Who’s in Charge Here?

saluting-sailors-18834539473In a church context it’s sometimes difficult to know the difference between leading the singing and leading the meeting. It’s an important distinction.

I recently talked to a worship leader who asked about how I’d handle a situation he just went through. His pastor asked him to lead a specific song to close the meeting. In fact, he insisted on it, although the worship leader expressed doubts about its effectiveness. When the end of the meeting came, another leader accidentally dismissed the congregation prematurely. The worship leader was ready to start the final song but people were already streaming out the doors. The pastor caught his eye and signaled that he should start the song. Thinking that most people wouldn’t even hear him, the worship leader decided not to sing the final song.

The next day the pastor made it clear that he wasn’t happy with the worship leader’s decision and viewed it as insubordination. The worship leader asked me for my thoughts.

First, I should let you know that I think the pastor describing the worship leader’s actions as “insubordnation” was an overstatement, rooted either in sinful judgment or an exalted view of his own position. It lacked the grace and mercy that God has shown to us. I also know this worship leader is a humble guy who really wants to serve his church and pastors. That being said, I still thought the worship leader made a wrong choice.

At any point, if my pastor communicates to me that he wants me to do or not do something during a meeting, I should gladly submit. Why? Here are a few reasons.

It gives me the opportunity to consider others more highly than myself. Phil. 2:3 says, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” Counting others as more significant isn’t simply a mental exercise. It works itself out in real life when I choose to lay down my opinions and preferences and gladly serve someone else’s.

I’m not always right, and when I’m not, I don’t always know it. In the moment, I can be “absolutely sure” that I’m perceiving things rightly. But I’ve been wrong too many times to think that the strength of my belief corresponds to its accuracy. Actually, I’ve found that the stronger my conviction that I’m right, the more likely my thoughts are being clouded by selfish ambition. Prov. 28:26 says, “Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.”

It’s better for others to confirm later that I was right than force them to see it now. God’s purposes aren’t hindered if I don’t get my way during the meeting. If my pastor is wrong, God is able to handle his mistakes or miscalculations. Besides, I might be the one who’s wrong.

Trust is earned through experience. The relationship between a worship leader and the pastor works best when there’s a high degree of trust. Trust is built up over time, as I seek input before a meeting, respond humbly during a meeting, and ask for more input after a meeting. The more the pastor trusts me, the more freedom I’ll have during a meeting to vary from what we might have planned.

Christ is glorified when I submit to those over me. We’re commanded to submit to “one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:21). As the rest of the passage makes clear, God isn’t saying that everyone should submit equally to each other, but that we should submit to those God puts over us: wives to husbands, children to parents, employees to employers. And in the church, worship leaders to pastors. I can’t be 100% sure that God agrees with my perspective, but I can be 100% sure that he wants me to humbly submit to my pastor during the meeting.

If this has been an area of challenge for you, I’d encourage you to talk to your pastor, specifically confess any selfish ambition, and communicate a desire to gladly follow his lead. Who knows what grace God might pour out in response to your humility?

UPDATE 9-22-10: The worship leader told me that he asked the pastor’s forgiveness, apologizing for not honoring his desire to sing the song, and expressing his heart to support him. He said the pastor was gracious. He also mentioned that the pastor realizes he’s been a jerk and wants to meet to talk about it. Sounds like God is using the situation to reveal hearts and bring unity in the gospel.

30 Responses to Who’s in Charge Here?

  1. Stephanie September 19, 2010 at 6:41 PM #

    I like this.

  2. Paul September 19, 2010 at 10:34 PM #

    I am working thru the “correctness” of having a corportate world structure directing the “reporting” of one man to another within the church.

    Too often I have seen this lead to conflict and disagreement within that structure, generally ending in the “subordinate” leaving to “pursue other opportunities”.

    How many Godly men have been limited in their growth by sitting under such a structure? I fear that the number would stagger us if we knew.

  3. Kyle September 19, 2010 at 11:08 PM #

    The picture at the top of this post cracks me up. This is how I interact with my senior pastor daily.

    “Sir, yes sir! I will scratch that annoying song right away, sir!”

  4. Steve Inman September 19, 2010 at 11:26 PM #

    Good, practical advice. Yes, the worship leader should have followed the pastor’s cue. If it wasn’t in time for the closing song, then it “automatically” became the “postlude”! So, no harm done. Bob’s observations are good, biblical advice on following the pastor’s direction during the service.

    However … for the pastor to use the word “insubordination” to describe what happened the following day, belies more serious issues at this particular church. This was a judgment call, and the worship leader made a mistake. To call this “insubordination” reveals far more about the pastor’s attitudes than about the event itself. That was an inappropriate remark between two of Christ’s servants, when both were apparently trying to do the right thing. There was no respect communicated by such a comment, and no grace offered. I assess the pastor to have a bigger need to ask forgiveness than the worship leader, and my heart is saddened whenever I hear of pastors behaving in a manner contrary to how I think Jesus would have handled a similar situation.

    • Bob Kauflin September 19, 2010 at 11:47 PM #

      Steve, great comment. I totally agree, and adjusted my post to reflect that. Thanks.

  5. Kyle September 20, 2010 at 12:31 AM #

    Bob (and others),

    I agree with this in principle. But I’m wondering, where is the place (and is there one) for a worship leader to express an opposing view about something, without being disrespectful or abandoning humble service to his pastor? For example, if my pastor requests a particular song one Sunday, and I have some significant difficulty with the song, is it appropriate for me to express my view with the hope of jointly selecting a more appropriate song? Or should I keep my mouth shut and move forward?

    In other words, is there a distinction to be made between a difference in judgment when it occurs before a meeting, during the planning process, and when it occurs during a meeting, at which point discussion about the item in question is moot?

    Maybe the root question here is, what is a humble, respectful way to express disagreement to your pastor?



    • Bob Kauflin September 20, 2010 at 1:09 AM #

      Kyle, absolutely. In this post I’m only addressing what happens in the meeting. Before the meeting it’s ideal to have the kind of relationship where you can freely and naturally communicate your thoughts on things. That relationship has to be built on a mutual trust and respect, rooted in a desire to consider the interests of others more highly than your own. If you find that you’re always disagreeing with your pastor, there are probably issues deeper than choosing songs that you need to talk about.

  6. Matt Crossman September 20, 2010 at 9:02 AM #

    Great post, Bob, love the biblical backing for humilty and preferring others. We should always encourage our worship leaders to presume to serve as a default position.

    I wonder, though, what room your stance gives for encouraging common sense and maturity?

    I can easily imagine the opposite situation – where the worship leader blindly follows orders, plays the final song as everyone is leaving, making conversation difficult as people fellowship, with no real ‘worship’ going on – and the pastor is unhappy with the worship leader’s lack of appreciation of an emerging situation (i.e. the other leader’s error in ending the service), and lack of ability to respond appropriately?

    So how do we create a humble leader, who nonetheless is encouraged to grow in maturity, with an ability to think on his feet not blindly follow directions which are rendered innapropriate by the situation?

    Finally, I think there was more going on in the situation above than service dynamics; from what you say, there was ‘discussion’ about a song before hand; it looks to me like the pastor interpreted the leader’s common sense response to the situation as an ‘excuse’ not to do the song he really didn’t want to do. If that was the case, them I’m in agreement with you – if not . . .?

  7. Chris Hanchey September 20, 2010 at 10:04 AM #

    I’ve had these conversations with my pastor dozens of times. My pastor is an extremely Godly man who leads me really well. The disagreement over song choice is usually rooted in my pride (not wanting to sing a song that isn’t “my style” – Hillsong vs. Michael Card).

    But James (my pastor) has always ended these conversations by saying, “Look, Chris. I trust you to lead our congregation in worship. And I trust your perspective on how a song will fit more than my own. So you do what you think is best. But don’t not play the song simply because you don’t want to sing it.” More times than not, I’ve ended up playing the song, and it’s been really well received.

    These conversations work to develop that trust between pastor and worship leader. And they have to happen early enough in the week that there’s freedom to go either way on the decision. Thanks Bob for a great post!

  8. Carol September 20, 2010 at 10:16 AM #

    This post touched on another issue that I would love to hear more about. When the meeting leader and song leader are two different people (and neither is the pastor), how do you keep a service flowing smoothly (with all the “baton passing” between the two) and how do you balance the two roles?


  9. Dave VanAtter September 20, 2010 at 11:19 AM #

    Great aritcle. Having been a worship leader who is now a senior pastor, I’ve seen these kind of issues come up from time to time. I have always been given freedom to choose music and even schedule the flow of the service. When asked to do something specific during a service, it is an opportunity to show our heart. We are not performers or professional. We are communicators of the gospel. God may have prompted the pastor to say or do something that seems completely ineffective, but God can take those ineffective things done in obedience and make them extraordinary.

  10. Aaron September 20, 2010 at 4:48 PM #

    I agree with the heart of this post, but the situation presented was difficult one. If ‘another leader accidentally dismissed the congregation prematurely’ then I’d be left in a confused position as well. I suppose it would depend on who the other leader was that dismissed the congregation. Often, my senior pastor & I will have a preliminary plan, but allow for the fact that changes happen; a sermon may go longer than planned, we may drop a song because of an extended prayer time, etc. Regardless, God’s Spirit was not thwarted because a song is played or not.

    Errors happen, what’s important is a heart of humility: ‘For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, The LORD looks on the heart’ 1 Samuel 16:7

  11. Lee Gunter September 20, 2010 at 5:32 PM #

    When I saw the teaser for this article, I guessed wrong about how you would answer it – to my discredit. My take on the pastor/worship leader relationship is not the most popular, so it surprises me to see it so well represented.

    When I first started leading worship at my prior church, I set up some rules for how to go about doing my job. Rule #1 is this,

    “Pastor is always right.”

    For those who would ask about “creative freedom”, there is a lot. I have been in my current postion now for almost 5 years, over time my attitude of submissin and support for my pastor has been like puting money in the bank. Every time I did a song that I would not have chosen myself, every time I dropped a song that he though was not effective or did not work for our congregation, my credibility was increased and my pastor was properly honored. So now, and for quite a while now, I almost never have to do songs I don’t like. I will when he asks, but he almost never does. Part of it is probably because I’ve caught on to how to create a setlist that will work in his eyes. But more so its about the trust pastor shows me by letting me do what I like to do. When he does suggest a song I’m not already ready to leap on, I have two possible answers: (1) yes, Excellent. that’s a great song and I don’t know how I’ve overlooked it for so long, OR (2) I have a little trouble with that song. If I can find the music in a singable/playable key I will do everything I can to make it happen. Then I do.

    Also, I have to say, I would have to start playing rap music to get an “insubordinate” remark from my pastor. He support and builds me up. There is a two way street problem here. But, unless the solution (to the pastors percieved problem) comes from above (God is a good choice, but perhaps a district level type official might do) the only way for the pastor to effectively solve the problem with the pastor’s attitude is by SUBMISSION.

    Let every mistake the worship leader makes, every bad judgment call, be the result of doing exactly what is asked by pastor. Then you fail together, win together, and the trust and co-ministerial mindset needed for both men will develop.

    And if not – it might be time to update the resume.

  12. Jody Romero September 20, 2010 at 6:26 PM #

    What about the fact, that it is the Elder(Pastors) who have been ordained to actually lead the worship service. They are in fact orchestrating (by the leading of the Holy Spirit) the entire worship service. (Corporate worship, preached word, offering, prophetic impartations..etc.) Worship is just one part of that. So we as worship leaders have to be submitted to the entire visionand not just the roll we play during a service. And that vision comes from the Pastor that is leading the meeting.

  13. Mickey September 20, 2010 at 9:32 PM #

    Don’t forget to include the communication aspect of whoever is dismissing the service needs to be told that the senior pastors wishes to end the meeting with a particular song and could tell the attendees that there is more to come. Telling all parties involved before is always the easiest way to avoid the awkwardness of the cue to start the song from across the room. If they were told then the problem (if there is one) may need to be handled with that individual. If enough emphasis is placed on the importance of closing with this song, the person dismissing will not forget about it. Preparation, preparation, preparation and then if the Holy Spirit leads elsewhere you follow His lead.

  14. Jim Pemberton September 21, 2010 at 11:05 AM #

    I love the title. The answer to the question is: God is in charge here.

    For the worship leader: God has provided the pastor as the primary worship leader.

    For the pastor: God has provided the worship leader to direct the music of the church in a way that is fitting to honor and glorify God.

    Neither are perfect and even imperfections are part of God’s providence. We will not always agree, but by grace we will build each other up helping each other to grow in Christ. If we see God’s provision as fit for condemnation then we will lack grace and love and despise Him by dismissing His provision.

    Things didn’t go as the pastor thought they should, but these things were outside of his control. God provided for the song to be sung another time (for I’m sure they sung it later) to accomplish His purposes. It takes humility and gratitude to recognize that God is truly in charge and we are to serve Him over and against our own interests, and not that our interests remain contrary to God’s, but that our interests change to be aligned with the interests of God.

  15. Stephen Wells September 21, 2010 at 11:06 AM #

    I really can’t say anything that hasn’t already been said well, so I’ll say this. I’ve worked for pastors on both ends of the spectrum. The pastor who has me there to do a “to-do” list and a pastor I parnter with and we are connected in heart, I can’t imagine the length I’d have to go to be insubordinate.

    Since I have worked for that Pastor, I’ll agree whole heartedly with the posts that suggest this was an indication of deeper issues. To this guy in the situation, I’ve been there. You must know that core issues of ministry and kingdom work are very likely at the root of such reactions to a comment like that. PRAY! The Lord took me through a refining process in a relationship like this and I’m thankful for it, but certainly relish in a almost unheard of bond with my pastor now. Praise the Lord.

  16. Paul R September 21, 2010 at 4:30 PM #

    Excellent post. Couldn’t agree more about the importance of submission to a pastor.

    Submitting only to requests you agree with isn’t really submission at all.

  17. Kendall Lord September 21, 2010 at 4:38 PM #

    There are a lot of variables that were unstated, but my impression is that both the worship leader and the pastor may have heart issues. Unless the issue was theologically bad lyrics, the worship leader should have submitted and led the song. But someone else dismissed the meeting and people were streaming from the room; I can’t imagine that any song would have been effective at that point. Possibly the worship leader wrongly snatched the opportunity to avoid leading that song, but I wonder if the pastor got his nose out of joint simply because he didn’t get his own way.

  18. Kyle September 21, 2010 at 10:27 PM #

    I think we’re getting a bit too far into judging the hearts and decisions of the worship leader and pastor in the specific situation cited, and running the risk of missing the point of Bob’s post.

  19. Ryan Egan September 23, 2010 at 10:08 PM #

    Bob, thanks so much for this thoughtful post, as always.

    My question, however, is what is the worship leader, in a paid position especially, disagrees with the pastor on a Biblical issue. For instance, if there might be a case where the pastor is teaching contrary to what Scripture teaches but the worship leader has tested it against Scripture, what is the position of submission for the worship leader to the pastor then?

    • Bob Kauflin September 24, 2010 at 8:46 AM #

      Ryan, thanks for the question. First, I’d make sure the issue is really biblical and not one I think is biblical but is really just my preference. The order of a service, kinds of songs to sing, or lighting would be examples. If it is a bona fide biblical issue, I’d make sure I had communicated my thoughts clearly, and more importantly, listened carefully to the pastor’s perspective. If you couldn’t reach agreement, and saw the pastor was going in a direction you thought was contrary to Scripture, then it’s time, as another commenter said, to pull out the resume.

  20. Joann Montes October 5, 2010 at 10:12 AM #

    Bob, thank you so much for your insight on this. It is very relevant to me and my experience in the congregation I am part of. I also agree the worship leader should have done the song. After all, regardless of our position, we are servants of Christ. Maybe after the service, there could have been a conversation with the pastor about finding ways to communicate more effectively among the team that is participating in the service. I also chime in with some of the earlier comments and suggestions, as it looks that there are deeper issues on both parts.

  21. Benjamin Nichols October 6, 2010 at 11:47 AM #


  22. Tim October 11, 2010 at 9:48 PM #

    As both a teaching pastor and a worship leader, I see both sides. What worries me about the scenario described is that it was an awkward situation. The pastor is making the call, but the service leader is the one having to carry it out, without much time to think how they’ll do it. In judgement calls like this, I prefer to leave it to the person who has to be the ‘front man’ to work out whether they can ‘make it work’. Even if that means a service leader doesn’t follow my call when it’s one of those in-the-moment decisions. Particularly so when they’re less experienced at being up-front than me, and so what I think might be an easy change might terrify them like a deer caught in headlights!

    On the other side, I’ve very rarely not followed my Senior Pastor’s cue if I’ve had no idea in the moment how to make it work – and he respects that, too. He knows it’s not a sign of insubordination, just an inability to do, without notice, what he’s asked for. We’ve worked together for more than a decade, and it’s never been an issue.

  23. Joey December 7, 2010 at 10:28 PM #

    Bob, thanks for this post and your ministry.

    I remember reading in your “Worship Matters” book the importance of a music minister to have a servants heart and be humble towards his pastor.

    The points you made in those sections of the book, as well in this post, really showed me how easy it was for my pride to get in the way when dealing with my pastor (and I can really say looking back that my Pastor has always been very gracious in all of his requests, suggestions, and directions).

    Thanks to you and the whole Sov. Grace crew for continuing to teach and train those of us leading the music portion of worship.

  24. Mick January 7, 2011 at 3:30 AM #

    Bob, while I agree in general with your comments there is another dimension to the deal.

    I recently has a worship co-ordinator (who has been doing so for 14-15 years) bypass me as pastor altogether, phoned a wedding couple and completely changed and/or deleted the wedding music & songs that the couple & I had already spoken about and settled on.
    I found out by accident that she had done this and was very angry and. I believe, rightly so.

    This is, at the very least, lack of respect and required some stern words. The earthly authority in any worship service is the Pastor, not the Worship Leader or Worship Co-ordinator.

    Sometimes correction must be brought. This is never pleasant (for either party) but very necessary.

  25. Neverett Yarbough November 2, 2015 at 9:43 PM #

    I don’t know……there was another worship leader who refused to follow his leader, his name is Lucifer.


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