A reader wrote in to ask:
How do I serve and support the role of my Senior Pastor when his approach to corporate worship may sound a little different than what I get from your conferences?
Great question, and not the first time I’ve been asked. This question reveals what happens when the worship leader and musicians are getting biblical training and the pastor isn’t. It highlights the need for pastors to think about worship theologically, rather than basing their thoughts on past experiences or the culture.
But what do you do if you’re in a church where the pastor is asking you to do things that you don’t think are going to serve the church in the long run?
The first thing we need to do is examine our heart to make sure we can humbly receive whatever the Lord might be saying to us through the pastor. Often pastors are discerning enough to know something’s wrong but may not know the best remedy. It’s our job to listen carefully, make sure we’re hearing what they’re saying, and discuss alternate solutions.
Here are some examples. Maybe he says he wants you to do more “upbeat” songs to get the people going. That could sound like he doesn’t care about the truth, and wants you to musically manipulate the congregation. Or, it could be that you tend to pick slow songs all the time and people are falling asleep. Maybe he doesn’t think you need to be to pre-occupied about theology when it comes to song choices. Perhaps you tend to only choose weighty songs that don’t take new believers into account. I know that’s been my tendency and I’ve appreciated input in that area. Maybe he’s told you, “Just pick songs that people like and that tell God how much we love him!” You could be choosing songs that are difficult to sing and don’t include songs that enable us to express our hearts toward God. Corporate worship is most effective when it combines objective truth with subjective response. Or he might ask you to stop talking and just play the songs so you don’t interrupt the “flow.” What he might be saying is that you sound like a frustrated preacher who does talk too much when you’re leading. Or maybe you tend to wander aimlessly whenever you say something.
Don’t assume that when your pastor asks you to do something different, that you have to defend your actions. Learn from what he’s saying.
However, if you discover that you really are in disagreement over certain specifics of leadership, it’s good to talk through them. It can be helpful to ask your pastor to read an article or a chapter of a book, or to listen to a message that clearly defines what you think he’s missing. Then ask if you can discuss it together. Vaughan Roberts’ True Worship might be a great place to start. You might also consider two seminars I gave at the last WorshipGod06 conference, Corporate Worship as Pastoral Care and Healthy Tensions in Corporate Worship.
It might also be good to have a conversation about the purpose of congregational singing. It’s not to produce a spiritual high in people or to simply enable us to express our feelings towards God. The clearest direction we have is that it’s supposed to help us teach and admonish one another (Col. 3:16).
Above all, it’s good to make sure that we’re regularly communicating to our pastor that we want to serve his vision for the church, and make his job as easy as possible. I don’t want my pastor to ever feel hesitant about bringing correction, adjustments, or questions to me. I’m there to serve him, not the other way around. That means I should frequently ask him how I can serve him more effectively, and if there’s anything he’d change about what I’m doing.
One last thought. Sometimes I think a certain decision is HUGE, when in reality it’s more a preference. Even if I don’t agree that doing a certain song would be edifying, I want to try to make it work if my pastor asks me to do it. And if you’re in a church where your pastor in regularly asking you to do songs that you think are unbiblical, unhelpful, or unwise, it may be time to start looking for another church.
Something you said @ WorshipGod06 really stuck with me. Delegated leaders should “serve diligently and follow joyfully.” Thank you for both your exhortation and example in this.
Along these lines… My pastor recently approached me about making some changes in our services, and how to attract some people to the earlier service. One idea he had was to add several hymns to the front of the early service. However, I see the value of having our 75 year olds worship with our 15 year olds. What are your thoughts on this?
Does your pastor want more older people to come to the early meeting? If so, I’m not sure that adding a few hymns at the front is going to ensure they come. Is there a reason you wouldn’t do hymns in both meetings?
His goal is for more people to come to the earlier meeting. We sing hymns in all of our meetings. His desire is that we make the earlier meeting more “hymn intensive” so that there will be a draw for people who like to sing the “old standards.” The comments regarding a desire for more hymns usually come from older members of the church. One of the things that I love about our church is that we have a very broad age range in each meeting, and I don’t want to lose that dynamic.
That helps. I’d talk through the issue with your pastor. Rather than simply change the music for the earlier service, why not announce to the church that you need some people to start coming to the earlier service?
Another option might be to change the meeting times. When we started doing two services we held them at 8:30 and 11:00. More people started coming to the later service. So we switched everything 30 minutes later and the attendance evened out. While I’d agree with you that it’s good to have a mix of 75 year olds and 15 year olds in both meetings, I’d let your pastor know that you’ll fully support his decision.
Thanks for your input, and for the reminder. The pastor and I have a great relationship and he knows that once a decision is made that I am on board. I have a tendency to get defensive when my ideas are challenged and I always appreciate your calls to humbly listen to what people say rather than turning a prideful,deaf ear to them. Thanks for your ministry.
Hi Bob, weird situation at our church… in the past, I have been the associate pastor including duties of worship. There was a group that left with their money and I was laid off. I have been back to the church attending since then having left for a couple of brief pastoral positions (they both lasted a year, one because we couldn’t move, the other was an 8 hour per week contract position and we chose not to continue as after a year there was nothing more they offered). During the last 5 years plus other off and on years, I have led worship in rotation with others, me being the only keyboardist. The last few years things have changed to where I lead now only when there is a 5th Sunday because the pastor wants a guitar-led worship style and feels rotating with a keyboard is confusing. The worship team all sees this as ridiculous. Even after group talks he still wants this, and recently his wife tried to insinuate that maybe I have a spiritual issue because I have brought it up more than once about wanting to lead like I used to. Thoughts? How do I support this?
Andrew, thanks for your question. Along with what I wrote in my post, I’d seek to make the keyboard work as an accompanying instrument and make the guitarists a success. Others will take a cue from your attitude when you play and lead, and it may be that you end up playing more as a support instrument. I’d also ask your pastor if there are other opportunities open for you to serve (1 Pet. 4:10-11). Finally, I’d fight the temptation to respond out of being offended. Every challenging situation is an opportunity to examine my heart to see what’s going on, even when people insinuate things about our motives that may or may not be true (Prov. 12:1). In the end, the pastor’s decision isn’t a moral issue. But the relational dynamics may make it difficult, if not impossible, to serve in the way you’re currently serving. Hope that’s helpful.
Please what’s your advice for a worship leader whose pastor insists on who gets recruited to sing on the worship team based on race rather than musical ability (the pastor wants the team not to be predominantly of a certain race, even though those are the ones with musical abilities)? The suggested people can’t sing…at least not in a worship team.
Also, same pastor insists on there being a hymn on the song list each Sunday, which is something this worship leader has complied with but sometimes feels this is a matter of preference and dogma because he actually is led to flow in other songs…
This worship leader’s attempts to explain the necessitity to serve with skill as well as enjoy a level of ministerial authority and discretion with song selection is met with retorts of “you are not submitted to authority “, “you are rebellious”, the like…
The church enjoys really anointed and intimate sessions of praise and worship otherwise.
What should he do?
Mbasekei, thanks for asking. I gave some thoughts for what to do in the post you’re commenting on. Beyond that, I would do everything I can to fulfill the pastor’s requests. Doing hymns aren’t always opposed to “anointed and intimate sessions of praise and worship.” I would seek to find hymns that give us both doctrinal truth and expressions of love to the Lord. “My Jesus, I Love Thee,” “Take My Life and Let it Be, and “How Marvelous, How Wonderful” come to mind. As far as who is on the team, I’d find ways to incorporate people but not necessarily feature them on a microphone. Perhaps put them in a choir? I’d continue to have conversations with the pastor about these things, but in the end recognize that when conflicts come, the song leader is there to serve the pastor’s desires for the church. Hope that’s helpful!