Like pastors, worship leaders take lots of critical “hits” in their vocation; they just make a lot less money and are often not as well-trained as traditional clergy. Oh, and they are frequently expendable—real expendable. Most churches move through worship leaders like I go through firewood in the winter. Can we help these people become better leaders?
As a life-long worship guy, I get to talk about this stuff.
Let’s identify those areas where worship leaders (WL) seem to be at their weakest:
1. Worship leaders often feel that, though they are not well-trained theologically, they need to do a certain amount of spiritual input when they’re upfront.
This often leads to annoying rambling and unnecessary and often “soggy” theological input. It is surprising how many congregants experience WLs this way (even their own pastors) but fail to be honest with them about how that particular “mannerism” comes across.
In one church I recently visited, the WL spent more time talking than leading people in participatory musical expression. From my more than 40 years of leading worship, there is something inappropriate about that.
I’m not saying it’s not well-intentioned, it’s just a little insensitive to their expected role on the platform.
2. Worship leaders frequently throw new songs at their congregations like a college frat boy might throw chili against the wall to see if it sticks.
With little or no preparation, WLs simply believe that people will “catch up” to the tune. That might happen, but, for many, it is an annoying part of contemporary worship.
Worship leaders need to be good pedagogues. Oh, not in a stuffy way, but in a way that enhances and encourages learning of new songs. Having everyone on the platform playing and singing while the congregation is learning a new piece of music for the first time often has the opposite effect of encouraging good retention.
It works better to start a new song quieter and unplugged. This allows the congregation to really hear both the tune and the words and then assign meaning to them. After that, you can do anything you want because the congregation will be with you instead of looking at you with that upper teeth expression (as in, wha???).
3. Worship leaders sometimes see themselves as knowing more than anyone else on the platform, including the pastor.
Where does this come from? As the maxim goes, “power corrupts.” It is a very heady experience for a WL (especially one in his/her 20s) to have the attention of everyone in the room for up to 20 minutes at a time.
While upfront WL pastoring is absolutely correct in one sense, it is absolutely wrong if it tends to the leadership of other participants in the service. You may never have encountered this and that’s good news. But, as I view WLs around the country, I am convinced that there is a certain amount of entitlement that creeps into the psyche of otherwise competent WLs.
Entitlement? Yes, I have talked to dozens of WLs who describe themselves as being “called” to minister to their congregations. They speak in very possessive terms of the people they serve, and for many, this has become a very expensive lesson. BUT if there is any sense that their desire is to take over the congregation, there will be big trouble and quickly.
One of the big disappointments of the last several years for me has been that WLs are receiving so little mentoring from the folks who could help them do their jobs better. Why? Well, I believe that it has to do with pastors being slightly intimidated by worship folks. They are often handed off to someone who has little spiritual leadership or skill to shepherd them. I talked to a 20-something WL last week who is being supervised by the director of communications. This is a fairly significant disconnect, in my opinion.