I often use the phrase “the non-sexy side of leadership” when referring to the things we have to do as leaders that are not fun and sometimes painful to do. This was a phrase I adopted from my senior pastor, Matt.
When it comes to hard conversations, Matt is the absolute king! Here’s a story that proves it:
Matt adores his lawn. Like absolute nerds out about it! So one day, as he was outside doing some routine maintenance on the yard, mowing it for probably the 3rd time that week he noticed his neighbor Ken’s yard was a bit overgrown. So to be nice, Matt decided to mow the small strip on the left side of Ken’s garage between Matt’s yard and Ken’s driveway.
As Matt was displaying such a nice gesture, Ken comes outside and starts screaming at Matt. “Quit mowing my lawn!!! Get the shekinah off my yard!”
Once Matt noticed what was happening he finishes mowing the strip of grass, pulls off the yard, turns off the riding mower, takes off his fancy noise cancellation ear protectors (again, my guy goes all out) and calmly walks straight towards Ken. When he gets about 5 ft away from Ken he looks him dead in the eyes and sternly says,
“I don’t know what you’re screaming about, but you will not talk to me like that. Do you understand me?”
Taken back Ken said, “You can’t talk to me like that. You’re a pastor!” And without breaking his stare, straight into Ken’s eyes he says, “Yeah and I’m a pastor that doesn’t take trash from anyone!”
Ken then backed up, apologized, and expressed calmly that he didn’t want Matt to mow his lawn, and they carried on with their days.
When Matt told me about that interaction I was both dying laughing and thinking to myself, “I don’t know if I could ever be that direct with someone.” It used to be that in those situations my vocab list would reduce down to about 7 total words and my insides would be so squirmy that I would do whatever is necessary to get out of that interaction.
Although the interactions aren’t usually as intense as Matt & Ken’s, telling people they don’t have what it takes to be on the worship team is definitely not a comfortable conversation.
It is truly a double-edged sword of an issue though! On one side, denying their acceptance & telling them they don’t have what it takes really stinks to be told. But on the other side, letting someone on the team that doesn’t have what it takes to keep up with the team’s expectations only hurts the rest of the team and where the team can go. Plus, the fear of delivering bad news should never be a determining factor in keeping from doing something.
Although sometimes painful, we do believe there is a way to deliver the hard news that is constructive and beneficial to the individual in the long run!
So what do you say?
There are 5 pieces that must be present in order to conduct these conversations in an honorable manner.
1) Sensitivity: Notice the extension of your arm
2) Affirmation: What was positive?
3) Clarity: What was missing?
4) Redirection: Find their sweet spot
5) Intentionality: Show up well to the next interaction
Sensitivity: Notice the extension of your arm
Last year Derrick Henry, running back for the Tennessee Titans, sent stank-faces across the faces of fans around the world as people watched his vicious stiff-arm on Josh Norman of the Buffalo Bills. *if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see below.
What I find interesting about the motion of stiff-arming is if you slightly bend your elbow it creates a perfect shape to place around the shoulders of someone you’re wanting to comfort or bring near.
There’s a similar slight difference in approach to these types of conversations that influences if who we are talking to thinks we are giving them a cold stiff-arm or are expressing genuine care.
Whether it’s an email or a phone call or an in-person conversation, tone is everything. Are you communicating care in the way you’re delivering the news?
Secondly, do your words match your tone? Are you simply saying “thanks for trying out you didn’t make it?” Affirm how brave it is to audition for a team.
Third, express gratitude! People spend a lot of time preparing for auditions and it’s really easy to forget that when you’re the one receiving the audition. So be grateful and ensure they know how much it means that they would take time out of their schedule to engage in such a process.
Here’s an example of all 3 of those aspects in play together.
Say you had a vocalist named Tim try out. Here’s how I would open up interaction. ‘
Hey Tim! I wanted to connect with you about your worship team audition. First, man thanks so much for all the time you put into preparing for your audition! Auditioning is a vulnerable thing to do and I wanted to commend you for simply stepping up and doing it. Means a lot to us! I also wanted to let you know that unfortunately you haven’t been selected to join the worship team at this time. Really sorry to deliver that news to you!
Affirmation: What was positive?
Denying someone a spot on the worship team ultimately means that something was missing that has caused that person to not get placed on the team. But even though there were things that were missing, what did you notice or know about that person that you can affirm?
Why I like placing the affirmation after the “bad news” is because when placed before it can be so easily dismissed and forgotten. But when we’re intentional to bring affirmation into their disappointment, it helps dismiss the lies that can so easily begin to attack our identity.
Back to our conversation with Tim.
…I know this news can be tough to hear. I do however want to affirm your passion for the Lord! It is so evident that you love worshipping and can I tell you, it gave me so much life to see. You are someone who is truly full of so much joy and passion, man, and it lifts the room!
Auditioning for something attached to a passion is such a vulnerable thing to do. Vulnerability is the doorway for lies to come in and take root. So what we want to do as quickly as possible is call out the truth of what we see in others so that the only thing they’re walking away with isn’t only rejection and disappointment.
Clarity: What was missing?
I would say about 70% of people whose audition is denied aren’t completely hopeless. There are just specific areas that need improvement. So tell them what it is! Give them something constructive to walk away with that informs them how they can grow.
Back to Tim:
…Something that you can work on is staying on pitch. I noticed there were quite a few spots where your voice got out of tune. I would love for you to take the next 6 months and work on that & come back and audition again. I’m not guaranteeing a spot for you, but would love to see where you’re at after 6 months.
Redirection: What’s their sweet spot?
Now, there are those cases where no matter how much work someone put into getting better, they just aren’t cut out for the worship team. So what do you do in that case?
Okay, follow me for a second. Do you believe scripture when it says that God “knit you together in your mother’s womb”? Do you believe we are all “fearfully and wonderfully made”? Do you believe that there is a unique calling and purpose on everyone’s life? If you believe any of these last three questions, then you believe that there is a place for everyone, doing something that resonates with who they are.
Help them find their sweet spot!
There is something out there that aligns with their passions and their abilities. Helping someone find that place is the beginning of what it looks like to be a leader that shepherds people opposed to only engaging with people that we can benefit from.
How do we do that? Simple! What is something that aligns with both their passions & abilities?
Sure they might be passionate about worship and singing or playing an instrument, but God empowers us in the area that we’re called to. If He hasn’t gifted them in that area, then it’s more than likely not their calling.
So in light of that, what are some other teams that you can point them to that doesn’t require the level of talent your team requires, but gives them a place to serve that’s connected to their passion? (Kids Service Worship Team, Pro Presenter, Stage Hand, etc.) They might be the right person, just in the wrong seat on the bus.
…Although I don’t think the worship team is the right fit for you, it’s evident you have a passion for worship and I’d love to get you plugged into a role that is still connected to creating an atmosphere of worship for our congregation. Would you have any interest in serving on the tech team or kids worship team? Regardless, thanks so much for auditioning!
Intentionality: Show up well to the next interaction
This one is pretty straightforward and to put it simply: next time you see them in person, be intentional to connect with them in such a way that would ease any of the awkwardness that can come with rejection. Again, I’ve said it a lot, but auditioning is an incredibly vulnerable thing. So meet them in that place and let the way you interact with them communicate that although they were denied a place on the team, they weren’t denied a place of relationship with you.
This is something that goes an incredibly long way and continues to reinforce what Kingdom cultures are called to – people over product. The 1 matters. As good shepherds, our role is to ensure that every sheep is taken care of & finds a home. Just because they might not be joining your team, doesn’t mean there isn’t a responsibility to still lead them well.
Denying someone that auditioned for the worship team is never fun, but I believe that if you frame the conversation with these 5 pieces, it will allow them to walk away knowing they are seen & truly valued.
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