3 Tips for Dealing with Difficult Worship Team Members

  • Written By 
  • Jonathan Swindal

Here’s a shot in the dark question: Have you ever dealt with a difficult person? Of course you have!

Jesus explicitly said that it is the sick, not the healthy, who need a doctor. We shouldn’t be surprised when our ministries are attracting broken people. A big part of our job as pastors is to learn how to steward broken people. Doing this as Jesus heals them, while minimizing opportunities for them to further wound one another – or us – in the meantime. But how do we deal with people who are difficult, disruptive, even harmful to the work that we’re doing in ministry? What’s the best approach for dealing with difficult worship team members?

When dealing with difficult worship team members, I think it’s helpful to remember that people aren’t inherently “easy” or “difficult” to deal with.

A lot of what makes human interaction hard is the chemistry experiment that occurs when our differences are put together in confined spaces: personality, preferences, past experiences, family of origin, etc. Each of us have a unique make-up that will result in having expectations and postures that differ from one another. Essentially, the problem with difficult people is that no two of them – us *cough* – are the same.

But the reality is, when we’re leading a team, some people seem to be more difficult to work with than others.

How do we move forward? Where do we begin?

1) Try to determine what makes them difficult to work with.

Is it a personality clash? Or is it a harmful or disruptive repeated behavior? This is important to identify because, while both are an inevitable part of life, only one of them should be directly addressed in the context of a ministry team – and it’s the latter.

Once you’ve identified that it’s a behavior (something they are doing, not who they are), hone in on *what* the behavior is.

This is where the hard work is, and it’s why you’re a leader. It’s easy for someone to say “they rub me the wrong way,” but that’s not enough. What if they’re not doing anything wrong at all and the weakness or wound is within you? It’s possible they remind you of someone else that has wounded you or that they remind you of a younger version of yourself. The Spirit might be utilizing their presence to highlight something in you that needs to be confronted and healed.

Sometimes when someone “rubs us the wrong way” there is no wrongdoing that’s occurring.

It’s simply the friction of human interaction that can either harden us toward others or draw us into Christlikeness through kindness and prayer. But if there is a behavior, move on to step two.

2) Name what makes the behavior troublesome or destructive to you or the team.

Are they repeatedly late or unprepared? Do they use destructive words or undermine authority? Are they full of excuses and always already know everything when you try to provide guidance? Do they not have the skills to achieve what you need them to do? It’s important to correlate the behavior to why it’s harmful.

This is where having named values is helpful.

It empowers you to say, “One of our values is ‘community’ and when you utter sarcastic comments under your breath throughout rehearsal it disrupts the unity of the team; making it much more difficult to have a real community.”

Then, ask yourself what it would require for this person to actually change.

If it’s skill related, try and do some legwork to help them.

Find YouTube videos, recommend a teacher, offer to help them some Thursday afternoon, etc.

If it’s situational (work and life demands) you might prepare to offer them an “out.”

Whatever the situation, try and forecast what is needed to make the change and be realistic with the likelihood of possibility. The objective of this step is for you to work through what of their behavior is harmful or troublesome. Then from there, define the “change” you would like to see. This work is to be done apart from them before any meeting or confrontation.

3) Set up a meeting in person to bring up the issue.

This step is where your work in the previous steps is communicated. The goal here is clarity: you want to gain clarity from their perspective (Is there a reason for their behavior?) and provide clarity on what’s expected and why their behavior is harmful or disruptive. Go in with the expectation that you will be mostly asking questions and listening, not reading off a laundry list of accusations.

Once you’ve done the hard work in the first two points there’s a much higher likelihood that you’ll be prepared to be pastoral in the meeting.

This is because now you’re more deeply invested in the person. Your flesh might still want to get rid of them, but what you should ultimately want is whatever is best for the individual and the department.

Remember, that your first priority in any pastoral role is to care for people.

It doesn’t matter that you produce amazing Sunday morning services if you’re leaving people broken in your wake.

It’s also important to be clear; don’t skirt the issue.

What are they doing that’s been difficult for you or the team? Share it with them and ask them if they’re willing to work to change. If they agree to try, talk about how you can help them and hold them accountable. If they cannot agree to try and change – for whatever reason – then, once again, be clear with what that means for their involvement.

This is certainly not a comprehensive document for dealing with difficult worship team members, but…

If you’re stuck with a particular person or situation hopefully it can get you started on the right track. Remember, there’s a high probability that you’re a difficult person to someone else in your life. If you’re a Worship Leader, more than likely there’s something you’re doing that is annoying to your team! A friend of mine says, “we tend to forget that every one of us is ‘Saul’ to someone else’s ‘David’.” Now that’s a sobering thought! That doesn’t make it easier to confront others, but it should help you exhibit compassion for them and approach these conversations with humility.

Sometimes asking people to change or step down is the most loving thing we can do.

But do the hard work before you come to that conclusion. When dealing with difficult worship team members, doing it well takes hard work.

Unchecked anger or frustration can mask your impatience and actually harm the very people that you’re trying to lead in worship each week. Holy Spirit, help us to treat your people with the grace and mercy that you mean for them, not according to our own whims and preferences.


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