What Worship Leaders Need from Their Senior Pastors


A few weeks ago I wrote about the difficulties that can impede a healthy senior pastor / worship pastor relationship.

 

In my career (and as a bystander of my dad’s career) as a worship pastor I’ve experienced deep and healthy relationships with some senior pastors as well as tenuous relationships with others.

 

I’ve been wounded & I’ve found healing.

Empowered & felt restricted.

Affirmed & humiliated.

 

It’s not wise to project my experience on all worship pastors everywhere. But I have enough relationships with other worship pastors to know it’s a ubiquitous experience for those who stay in church ministry for any length of time. 

This post is not a “do these 3 things to make your worship pastor submissive” or “3 principles for perfect pastoral relationships.”

All human relationships are complex and dynamic because of our God-given uniquenesses. So we must resist our simplistic diagnoses and responses. But there are patterns that I’ve come to recognize; common desires from both sides as well as common hurdles. 

I concluded the previous post with a “letter to worship pastors” as an attempt to share how they can become the kind of worship pastor that supports their pastor and the ministry of the whole church.

This post will be the reverse: a letter to senior pastors.

Full disclosure, I’ve never been a senior pastor, but my present role as an executive pastor has positioned me to see things I couldn’t have seen before. And, I have a healthy and mutually-life-giving relationship with my current senior pastor and I believe I’ve been able to identify some of what we’ve both done to intentionally invest into the relationship. 

The purpose of this post is also not for worship leaders to *hint* to their senior pastor by emailing them this blog – or vice versa. Please don’t do that!

That’s passive aggressive and it’s unlikely to bear the fruit you’re hoping it will. But these two posts together can serve to initiate talking points between the two parties. Before you read on, it might be helpful to take a minute and pause (especially if your working relationship is strained) and say a prayer. Something like, “God help me to do what I can do to change what I can change and open our eyes, our hearts, and our minds toward one another.”

 

The first thing I want to say to senior pastors is please remember that your staff’s primary purpose is to serve God as they serve your congregation alongside you – it’s not to serve you.

 

They work for you, yes, but a healthy church culture (and all relationships, really) is marked by mutual-submission and shared responsibility. You, pastor, are a gift to your congregation. Sometimes you are not treated as such and that is grievous to God. But your staff members are a gift to you for the sake of sharing the enormous burden of leading, shepherding, and caring for a congregation.

With that as the foundation, I would like to get very practical. 

When you are tempted to get critical of or frustrated with your worship pastor, ask yourself this question: “Why did I hire them?” “Did I hire them for their theological acumen or their public communication skills?” It’s possible, but unlikely.

Most worship leaders are hired because they have either a single dynamic skill as a singer, musician, songwriter, or charismatic leader or because they are serviceable at a wide variety of musical skills. Of course, this isn’t always the case. I hope you believe your worship pastor is the best in the world at what they do best, but what I’ve witnessed more often than not is: the worship leader was hired because they can sing, play guitar and piano, and they’ve been faithful at their church and then they’re expected to be a great volunteer-team-builder, a visionary leader, a lighting and audio engineer, a pastoral theologian, and a decent administrator.

Those unicorns do exist, but if you don’t have a unicorn on your team don’t expect your worship pastor to suddenly become one.

Quit comparing your worship leader to Phil Wickham or Brooke Ligertwood on stage and to your executive pastor off the stage and simply affirm what they do well. Let’s be honest: if they’re a brilliant musician it’s unlikely that they’re also a brilliant strategist and administrator. You (or another staff member) might have to help them create a plan for growth, execution, and follow-up. 

Now, this is not an excuse for complacency or a refusal to grow.

We don’t have the right to be complacent or stagnant as followers of Christ. If your worship pastor seems complacent or resistant to growth it’s likely there’s a much deeper issue. But temper your expectations of them with a measure of reality.

– What do you need most from your worship pastor?

– Have you clearly articulated areas of growth for them?

– If you have, have you empowered them to take steps in that direction?

– Do they have the budget, personnel, and resources to make it happen?

Many feel like they know *what* to do but *can’t* do it for any of these reasons. Find out why and don’t let the reason they *can’t* accomplish the goal be something you could’ve fixed long ago.

 

I’ve also encountered many worship leaders who feel like their pastor wants *something different* or *something more* but they can’t, for the life of them, name or describe what it is they truly want.

 

Think of how frustrating it is when someone tells you they’re leaving your church but can’t (or won’t) tell you “why” beyond “it’s just a feeling” or “things aren’t like they used to be.” That’s maddening! I challenge you to work hard to clearly communicate what you’re looking for. It might be clear to you, but is it clear to your worship pastor?    

I’ve experienced this first hand…

One time I had a boss tell me he wanted worship to be “much stronger.” I wondered: stronger content? Or maybe just louder? More “anthemic” style songs? More talented singers or charismatic people on the team? I was clueless so I inquired. And gained no clarity. Fortunately, over time he affirmed when he experienced what he wanted and I learned to discern it and craft sets toward that end. In a perfect world you would define “the win” together in conversation. But if you can’t do that, it’s your job to define clear goals for him or her. 

 

 

Lastly, invest in your worship pastor.

 

If they’re great at the skills of the job, but are lacking in wisdom, spiritual depth, or pastoral care, show them the way. I

nvite them to join you on hospital visits or in pre-marital counseling, give them opportunities to share a devotional at staff meeting, draw them into your sermon preparation every once in a while. Nurture the pastoral calling in your worship pastor through invitation and opportunity. And don’t criticize them when they don’t do something like you would have done it. It could be because they don’t have the education or the experience that you do. But it also could be because they’re not you and their way is just, well, different. 

If you treat your worship pastor with dignity and respect as a pastor rather than as a paid musician there’s a good chance they will rise to the occasion.

They are far more likely to have an open and teachable heart when they sense that you view them higher than they view themselves. Call them higher. Invite them. Empower them. Resource them. And be clear with them when they’re repeatedly missing the mark. Your church – and The Church – are far better off when your worship leader functions as a worship pastor, and that’s probably what you want too. Even if you don’t know it yet. 

 

 


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