If you have been a pastor for any amount of time, something like this has most likely happened to you:
After finishing a powerful and moving discourse on the joy of the Lord, you wait expectantly for the worship leader to guide the congregation in a suitable musical response, a song filled with celebration. But to your dismay, instead of the rapturous dancing of David, your worship leader launches into one of the psalmist’s darkest laments—in a minor key, with a droning rhythm that could darken the heart of the brightest believer. Or conversely, you pour your heart into telling your congregation that grief and sorrow need to be expressed, that they have permission to be real with God, and your worship team follows your sermon with the slickest, sweetest, most in-denial pop-fest you have ever heard.
As a pastor, you have to do and be aware of so many things, but one of the most important is shepherding key elements in the service and the humans connected to them. You’re part producer, pastor/discipler, music director, motivational speaker, service programmer, counselor, human resource department, and the list goes on. As a result, a key imperative is establishing a meaningful relationship with your worship leader and team. Maybe you’re part of a mid-to-large or even mega- or multisite church, where the sheer volume dictates that there are many leaders serving in many distinct areas of worship. You might have simple or complex spheres of authority. You might stand shoulder to shoulder as pastor with a worship pastor, or the worship pastor might answer to you. Whatever your situation, the relationship is critical.
Peace, Not a Truce
We’ve all heard of “worship wars,” and they’re not just among the congregation but sometimes between the senior pastor and worship leader and/or the worship team. As Mark tells us, “If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand” (Mark 3:25). A few simple questions, principles, and practices that have been learned the hard way can establish Gospel peace and “Spirit and Truth” worship, thereby defining the relationship between pastor and worship leader. We’ll find this definition and our guides both in Scripture and what we already know about relationships.
Before we even arrive at guidelines for transforming and meaningful worship, we need to establish that Jesus, as our lead worshipper, constantly pointed to the Father and not to Himself. Perhaps in our entertainment-soaked culture, this is one of the most difficult issues for those who lead congregational singing today. Of first importance is how to satisfy the “aesthetic” threshold that congregations/audiences expect from the “performance” of musicians and speakers and then, on the other hand, continue to point the communication to the Father and not to ourselves. All musicking is done by performance; the distinction to make here is whether we are serving in the dialogical communication between God and his people, or if we are allowing the communication to be hijacked by our egos, agendas, or issues, resulting in a “mere performance” rather than true worship.
Follow the Trinitarian Example
Who exactly are we following, and what can we (as individuals and a worship family) learn from Him? How does He define the functions of a worship leader?
Christ is our exemplar here. Above all, He mediated the presence of God. He led in praying and answering questions about prayer. He sang psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God and led/joined others in doing so in the midst of corporate meetings and intimate fellowship. He discipled others by teaching, telling stories, sermonizing, living in close relationship among them, healing, evangelizing—all while demonstrating God’s power, justice, compassion, mercy, and above all humility (i.e., foot washing as an act of worship).
In addition to His example in Scripture and our ongoing relationship with Him, Jesus left us with the Holy Spirit to not only reveal the heart of God to us, but also to grow the heart of God in us. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are an ongoing demonstration of mutual love and teach us the power of relationship. This is why the following first step in this guide to transforming your relationship with your worship pastor/leader—and thereby your worship service—is so important.
1. Get to know each other. Of course, this means spending time together—praying together; getting to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses; encouraging each other; and discussing worship orientations, theological perspectives, background, and goals for the congregation and worship. Working together is never easy, since there are bound to be areas of difference, maybe even conflict. But the example of the triune God teaches us to support and honor each other, not compete. When your teammate does well, you are not diminished but enriched. The Spirit of God dwells in and among us to help us work well together.
2. Establish spheres of responsibility. Growing out of this relationship will be a clear idea of what each person is called to, good at, and committed to doing. I don’t know if you’ve ever been in one of those situations where nobody knew who was responsible for what—kind of like the potluck where everyone brings Jell-O, or the pickup game where everyone thought someone else was bringing the basketball. You’ve been there…the Easter program is NOW and someone forgot to tune the piano; this Sunday, we’re going simple and retro with a single guitar, and THEN a wiry snap and three out of six strings break as your guitarist is doing some creative tuning, and the extra strings “what’s his name” was supposed to purchase are nowhere in sight. OR the wrong page number listed in the program results in singing “O Happy Day” instead of “Till We Meet” at the end of a funeral…and so on.
3. Plan and evaluate services together. This is really part of Point 2, because good planning will reinforce spheres of responsibility, and evaluating past mistakes will help ensure they don’t happen again. Be sure each of you understands the flow and sequence of service elements, singing, etc. and put this into written form for all participants. Have a planning and evaluation checklist for each service. Both planning and post-service evaluation can be part of growing your relationship with your worship leader and your team, particularly when it comes from a motive of serving each other and the congregation and not a search for someone to blame.
4. Reflect, clear the air, and lighten up. Get rid of any rigid, immovable ideas about the way worship must be done that aren’t prescribed by your faith tradition; open up to the Spirit’s guidance. This is just as possible in a congregation based around the church calendar as it is in a conservative, evangelical, mainline denominational, charismatic, or Pentecostal church. Many of our rituals are unwritten, but just as immovable, regardless of our faith tradition.
Remember when Jesus healed the woman in the synagogue (church service) in Luke 13 and on another occasion a man with a shriveled hand (Matthew, Mark and Luke)? The leadership was scandalized. It wasn’t part of the worship flow, although it certainly generated some meaningful worship, at least from those who were healed. Be open to fresh inspiration and creativity from the Spirit.
5. Keep your congregation in the loop. Just as it is important to get to know each other as pastor and worship pastor/leader, it is important to know your congregation—their demographics, personal stories, orientations, needs, wants, and desires—so you can understand how they listen and communicate and bring it to God in your planning. And it is important for you and your worship pastor to engage with them on the subject of worship in myriad ways, through sermons, teachings, Bible studies, use of film, dance, and various visual arts, special worship gatherings, and more.
6. Keep the main thing the main thing. Always ask yourself, “Whom are we trying to please?” Ourselves? Our congregations? Our God? We hope to bring joy to the object of our affection—God, Who is our primary (but not only) worship audience. See the Psalms of David. He not only sings to God but to and with the congregation—and to the nations. If we do this authentically and led by the Spirit, God will be worshipped, we and our congregations will be flooded with the overflow, and we’ll all be blessed!
Final Words of Wisdom
As we follow the leader, Jesus, we will express His love. Biblical leadership always flows out of love based on relationship, stewardship, and servanthood. Pastors and worship leaders are on the same team, and when they are united in love mirroring the Trinity, His Kingdom does come, and not only is God worshipped in Spirit and Truth, but the pastor, worship leader, and congregation are transformed and renewed.