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When Your Congregation Doesn't Like You

The dream of every worship leader is to serve a congregation who makes their job easy. They sing every song with gusto. They never complain or gripe. They learn every song after singing it once. They’re always just begging for more. It’s like you’re in heaven every Sunday. Freedom abounds.

I suppose these kinds of congregations exist, but my hunch is that they exist, blissfully, mostly in the dreams of delusional worship leaders.

The reality of most worship leaders is that they serve congregations who don’t exactly make it easy. There are weeks, and seasons, and years of painful slogging. There are particular people who seem to relish the opportunity to criticize you. Songs fall flat. Excellent musicians don’t exactly fall out of the woodwork. And as you look out over your congregation, you get the distinct impression that they’re just not that impressed and they’re just not that into you.

Congregations can tend to be, in a word, resistant. And this is the phenomenon referred to as “reality.” Real people, the people who are actually sitting in the pews on Sunday mornings, tend to like to feel safe, and tend to want to avoid having their personal sovereignty threatened. And few things threaten the personal sovereignty of people more than heartfelt worship. It gets at our pride in a unique way that’s both good for us and painful for us at the same time.

And when a worship leader faces resistance, he or she can handle it one of four ways.

First, give up. They’re resisting your leadership, so they’re all cold hearted atheists, and you should take your talents somewhere else.

Second, double down. They’re resisting your leadership, so they need to have a fire lit underneath them, and you need to rock their faces off until God sends revival.

Third, embrace the status quo. They’re resisting your leadership? You didn’t really notice. You pick some songs/hymns. You lead them. You get your paycheck. You go home. Why rock the comfortable boat?

All three of those options are tempting at different times. Most worship leaders (myself included) have chosen all of those responses at different stages.

But there’s a better option and a wiser response when you find yourself leading worship for a congregation who’s resistant: Take it slow. They’re resisting your leadership, but you don’t need to give up, and you don’t want to shoot yourself in the foot by acting in a way that would make yourself the poster child of what they’re resisting. A bit of their personal sovereignty is at stake, after all, and if you try to take that space by force, there will be casualties.

So unless you’re one of those worship leaders who leads the congregation of your dreams, I suggest that when you face resistance, you take it slow. Evaluate. Build trust. Serve them on their level. This isn’t you lowering yourself. It’s you incarnating yourself. And there’s a big difference.

Once you’ve done that, then you can begin to actually lead the people that are actually in your congregation. And you’ll slowly begin to see people’s personal sovereignty begin to soften in worship, creating a more conducive environment for heartfelt praise in response to the glory of God in Jesus Christ, the one who came to serve and not be served, and to set the captives free. Be encouraged that God’s longing for freedom in your congregation is unfathomably greater than yours.  

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Jamie was born and raised in Florida as a preacher’s kid. Since age 14, he has been leading worship pretty much every Sunday of his life, experiencing all of the joys and trials of church ministry. For over 10 years, Jamie has been writing at his blog, Worthily Magnify, in the hopes of helping worship leaders lead better. In 2006, Jamie married Catherine, and they now have four wonderful kids: Megan, Emma, Callie, and Jacob, who keep them busy, laughing, praying, and very grateful to God.