The relationship between Senior Pastors and Worship Leaders can be one of the most difficult to manage.
Though they are both called to shepherd the sheep, they have very little overlap in their function. Of course, some senior pastors were previously worship pastors, but very few worship pastors have been the lead pastor of a church. This makes it difficult for them to really understand one another.
But when you see a healthy senior pastor and worship leader relationship, it’s incredibly rewarding for both individuals and the congregation.
When I was growing up my dad was a “minister of music,” as they were called, for nearly 25 years at 3 very different churches. I’ve now worked full-time under three pastors and university presidents in 13 years and have seen and experienced both what I would describe as healthy and unhealthy working relationships. I’d like to share a few things I have learned and observed.
First, two stories.
A number of years ago there was a transition of senior leadership at the place where I was leading worship and suddenly I had a new boss who couldn’t have been more different from my previous one. Because of the transition there was little time for getting to know one another and sharing vision or ministry philosophy.
So I continued with “business as usual.”
I chose songs, set lists, and volunteers like I always had. After our second service together he called me into his office and asked how I thought worship was going. I responded with something like “solid” or “good”. I then explained a few of the extenuating circumstances that kept it from being an A+, as I began to sense his displeasure.
He responded by telling me that if I wanted to “stick around here” I would need to be “a lot more anointed than this.”
When I pressed for clarity, his advice was to “pray more.”
Full disclosure, I did “stick around” for a few more years and our relationship grew as we learned to love one another and work well together, but the start was less-than-ideal and caused me far more anxiety than was necessary.
Rewind 15 years…
My dad worked at a diverse megachurch with a thriving choir, orchestra, and production team. It was the place where I discovered my call to the church and my love for music. Rehearsals were challenging, yet fun. The people were authentic and full of life. In my head it was a dream church; it was the perfect scenario to be a pastor’s kid.
But a few years later, when I was in college, I learned that my dad’s experience as a staff member was quite different…
Almost weekly he and the other staff pastors dreaded the meeting where they were sure to be met with a list of unacceptable critiques from Sunday morning. One by one the pastors left: the youth pastor, the children’s pastor, the outreach pastor, and eventually my dad followed suit.
I tell these two brief stories because they highlight the disconnect that is often found between senior pastors and worship pastors.
Senior pastors, like most leaders, have particular desires for what the organization should look like. And yet, so many are unrealistic or go uncommunicated. But, unless the relationship is otherwise strong and healthy, there’s not typically an appropriate opportunity for worship pastors to give their bosses this kind of feedback.
So what can we do? How can we begin to move toward a place of health that will bring support and security to the relationship?
Here’s what I know: no worship pastor ever takes a job thinking it will end with them being bitter or resentful toward the senior pastor. Yet it happens often.
There’s plenty that I think would be helpful to share with senior pastors, but you can only change your attitude and behavior. And if you do I’m almost certain it will begin to corrode the barriers that impede a healthy working relationship.
There are two common hurdles that immediately come to mind when I think about the unique relationship between worship pastors and senior pastors.
The first hurdle: many worship leaders seem to only be concerned about their specific ministry.
You may be thinking, “well of course I care about the whole church!” But are you visibly and verbally revealing that? Admittedly, the worship pastor’s job is more technically demanding than it’s ever been, so it’s easy to get caught up in the minutiae of software and PCO without realizing it. There’s no shame in that.
But your senior pastor can’t do that. They typically don’t have the luxury of focusing on one or two things. The senior pastor’s job is to oversee the whole organization while writing sermons, meeting with people, resolving staff conflict, etc.
How can you take steps to show a genuine interest in the whole organization?
How can you see the big picture rather than just through the lens of your department and your needs? When you’re sitting in staff meeting and the conversation turns to children’s or men’s ministry do you tune out? Pay attention, be engaged, offer helpful thoughts and solutions. Learn to be a true “team player.” Please don’t be a diva – you’re giving the rest of us a bad rap!
Maybe in your context the staff is large enough where you’re not expected to branch out beyond the worship ministry…If so, know that it’s a luxury.
Even still, inherent within your vocation is the call to pastor the people in the pews. And you can always grow as a pastor.
If the overall goal of the ministry is to pastor and disciple people, then model and embody that, first within your ministry and then beyond to people in the congregation. Look for opportunities to lead at a women’s ministry event or share a devotion at an outreach.
The more you’re exposed to the rest of the organization, the more in touch you’ll be with the people and the burdens that they’re carrying. And the more in touch you are with people, the more pastorally aware you will be when leading worship.
The second hurdle: poor communication.
Many worship pastors feel competent singing, but rather incompetent speaking interpersonally. Some are intimidated by their senior pastor. If you are and feel you don’t know where to begin building the relationship, then formulate questions around topics that you know will matter to him or her and be ready for an opportunity to ask them.
Nothing breaks down relational barriers like taking a genuine interest in another person’s life.
Senior pastors also need verbal support and encouragement.
Encourage your pastor when they lead a meeting well, preach a great sermon, are generous with their time or money, make a favorable decision to a request, etc. A specific word of encouragement can go a long way. Do these for your senior pastor even if he or she doesn’t do them with you. Prayerfully embody what you wish were reciprocated.
Maybe the relationship is great on a personal level, but the working relationship is strained and murky.
Are you clear on exactly what your senior pastor desires from the worship ministry? Do you know what a “win” looks like? If you’re unclear then ask for a meeting, be specific about what you’re wanting to talk about so he or she won’t feel blindsided.
If you ask for a meeting, come with specific questions.
Don’t say, “what are you looking for?” or “what do you want?” There’s nothing wrong with that per se, but it forces your pastor to try and articulate vision in ways that you have to translate for your ministry. It might be more helpful to come and ask, “do you like it when I open service like ___ or would you prefer that I ___?” Or “Last Sunday I chose ___ song because of ___. Did you think that was a good decision? In the future, how could I approach a situation like that?”
Communication is a skill that you must learn. If you don’t you’ll have either a short tenure or a frustrated tenure…possibly both.
This blog was primarily dedicated to worship pastors, but there will be a second post to follow with thoughts that I think could be helpful for senior pastors.
Before you leave this moment it might be appropriate to take a minute to pause (especially if your working relationship is tenuous) and pray. Something like, “God help me to do what I can to bring change rather than wishing that he/she would change first.” It might just go a long way.
You may also be interested in these related posts!
- Should We Sing Songs that We Know aren’t *Technically* True?
- Is Your Church Service Format the Reason Your Church is Apathetic?
- “Worship Leader” or “Worship Pastor”? Our Language Tells on Us
- Why Should Worship Leaders Even Care About Theology?
- “You’re Never Gonna Let, Never Gonna Let Me Down!”…Right?
- 5 Things Volunteers Do that Annoy their Worship Pastors More than Anything
- Grow Your Worship Team with these 6 Proven Recruitment Strategies (Post-Quarantine)