I’m writing this post for pastors, with the hope that it might help you to better understand your worship leaders, and perhaps avoid saying and doing things that are well-intentioned but come across negatively. And I’m writing this post for my fellow worship leaders, who may be feeling some of these things but can’t communicate them to their pastors. I have the utmost respect and love for each of the pastors with whom I have served and under whose leadership I have grown — which is why I’m choosing to post this list (which I may or may not have written in the past) now, when the church at which I’m serving is in-between pastors.
Any resemblance to former pastors is purely coincidental.
So, here you go: Pastors, my Top 10 things your worship leaders wish you would stop doing and saying.
10. Stop telling us you “need time to develop your sermons,” and then expect us to put the worship service together in a couple of hours.
I say this with so much respect for pastors and the time it must take to prepare a sermon – I can’t even imagine! And I say it with grace, because I know you are busy, and crises and emergencies come up all the time in ministry. But if you regularly wait until Wednesday afternoon to send your sermon info to your worship leader (even the basics), when you know the musicians rehearse that night… Or if you often send it an hour before your worship leader needs to present their service ideas to you and the worship committee… Or if the church secretary has to let your worship leader know what the service topic is, on the day the bulletin is due… What are you communicating to your worship leader about how much you value what they do? What are you saying about the time you think their work takes?
I once had a pastor tell me that it was no big deal for me to go on vacation (a nice sentiment) because he could just “throw together a couple of songs.” This communicated (I thought) a misunderstanding and undervaluing of what I strive to do on a weekly basis. Yes, some weeks the worship service comes together quickly. Other times, the process is a struggle – a disciplined, time-intensive workout of reading Scripture, studying resources, researching music, brainstorming ideas, trying things out, and practicing.
Much like sermon prep.
9. Stop telling us that “general worship” is just as good as themed worship.
While it’s true that a worship service doesn’t have to have a theme to be good, please don’t use this as an excuse to not communicate your sermon topics or texts. Some worship leaders may pick songs out of a hat, but most desire a starting point, and… see #10.
Imagine having to come up with a sermon from scratch each week – with no series, theme, liturgy, or predetermined book of the Bible – picking a Scripture or topic from thin air. Perhaps some preachers (and worship leaders) can do this on a regular basis, but I am not one of them.
8. Stop having the “contemporary vs. traditional” discussion.
I’m not going to harp on this one, because the point of #8 is that I’m tired of the harping. Communicate clearly your expectations, choose your worship leaders according to their strengths and your goals, then let them be creative within your parameters and with the resources and volunteers with which your church has been blessed. If you’d like, set dates to evaluate your church’s mission, vision, and style (every 5 years?). You can set more regular times to evaluate how well you’re achieving these goals, but don’t regularly evaluate or change the goals themselves. Think about how it would feel to be constantly revisiting the question of whether your preaching style is the best for your church. Constant change for the sake of change (or questioning for the sake of questioning) is exhausting and potentially debilitating.
7. Stop critiquing specific mistakes in the music.
Believe me, I know I started one of the songs too slowly. I know that my song transition wasn’t very smooth. I know I played a G# instead of a G, the guitarist missed an entrance, the organist played too loudly, the drummer was a little off. Musicians tend to recognize clearly, and relive regularly, their mistakes. If your worship leader is competent and practiced, and you’re generally pleased with the work they’re doing, this may not be the kind of “feedback” they need. Think about the kind of feedback that’s helpful to you after a sermon (i.e. will this observation help you improve in future weeks, or does it only point out a mistake?), and apply the same kind of criteria to the constructive criticism you give your musicians.
6. Stop blaming the music when attendance is down or the budget is failing.
5. Stop telling us that we don’t have to do something because we’re only part-time. (Better yet, make us full-time.)
If you feel your musicians and worship leaders have an unhealthy work-ministry/home-personal life balance, you may want to address this gently with them, as a mentor and encourager. Of course, you don’t want your staff and volunteers to burn out. But, generally speaking, it’s a good thing if your worship leader has a ministry mindset, is striving for excellence, is excited about expanding the ministry and growing the church, and is engaged in the church as a congregant and not just as a Sunday-morning musician. To all of us worship leaders who are wanting to give our best to the church, the encouragement to do less can sound like you’re “putting us in our place.”
Which brings me to #4.
4. Stop treating us like “hired help,” and instead engage with us as ministry partners.
Quality worship leaders care about the overall health of their church. They, and their families, are involved in church activities outside of the area of music as congregants and members. They tithe money, and they tithe time. They love the church. They love the people in their ministry. Sometimes what they do looks a lot like “pastoral care;” other times they may be discipling or experiencing discipleship, giving and receiving fellowship.
Pastors, guide your worship leaders to be creative and to support and further the church’s vision within their areas of leadership. Listen to and consider any ideas they may have for areas outside of music and worship. And encourage their participation in the greater life of the church.
As musicians, we know what a “gig” feels like. We don’t want to feel that at church.
3. Stop faulting us when we go out of town and the music is bad.
It is often our responsibility as worship leaders to find musicians to replace ourselves when we go out of town. In small or medium-sized churches, this can be no small task. Our reinforcements are likely from within our own congregations – volunteers or staff who are given the responsibility and privilege of leading for that Sunday, not just participating. We do our best to prepare them—not just with skills but with confidence. Sometimes the process of preparing for a Sunday away is so time-consuming and difficult, that we feel like we need a vacation from our vacation. This is an area where I am often jealous of the pastor who can simply line up “pulpit supply” or ask an assistant pastor to preach.
But mistakes can happen. I once had a pastor tell me that the back-up worship leader and musicians had done such a poor job that they should be leading worship more regularly while I was in attendance so that they would be better prepared for when I was away. Which makes sense… unless #2.
2. Stop punishing us when we go out of town and the music is good.
Under this same pastor, when the music went well during my absence, it seemed it was not in any way due to my preparation or training, or the team’s increased opportunities to practice. As a result of the successful worship experience, the pastor stated that he would like the back-up worship leader to lead worship even more often. I came to the discouraging realization that the pastor preferred the back-up worship leader to me no matter what.
No church musician wants to live in fear that they will be punished (or replaced) if the music is too good when they’re out of town. I know a church music couple who was summarily fired upon returning from vacation because the pastor liked the way the sub led worship better. Perhaps you would never dream of doing this to your staff, but, if your musicians feel this as an unspoken threat, please consider what you’re communicating.
Which leads me to the #1 thing worship leaders wish their pastor would stop doing or saying:
1. Stop telling us you’ve got our back.
It’s a really good thing, of course, to have your worship leader’s back. But if you have to say it, we might start to wonder what’s being said behind said back.
Instead, communicate clearly what you and the church board or elders desire of us, so that we can be confident that we are in line with the church’s mission and vision. Then we can respond to criticisms from congregants (and, believe me, worship leaders face a LOT of criticism!) with confidence and grace, knowing that the pastoral leadership will back us up. Defend us to these congregants in helpful, graciously teaching ways. Don’t throw us under the bus when something doesn’t go well or someone is disgruntled.
Tell us you support us, but with specific affirmations, not general platitudes. I have heard from pastors that their preference is not for congregants to tell them, “I liked your sermon.” Pastors would much rather know why: what the person learned, how they were challenged, how they were inspired to grow in their relationship with Christ. Worship leaders approach their craft in the same way, and with similar goals. And they appreciate the same kind of feedback.
Pastors, thank you for taking the time to read and consider this list! Worship leaders, feel free to comment with your own ideas of how pastors can help you feel loved and appreciated, and inspired to serve and lead with passion and purpose!