflict with a worship leader. However, I have no question the degree of unity between me and the worship leaders I’ve worked with has been an enormous contributor to our church’s success over the years. God blesses unity, and ongoing tension between those leading God’s people in worship and leading them in study of His Word will impact a church — even if they keep it under wraps as best they can.

Here are some things I’ve observed over the years that have blessed my relationship with Chad and Peter. Note that many of these are attitudes, not tasks.

Hire a worship leader you trust at least as much as you trust yourself to plan the service. You need to respect them musically and theologically. If you don’t trust them, you’ll meddle. If you meddle repeatedly, it won’t go well. If you find yourself needing to “guide” things all the time … you’re either a control freak, hired the wrong person, or both.
They know what I’m preaching well ahead of time. It is so frustrating to try to plan a service meaningfully when half of it is unknown. One of the best things I can do for Peter is let him know, clearly, where I’m hoping to head from the pulpit. He usually knows several weeks out — if not months — fairly clearly where we are going. He’ll have a sermon title, text and “big idea.”

I view us as co-preachers of sorts. As I see it, the sermon is 1 hour and 20 minutes long. I preach 30 minutes of it. Our church celebrates Communion each Sunday, so that is another portion preached by God’s people as they gather around the table in memory of Christ. There are also prayers and praise.

Paradoxically, give the worship leader maximum latitude in planning the service. I ask the worship leader to change something maybe twice a year. I’ve only had to “tell” a worship leader to change something twice in 17 years of ministry. Both times, it had to do with a significant change to the church that had been programmed into a service. It had nothing to do with the content of the service itself.

Say only what it useful for building up. To them, worship feels like their sermon. Feedback is fine … but constant criticism tears down rather than building up. They need to know, more than anything, they are blessing God’s people and you believe in them. If they aren’t, or you don’t, you need to have deeper discussions. Week to week, there can be suggestions (worded wisely), but the overall conversation needs to have the tenor of partnership and respect.

Realize they are not your deejay. Don’t go to them every week with, “Hey, man, we need to do this song.” I do that now and then — but it’s more of an every-few-months thing. He can take or leave it. I trust him with it.

Integrate your ministries as much as possible. At NVC, Peter does much more than pick songs and lead them on Sundays. He’s involved at a lot of different levels in what God does through NVC. I’m not suggesting you add a lot of tasks to their plate; I’m suggesting you involve them in the bloodstream of the church so they will have the same advantages you have in knowing where the church is when they plan. Don’t give them more to do; give them more access to what’s going on. It will add seasoning and nuance to their planning. It will also help them understand your ministry better.

Realize there is stress you cannot see. For most worship leaders, the most stressful part of their ministry is dealing with the criticism of the congregation and elders. Second is probably dealing with the personalities divas on their team / band. Let me ask: Which of those two do most preachers get full access to? Neither — though they will often hear the criticism “from above” before the worship leader hears it. I’ve found it helpful to inquire if I sense something is going on — and often there is something going on I couldn’t see.

Prepare “together.” I’ve already mentioned that our worship leader is involved in various facets of the church. One of those is sermon series concept. I reserve the right to go where I feel I must; but creatively, I would highly recommend involving the worship leader in the creative process of planning message series.

Another way we “prepare” together is through music. When the “set list” of songs for Sunday is published, I build a playlist of those songs — and they become sermon preparation music until Sunday. Those songs work their way into my soul as I prepare, and I get better where we are going that week. It helps me better take off and land the plane — but it’s more important as spiritual preparation. As we sing them on Sunday, it grafts the sermon into my soul even further as I prepare to preach. It’s a small (but big) thing.

Enjoy their ministry. I love watching talented ministers use their gifts to the glory of God. Enjoy it!

What might you add to this list? Any “amens” to these?

TimSpivey-blogTim Spivey is lead planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, CA. Tim is also an adjunct professor of religion at Pepperdine University and purveyor of New Vintage Leadership, a blog offering cutting-edge insights on leadership and theology. He is the author of numerous articles and the book: Jesus, the Powerful Servant.


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