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Pastors VS. Worship Leaders: Secrets to Working Together

There are certain ministry roles that have more conflict between them than others.

Senior pastors and youth pastors, church administrators and youth ministers, for example. There is also sometimes significant tension between the worship leader and the one preaching Sunday. This is obviously not the case in every church, but it is in many churches.

Truth be told, I understand, but haven’t experienced it a lot. I had the unusual experience of spending nearly five years as a worship minister before entering the pulpit. I’m sure that’s helped me empathize with the trials and travails of those called to the lead God’s people in worship. It’s also given me a profound appreciation for their ministry—and I hope that comes through on a daily basis.

In my 17 years of ministry, I’ve been blessed to serve alongside two worship leaders.

I hired both of them within a year of my arrival at the churches I’ve served, and we have served together until either I transitioned out (Chad Higgins—who just celebrated 10 years of ministry at HOCC) or … we’re still serving together (Peter Wilson at NVC). We’ve been not only partners in ministry, but true friends.

I don’t want to leave the impression that I’ve never had conflict with a worship leader. However, I have no question the degree of unity between me and the worship leaders I’ve worked with has been an enormous contributor to our church’s success over the years.

God blesses unity, and ongoing tension between those leading God’s people in worship and leading them in study of His Word will impact a church—even if they keep it under wraps as best they can.

Here are some things I’ve observed over the years that have blessed my relationships with Chad and Peter. Note that many of these are attitudes, not tasks.

1. Hire a worship leader you trust at least as much as you trust yourself to plan the service.

You need to respect them musically and theologically. If you don’t trust them, you’ll meddle. If you meddle repeatedly, it won’t go well. If you find yourself needing to “guide” things all the time … you’re either a control freak, hired the wrong person or both.

2. They know what I’m preaching well ahead of time.

It is so frustrating to try to plan a service meaningfully when half of it is unknown. One of the best things I can do for Peter is let him know, clearly, where I’m hoping to head from the pulpit. He usually knows several weeks—if not months—out, fairly clearly where we are going. He’ll have a sermon title, text and “big idea.”

3. I view us as co-preachers of sorts.

As I see it, the sermon is 1 hour and 20 minutes long. I preach 30 minutes of it. Our church celebrates Communion each Sunday, so that is another portion preached by God’s people as they gather around the table in memory of Christ. There are also prayers and praise.

4. Paradoxically, give the worship leader maximum latitude in planning the service.

I ask the worship leader to change something maybe twice a year. I’ve only had to “tell” a worship leader to change something twice in 17 years of ministry. Both times it had to do with a significant change to the church that had been programmed into a service. It had nothing to do with the content of the service itself.

5. Say only what is useful for building up.

To them, worship feels like their sermon. Feedback is fine … but constant criticism tears down rather than building up. They need to know, more than anything, they are blessing God’s people and you believe in them. If they aren’t, or you don’t, you need to have deeper discussions. Week to week, there can be suggestions (worded wisely), but the overall conversation needs to have the tenor of partnership and respect.

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Dr. Tim Spivey is Lead Planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, California--a fast-growing plant launched in 2011. Tim is also the purveyor of New Vintage Leadership - a blog offering cutting edge insights on leadership and theology and the author of numerous articles and one book: Jesus, the Powerful Servant.