What to Look for in a New Worship Pastor Job

  • Written By 
  • Jonathan Swindal

Looking for a new worship pastor position at a new church? Things to consider:

In early 2014, I was working at a university and received an invitation to bring a team of students to a church in Colorado Springs. The trip went well. Eventually it led to my wife and I flying out to this church once a month. Every trip we would do training and lead worship on Sunday morning; which ended up lasting fifteen months. About halfway through our “consultation” period we began to sense that this church could very well be our next home. Sure enough, in the spring of 2015 we committed and moved that fall.

We had an ideal situation for choosing a next ministry destination:

(1) plenty of hours spent on the ground, (2) over a long period of time, (3) while engaging with congregants, staff, and the senior pastor. All of these factors gave us the opportunity to discern what it might be like to live, work, and worship with those people.

I doubt the slow process like this will ever happen like that again, but I’m grateful for it. Typically the timeline of “trying out” is more compressed, which on top of asking all the questions, makes it difficult to really grasp the culture of a church.

There are three groups of people that are important to engage with while auditioning for a new position.

Here I’ll share who they are and what kinds of things I’d be asking and listening for in times of engagement.

Senior Pastor / Senior Leadership

In most Evangelical or charismatic churches, the senior pastor is the key culture setter and decision maker. The first two questions I’d ask is: Who will your direct report be? And how directly involved will the senior pastor be in your department?

Obviously, the senior leader casts the overall vision, but some senior pastors have very generic, basic wishes for their worship leader and will be relatively uninvolved in your day-to-day operations. Other times – particularly if they are former worship leaders themselves – the senior leader will have very specific expectations down to weekly involvement in song selection, style, service flow, etc.

Some people work better with regular specific guidance. Others will hate it and feel micromanaged.

Let me be clear: neither is inherently right or wrong. You just don’t want to be three months in and have this blindside you.

Don’t be afraid to ask specific questions.

Are you being hired to be the primary worship or to build a great team?

Or are you being hired to be a production manager / creative director with the title “Worship Pastor”?

If it seems like there’s a lack of clarity from the senior leader, get more specific.

Ask things like:

How do you envision me spending the bulk of my time? Songwriting? Meeting with team members and volunteers? Praying and preparing solely for Sunday morning?

You need to know the Senior Pastor’s vision for you position & all of these questions will help you draw it out – despite what’s posted in the job description.

At the end of the day, if you feel like you can align with the vision that the senior leader casts for your position there’s a good chance you’ll be able to thrive. If not, you probably shouldn’t take the position even if the benefit package is fantastic.

Current Staff Members (Colleagues)

One of the greatest things the pastor did when we were auditioning was setting up time with other staff members, where he wasn’t there, with explicit permission to ask them anything we wanted. It revealed his security as a leader to trust employees to talk about the strengths and weaknesses of the organization and not feel threatened by it. If you request this and it’s either denied or evaded then that might be a sign that the culture isn’t open and honest.

If you are able to get time with future colleagues, ask them what it’s really like to work there.

Is it common for things to change at the last minute with no rhyme or reason given?

Difficult to get vacations approved or what typically happens when personal requests are made?

Flexibility with office hours or is it more of a “clock in, clock out” environment?

When you’re asking these questions, do you sense fear or dishonestly in their answers?

Candidly, do they seem scared for their jobs? Or do they seem to have healthy relationships with their direct reports?

Lastly, inquire about the workplace expectations.

Does every little thing require approval?

Is there space to have open conversations and share disagreements with superiors?

This group can be the most tricky to get direct answers from, but if you ask good questions and pay attention you can learn a lot about how the organization really works.

The Volunteers in Your Area

Volunteers are choosing to attend and serve in this ministry; which is where you should expect to learn the best things about the church. They have nothing to lose! Weaknesses in the ministry are easiest to find out about from volunteers.

With volunteers I would ask questions like:

What drew you to this church and what has kept you here (you’d be surprised how often they’re not the same)?

Which areas of the church have you participated in and which areas seem to be the most healthy and life-giving?

Then I would ask them pointed questions about the worship ministry.

Do you feel like your voice is honored when you share thoughts, opinions, or suggestions?

How have you been treated when you’ve needed to take time off or request off for sickness?

Try and get a sense of any unspoken frustrations. Maybe there aren’t any – fantastic! That also speaks to the culture.

The most crucial thing to remember…

There are no perfect churches and we all know that. But there are churches who are honest with their imperfections and are pursuing Christlikeness together – then there are others who aren’t.

Ultimately, you want to be where God wants you to be. But, unless you sense a strong call from God, you don’t want to be in an unhealthy, stifling environment where fear and control pervade the culture. Engaging with these three groups of people can help you discern if this is that kind of place or not.


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