Worship Pastor Owner’s Manual

I’m going to take a small departure from what I normally write about in this blog. No really flowery metaphors (hahaha no, really ima try), no deeper points to make exposed through musical themes, and I’m not really going to try and make you love any worship music that you struggle to like. It is, in a way, a persuasive essay, because I have a way I think that I want you to think. Well, it’s a train of thought I think you need to take for a ride. It’s a path I’ve walked on that you might want to leave a few footprints on. It’s a flowery metaphor you need to flowery metaphor like.

Sorry not sorry.

For those of you who go to church where any sort of music is utilized to enhance, progress, or otherwise embellish the process and procedure of worship, you need to know how to work with the guy or gal in charge of the music. They have multiple titles. They are music ministers, ministers of music, worship pastors, worship leaders, choir directors, praise team leaders, and the guy who everyone thought was homeless until he started playing his guitar and could carry a tune. There is a lot of cynicism surrounding the leader of the center ring of the worship circus that we are, in effect, causing by not supporting them or engaging them properly. So, without terribly dehumanizing them, please let me present a user’s manual for the guy or gal I will call your worship leader.

Worship Leader Number 3

The worship leader is not a rock star. One of my text books was actually titled Worship Leaders, We Are Not Rock Stars. It was one of the books that I could tell you what it would be like to read before opening the cover. I highly recommend it for anyone who worships God. It is not just for someone who looks to lead a congregation of hundreds. If you seek to enter into worship just between yourself or your family and God, pick it up. It will change the way you approach worship. It is written by Stephen Miller, a man who is not a rock star only because God has not designated that as his path. He is an excellent musician. And he looks like a rock star.

The important part about not considering your worship leader as a rock star is that the cloud of mystique and otherness with most rock stars and famous people should not surround the worship team. They should be approachable. They should be available. They should consider time with you the second most important thing they are doing at church right behind time with God. Your worship leadership team is a pastoral team. Miller writes:

A worship leader is not just a singer or musician or artist. He is not a marketing guru or someone who knows what music people like. He is a pastor or a deacon; a servant, a steward, and watchman over God’s church. He is a teacher of doctrine accountable to God for his teaching and his life. [1]

When was the last time you had a pastor decline to spend time around the people he shepherds? When was the last time one of your deacons went and hid in an unfindable green room after a service because she was trying to save her voice for the next service’s announcement section? Do you know, when I have interviewed church leaders for school projects, each of them have agreed on one point with the exact same phrase? I don’t know who made it popular, but they need a medal.

More about the foyer than the green room.

For the uninitiated, the green room is a performance arts concept that somehow crept into church. It’s a room back stage with burnt coffee, expensive and bland cookies, twitchy techies, and old stinky couches. It’s where you get into “the zone” before a performance.

Here’s the truth about who the worship leader of your congregation is. The Holy Spirit is your worship leader. Jesus Christ is the chief priest of worship for your church. The Father perfects worship in your house of worship, taking the sound tech problems, power point issues, and pitchy altos and making it immutably perfect. God is the first worship leader. And you will not find Him hiding out in a closet somewhere before the service.

The invocation prayer in a worship service does not bring Him onto the stage. He wasn’t waiting to be invited. He was already there, Jack. The invocation is more about making sure YOU know why you’re there.

Anyway, after God, the second leader of worship for you in that service is you. I don’t care if you can’t carry a tune in a bucket, in a bathtub, or in an olympic size pool, if you aren’t ready to at least TRY to worship while you’re there, it doesn’t matter what the guy up front is doing. It won’t matter that God has a great moment waiting for you. If you are not following the leadership of God to a moment of worship, and if you do not lead yourself in that following, you aren’t going to accidentally worship.

Which leads us to the dudes up front. They are number three. They keep the beat and suggest the words you use to adore God. They make the pretty sound you should try to approximate. Corporately, a group of people will try to sing and hope the same thing about God in a worship service. That’s the work of the worship leader.

Why is this ranking important?

Here’s why. If you are discontent with a worship experience you need to talk to number 1, then number 2, then number 3.

Talk to God about the worship service. I swear, He will listen to you and your discomforts and complaints. Talk to Him about everything to do with the worship experience and don’t try to be diplomatic. He sees your heart. So if there was anyone you could really unload toward about your opinion, it’s Him. It is quite possible that He will send you to talk to worship leader number 2.

Be honest with yourself about why you are having a hard time in a worship experience. I haaaaaaaaaaaaaated the song, “Even So Come (Lord Jesus Come)” for a while because it sang about being a bride. It walked a line dangerously close to the “Jesus is my boyfriend” music style. I haaaaaaaated that song. Up until I began to see that I was being rebellious. When I finally gave myself to singing that song in adoration of the person of Christ, I lost my hesitation. I’ll write about that song on another day.

Once you have talked with number 1, and been honest with number 2, you can talk to number 3.

This is why it is important that this dude is not a rock star. He needs to know that he is choosing music and style on behalf of an entire gathering of people. At first, it is daunting because he has the preaching pastor, or executive pastor, or creative arts pastor and his team as the sole source of input for what music should be done. Those sources will keep him pleeeenty busy. But if he doesn’t hear from you, how on earth is the music selection going to ever come close to what you are looking to do, Number 2. Give him feedback. I recommend being kind about it, but don’t load the potato gun of your opinion so full of sugar that he walks away with emotional diabetes.

Learn Something From Him or Her

Learn from your minister of music. Do you know what it takes to lead worship at most mid-size to large contemporary churches in America? It takes an intense hodgepodge of musical prowess, including how to work six wildly different musical instruments, vocal arrangement, musical transposition on the spot, soundboard trouble shooting, and how to not swear at a computer. It takes theological excellence to know what songs should and should not be sung, as well as how to justify “Reckless Love” to people, enhancing their worship experience and not muddling their faith. He has to know that if the pastor is preaching from the Beatitudes that there are songs that enhance the messaging and those that detract.

The music leader for your church also has to be a shrewd administrator, well versed in the conflict management necessary to keep peace among the species known as Musicus Primadonnicus. Ok, so ideally, the worship leader has not let such a creature onto the team, but everyone is a work in progress.

The last thing necessary, of course, is a job offer from a church who will take an enormous risk on someone who wears glasses with non-corrective lenses.

If you want to know about music… aaaaaanything, or who you can trust for good things in your church, I heard a chaplain once say that you either ask the minister of music or the head usher. I don’t know a single worship pastor who isn’t a huge music nerd at heart and would just love to explain the circle of fifths or the Nashville numbers system. The more they teach you, the more they cement their understanding themselves. It is, in effect, a way of training your worship pastor to become better musicians and leaders. The less they take musical understanding for granted, the sharper they will be when wielding it. It makes them better at the music.

Know Them

One of my favorite things to find out about music leaders is how they got to where they are. Worship pastoring is a growing industry in America and so it is more of an available career path now than even ten years ago. It is usually a great story to hear how a music pastor received their call to ministry. Some of them knew from the first time they sang something in church that fully expressed the truth and emotion of the moment that they would one day lead people doing that. Others took part in teams and had an influential leader point them out and say, “you too, one day.” Still others were trying to make a band happen. They became worship leaders because they were excellent musicians who had to grow a pastor’s role around their musical genius. It’s like the lyric from the Colin Hay song,

Don’t you understand? I already have a plan: I’m just waiting for my real life to begin. [2]

Find out how you can pray for your worship pastor. They have mortgages or rents. They have children trying to learn how to emulate the greatest musician they know, or horribly rebelling against faith.

They also have stomachs. So find a way to feed them. Take the out for coffee. Bring zero agenda. Just take care of your people and then get to know them. They already have people angling for this that or whatever. Their drummer wants better monitors, their alto wants to be a soprano. Their preaching pastor wants to sing a solo. If you just want to buy them lunch and don’t want to bring up what they should do about something, you have given them an hour to just be human. I did say before to give them your opinion. But do that while they are on the clock, not while they are halfway through a taco.

Be their friend.

When a service is over, there is about half an hour, give or take, it takes for a worship team to get free of the post-service cleanup. Once they finally emerge from the sanctuary, having coiled cables and packed up instruments, they step blinking into the light of day again. If they did a great job, tell them, it helps. If they did a bad job, maybe save it for a sit down where you can encourage growth. But if you know something about their life that has nothing to do with music, help them feel utterly human and known and talk about that. It helps them just be a person from the congregation with a leadership position they occupy for a minute and then step out of to be what they truly are: just one of the people.

Bottom line, if we hold our music ministry professionals accountable, we make sure they are there for the right reason. If we hold them close, we keep them in the right place for a long time to come. If we hold them in prayer, we participate in the activity that belongs to everyone in the sanctuary. The worship of God at a sacred gathering is, in part, dependent upon the commitment of the people to the liturgy. Liturgy, which is popularly translated as “the work of the people” [3] requires the people to be willing to put in the work. That means show up ready to do the thing. Also be ready to support the people who put together the format and content of the thing. Work with them on the thing, and then after you do the thing, life life with them. It helps them do the thing for a long time to come.

1. Stephen Miller, Worship Leaders, We Are Not Rock Stars, (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2013) 63.

2. Colin Hay, “Waiting For My Real Life to Begin,” Going Somewhere. Lazy Eye, 2001.

3. Some theologians, specifically those from liturgical traditions, interpret “Liturgy” to translate more exactly into “The work for the people” placing the work of worship more heavily upon ministry professionals’ shoulders. It is a very interesting debate if you are a nerd. I am a nerd. I like it. The agreed upon material is that regardless of who does the work that church is not a spectator sport. Get off your hind end and take a chance.

Categories: WorshipTags: , , ,

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