Worship Leader…What Do You Wish Your Pastor Knew About You and Your Worship Ministry?

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The relationship rift between senior pastors and worship leaders has escalated to epidemic proportions.  Ironically, it seems that this impasse rarely occurs in response to song selections and worship change.  Most of the conflict is a result of leadership deficiencies and a lack of communication.  Many worship leaders do not have the freedom to start the conversation as it relates to this communication gridlock.

I recently asked the following question through email and other social media outlets:  “Worship Leader…what do you wish your senior pastor knew about you and your ministry that you’ve never had the freedom to discuss and doubt he will ever ask?”  This question was posed in an effort to begin a dialogue that is not happening in most churches.  The intent is not as an anonymous forum just to criticize senior pastors.  In fact, a similar question could also have been asked of senior pastors in response to their relationship with their worship pastor.

Numerous worship leaders responded from multiple states.  The responses below have been compiled, consolidated, and edited to protect the confidentiality of the respondents.  Additional confidential responses or comments are encouraged and can be added to this post by emailing me:  dmanner@kncsb.org.  I will edit additional comments to protect privacy before adding them as responses to this post.

  • Worship and preaching are partners, not competitors.  I wish my pastor would see me as a partner in ministry who respects his leadership and honors his role of authority and responsibility.  When I am doing my job well it should not be viewed as a threat to his leadership…it should affirm his leadership.
  • The number one problem in our ministry relationship is the lack of communication.  His response has not been favorable when I have requested better communication.  It appears to me that my pastor doesn’t want to communicate or doesn’t see the need for it.  I do…and don’t feel the freedom to initiate that without jeopardizing my position.
  • My pastor never challenges my worship leadership or the direction of our worship but also is never a promoter of it.  Ignoring worship issues conveys a lack of interest or fear of conflict and minimizes its value for our congregation.  More people will join the choir, sing in the worship team, and play instruments when the senior pastor publicly and privately affirms these areas of ministry and sees their value for our congregation.
  • I view my pastor as the primary worship leader in our congregation.  If he has an unhealthy view of worship the church will emulate his unhealthy view despite my encouragement to consider healthier worship practices.
  • Just singing catchy, rhythmic tunes should not be our response to all worship issues and is not always a healthy biblical view of worship.  Musical changes in our worship will not heal the internal ministry and relationship deficiencies that exist in our relationship and in the relationships of our congregation.
  • Preparing musical and technical worship elements often requires weeks and even months of rehearsals and meetings.  Last minute sermon adjustments will usually impact the pastor only.  However, when those last minute sermon adjustments or creative ideas also require service changes it impacts dozens of people in our music and tech ministries.  Spirit led creativity can occur before Friday or Saturday.  A constant culture of last minute changes can destroy relationships with leaders and volunteers.
  • The Word of God is also proclaimed through singing, Scripture, testimonies, drama, dance, and video…not just during the sermon.  If more time is needed for the sermon it is too easy to assume we can just cut some other elements of the service…usually the music.  People have prayed and prepared for those elements.  It conveys that what they are doing and have prepared for is insignificant and therefore expendable.
  • Most worship leaders have a good grasp of worship service dynamics.  We understand keys, tempos, vocal ranges, song themes, technical aspects, and the logistics of moving people on and off the platform.  Trust us when we say something won’t work musically or logistically.  If we can figure out a way…we will attempt to make it work.  However, there are times when great ideas are impossible to implement.
  • I believe God has called me to this worship ministry position, yet I never get the sense that my pastor actually respects that calling.  He has indicated to me that he wants me to lead with confidence and yet doesn’t instill confidence in me through his words, actions, and micromanagement.
  • I often don’t find out that my expectations and the expectations of my pastor are misaligned until it is too late.  My approach to ministry becomes a process of guessing about ministry direction and expectations.  I don’t always know what questions to ask or even feel the freedom to ask questions to clarify direction until after the fact.  By that time I am in hot water.  I occasionally need affirmation that I am moving in the right direction not just criticism when I am not.  The first question I now catch myself asking of our worship is, “Will my pastor be pleased?” instead of “Will God be pleased?”
  • Sometimes I am discouraged and overwhelmed.  I do not want to come across as a grumbler or complainer.  I don’t feel the freedom to bring this up with my pastor unless he initiates it…and he rarely if ever does.  I wish my pastor would ask me questions such as, “How do you feel about…what are your thoughts on…and are you feeling overwhelmed with?”
  • Our personalities and gifts are very different.  Since we don’t ever communicate, those differences contribute to conflict.  If we could communicate and champion our differences we could leverage them for better ministry success.
  • It would be helpful for my pastor to visit with me regularly about how God is leading him in his preaching and how my worship planning could enhance what he is learning and sharing from God’s word.  I wish we could pray together, read and study together, dream together, and collaborate together.  It is impossible to have a relationship like this when we rarely even talk.  The key to a healthy relationship is agreeing that there will be nothing he doesn’t know about me and nothing I will not know about him.  A relationship like this requires a tremendous amount of trust, respect, common purpose, and shared vision for where we minister together.
  • I defend my pastor privately and publicly and wish he would do the same for me.  If someone has a concern with my leadership I would appreciate it if he would defend me and then discuss the issue in private with me instead of always siding with those who have concerns.  How effective could we be if we had permission to question and even disagree behind closed doors for the purpose of being unified and affirming in public?
  • I constantly sense through his words and actions that I am really not the person my pastor wishes he had in this ministry position.  It is obvious he has a model or template for what a worship pastor should look like, how old he should be, how he should lead, and how he should act.  I don’t fit that model or measure up to his expectations.  His discontent is manifested in a passive resistance to things I initiate.
  • Why won’t my pastor take the time to get to know my family and me on a more personal basis?  We have a very limited relationship inside our ministry and no relationship outside of our ministry.  It is difficult for my family to follow his leadership on Sunday when they know how he treats me during the week.
  • I understand that a healthy relationship requires work from both parties and that some of my deficiencies have contributed to our communication failures.  I am willing to work on those deficiencies and would welcome healthy communication, mentoring, and guidance.
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13 Responses to “Worship Leader…What Do You Wish Your Pastor Knew About You and Your Worship Ministry?”

  • Alden Schoeneberg Says:

    Thanks for this, David. What a great idea and initiative you have introduced with this conversation. I am blessed to have a very good relationship with my pastor. I don’t say this because we always agree on everything. In truth, we do not, but, rather, through mutual respect, neither are we threatened by the different ideas the other brings to the table. Many times, I’ve submitted to the final word of the pastor even if it wasn’t my idea, though in my mind, my idea had great merit. Other times my pastor has navigated a new course with his own ideas after a conversation we shared.

    I think that we have recognized that there is value in the differences between us. God placed them there and then placed us together. He has a purpose in that.

    I can’t really determine how this relationship has been so good. I know that my pastor’s support has been key. I also notice that when I employ gentleness, honesty and keep it simple, I am never struck down.

  • Kelly R. Randolph Says:

    David,
    As a Senior Pastor, I am extremely grateful for the relationship I have with our Worship Pastor. We have had a very open and supportive relationship from the beginning of our ministry together (now approaching 17 years). We have had our tense moments which are to be expected in any ministry partnership. But we have always sought to support one another and view our relationship in terms of a team. We are not only ministry colleagues, we are friends. We pray for each other. We plan together. We do things together socially. We even do projects together sometimes at our respective homes.

    I think that our paradigms for staff relationships sometimes get in the way of the supportive environment needed for effective, long-term ministry partnerships. It all begins with the Senior Pastor. He must value the gifts and calling of the other staff members. He must view himself as a leader among peers. He must promote an environment of mutual accountability and approachability. If he only sees other staff members as “back-up singers” to his solo performance, it will be very difficult to create the kind of mutually satisfying ministry environment which is lacking in many of the scenarios mentioned here.

    Sharing a similar philosophy of worship and ministry is a must also. It will be hard for the ship to sail if people are pulling different directions on the oars. The hard work of establishing that shared philosophy must be done up front.

    I thank God for the men I serve with and consider myself blessed to be part of the team.

    Kelly R. Randolph

  • David Manner Says:

    The following response was sent to me via email. I am posting it as a response to protect the confidentiality of the submitter:

    The time to deal with the question you pose is certainly BEFORE entering into a working relationship w/a senior pastor. Simply put, it’s my responsibility (no one else’s) to reveal everything I understand about myself, both weaknesses and strengths, BEFORE getting into a marriage w/a new senior pastor. EVERYTHING I know that defines me both personally and professionally needs to be freely offered. I MYSELF control that aspect of a working relationship. It does me, nor that senior pastor, nor the church any good if these things aren’t discussed up front and BEFORE a working relationship begins. I’d ask nothing less of that senior pastor who is considering having me by his side in ministry. I’ve learned that being absolutely forthright about such things SHOULD do one of two things:

    Both I and that senior pastor will quickly know we’re not on the same page and discussions end there; OR
    I and that senior pastor will identify that we have a similar understanding of ministry, our respective roles are mutually agreed upon and seen as manageable, and we’ll continue to move toward a ministry partnership.

    There should always be clear written job descriptions that reflect the mutually agreed upon roles to be filled.

    THAT SAID, we don’t live in an ideal world and conflict and misunderstandings can still emerge. If or when that happens, I offer these suggestions based on my own experience.

    I believe in TEAM. I’ll do what I can (at every turn) to reassure my senior pastor that I’m not in competition with him for anything. With that sentiment, I’d seek a dialogue w/my senior pastor to “get at” what’s bugging him or me. Why is it happening? How have I contributed to it? What needs to be done to correct it? My conviction is that while he and I address these questions, I must remember that I’m not the senior pastor, HE is. Regardless of the circumstances, I must honor and respect the office He holds as senior pastor. I want to maintain open and honest dialogue w/him. If need be, we’ll together agree on who else we’d ask to enter into the discussion with us, whether it be fellow staff, lay leaders, a personnel committee or lay leaders. I must be careful NOT to draw persons outside the immediate problem into the discussion. I want to maintain personal integrity, not allowing myself to undermine the scriptural authority of the senior pastor. BOTTOM LINE OR WORST CASE SCENARIO: If these efforts fail to bring me and my senior pastor to an agreeable solution, I must be willing to adjust and conform to his decisions with a positive attitude OR ultimately leave that ministry position.

    AT ALL TIMES, IN MY CASE, I will do everything in my power to cultivate and maintain a strong personal relationship w/my senior pastor in order to AVOID THE VERY SCENARIO YOU PRESENT! I realize this is greatly dependent on my having a healthy self-esteem as well as my senior pastor having same. When that’s not in place for both me and my senior pastor, the above suggestions won’t accomplish much. I’m pleased to report that I and my current senior pastor are enjoying a great ministry partnership that’s undergirded by a strong personal friendship. For that, I am truly grateful, GOD BE PRAISED!

  • David Manner Says:

    Used by permission via email:

    David,

    Thank you for bringing this out in the open. Since we have a new worship leader, we have started out on the right page, but I am afraid that we might tend to slouch towards the laziness that leads to the disintegration many described in their responses. As a pastor that also has a heart for music and all things worship, I want to make sure this doesn’t happen. Please allow me to offer this advice to those struggling with this issue. Senior Pastors have got to see their worship pastor as an extension of themselves. Just as Ephesians talks about loving our wives like we love ourselves, we must also love those that serve alongside us with this same mindset (albeit not the same actions). If we would see them as the worship side of ourselves, we would communicate better and lead together. Ronald Reagan was one of the best presidents I have known. Not because he was the smartest or most gifted, but because he knew he wasn’t and surrounded himself with people that were. He had a direction he wanted to go and surrounded himself with those that could get him there. Most of the senior/lead pastors I know are not artistic enough to spend the time preparing to preach, pray, counsel, administer, minister, marry, bury, correspond, vision and lead as well as personally design, rehearse, vision, decorate, technically direct and develop the entire worship experience and worship ministry of their church. God has given us gifted people in those areas to HELP us accomplish what is already in our hearts to want; namely, to glorify God in our ministry. We need to see them as an extension of ourselves and not as an interloper seeking our glory. In a nutshell, it needs to be us vs. the world and not me vs. you. If we, as senior pastors, cannot do this, we might be seeking our own glory instead of God’s.

    As a side note, I just keep my staff so busy and chatted up that we have no time to do anything else, including respond to your question. Sorry about that.

    Dr. Jack M. Jacob, Senior Pastor
    First Southern Baptist Church
    Liberal, Kansas

  • David Manner Says:

    The following response was sent to me via email. I am posting it as a response to protect the confidentiality of the submitter:

    Thank you for all your work on this project. I have a lot of empathy for those listed who have needs and concerns other than the ones that I have. Many of them are much greater. I would love to hear sometime in the future about the response from pastors. I don’t know if my pastor will even read the survey, but I pray that he does for his own growth in ministry.

  • Duane Hines Says:

    David, thanks for posting my comment. I’ve been reading the responses here, and the post from the anonymous submitter is correct as well. We ALL must be on board in order for this great relationship to occur. IT DOES TAKE WORK! But at the same time, we all must be willing participants in the call to ministry. If all we’re doing is drawing a paycheck, then maybe we need to check our spiritual condition (pastor and staff).

  • David Manner Says:

    Used by permission via email.

    WOW, David. I read the responses, and now I know how truly blessed I am to be where I am, and the season in which God has placed me is truly amazing to be part of what is going on at Northern Hills. God is moving and getting us ready for something awesome to happen. We don’t know what, but we can all feel the Spirit working.

    My heart goes out to these other worship pastors that don’t have the great relationship with their pastor that I have with mine. I didn’t realize how awful this tragedy really is. And to think that a senior pastor doesn’t think the worship pastor has a vital role in the ministry truly is a tragedy. Thanks for bringing this to light. I will be praying for all these.

    Thank you.

    Duane Hines

  • Paul Clark Jr Says:

    Profoundly sad article. The strain of these relationship issues cannot be hidden from the people who sit in our pews who we call upon to join together in common praise. The fact is that our only hope is in the Gospel we proclaim. We need a movement of the Holy Spirit upon the lives of our pastors, our worship music leaders, and our church leaders such that will cause us to truly reflect Christ in our actions and our spirit. “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8) Lord, help us!

  • David Manner Says:

    The following response was sent to me via email. I am posting it as a response to protect the confidentiality of the submitter:

    Wow.

    An interesting and insightful article. However, the question (its nuances)and the opportunity to respond seem to be a little one-sided.

    For example, “When did music become the definition of worship?” As the pastor, I believe that I have the responsibility to be the primary worship leader but I always strive to remember that I must also be the lead worshipper. I try to encourage, direct, and promote but often feel that this is just another hat I have to put on, since I’m carrying way more than my part of the load.

    You’re hearing from the music guys, but I hear from lots of pastors who feel they can’t seem to get maximum effort out of their staff. Many pastors feel they are paired up with men who have a job, but lack a calling. They want to share the pulpit on Sunday and be seen as a leader but are difficult to find during the grinding hours throughout the week. To borrow (and paraphrase) a line from Perry Nobles: Most pastors want a staff of difference-makers, not paycheck takers.”

    I know you can tell there is a little venting going on here, but I want everyone to know that relational streets are two-way streets. Even pastors find themselves wondering what they have to do to get a staff member to communicate, get-on-board, and buy-in. It would be great to get a positive response, see growth, and be able to connect more strongly.

  • Jim Altizer Says:

    Great job, David. I’ll share this w/ my students.

  • David Manner Says:

    The following post was sent to me via email. I am posting it as a response to protect the confidentiality of the submitter.

    “I wish you knew how much I want to be in a close relationship with you. I want to be a part of a partnership, a brotherhood, a team. I want to charge the same hill as you, knowing that we are covering each other’s backs. I have given my life to serve the church just like you. I believe the church is the hope of the world. I want to be so much more than just a song leader. I want to minister to God’s people not only through music but through relationship and servant-leadership. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life striving to please a bunch of Christian consumers by selecting their favorite songs. I want to challenge them to stop seeing worship as an event for their entertainment, or as the primary means of attracting the unchurched, but instead see it as Christ-followers coming together with one heart and mind, telling God’s story to our Creator through Word and Table. I have so much I would love to teach our congregation about worship but feel stifled. I feel like you just want me to shut up and sing. I feel uninvited to contribute, to evaluate, to question. I want to learn from you, but have a hard time receiving instruction because of the lack of closeness, trust or safety in our relationship. I love and respect you as my pastor, but I really wish I could love and respect you as my friend.”

  • David Manner Says:

    John,

    Wow, your wisdom is very timely. I hope and pray that everyone will read and take your advice…especially the last paragraph. When we unload all of that baggage on our family they are still carrying it only to resurface in other ways in the future long after we may have reconciled our differences with our pastor. We want our children to love their church when they leave home. That is sometimes difficult when their church (pastor) has hurt their parent. Great response my friend.

  • John Hollan Says:

    This is an interesting collection of thoughts, David. I’ve heard many such statements through the years from friends and colleagues. Not a single one of these surprised me by its content. However, there was one statement to which I had a visceral reaction, and I’d like to speak to it from my own experience if you will allow me to do so. The quote that caught me said:

    “It is difficult for my family to follow [my pastor’s] leadership on Sunday when they know how he treats me during the week.”

    I learned years ago, not from dealing with a pastor, but rather with frustrated or unkind congregants, that there are times when I need not unload that baggage at home. To do so only initiates discord in how my wife and children would perceive (at best) that individual, or (at worst) the church as a whole. My family needs a church home where they can serve and worship, and I will only make that more difficult for them if I choose to bring them in to my anger or frustration.

    I’m sure for some reading this reply it sounds as if I am compartmentalizing my professional life from my family. I assure you that’s not the case. I simply recognize that for anyone in any other professional setting, speaking about the frustrations of your work would likely have no effect on your family. Such colleagues are not people with whom your their families would regularly have contact. However, for those of us who work and serve in the local church, our families have direct association with such people multiple times every week, all year long.

    I have an amazing wife, and I am completely transparent with her, and after 21 years of marriage, she knows when something is not right with me. If the problem is personal or familial, I’ll respond openly and we’ll talk it through, but if the problem has to do with someone on our staff or in our pews, I am free to respond with, “It’s a work thing; I’m feeling ________. (fill in the blank: frustrated, angry, hurt, etc.)” She has learned how to support me and pray for me without having to know the nature of the offense. This has been one of the kindest gifts I’ve ever given to my family.

    When I NEED to vent, I call on people with whom I have long-standing, trust relationships, a mentor, a colleague from another church, or a friend from my state’s singing men group. I STRONGLY encourage worship leaders everywhere to invest in relationships with such people; folks to whom you can speak frankly and who will be honest and forthright in their responses to your situation. You’ll be a better follower of Jesus for doing it, and your family will not be burdened in their perception of your church and its ministry.

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