I’ve been a worship pastor for a long time, and I know a lot of worship leaders both locally and around the country. Most of them are good-hearted, hard-working, God-loving leaders, charged with the responsibility of leading God’s people in worship.
Even so, there are many misconceptions about a worship leader’s job, and a number of difficult elements that go unnoticed. Here are seven truths a worship leader won’t tell you.
One: This is hard work.
I like to tell the story of the mother who asked her little son what he wanted to be when he grew up. The boy answered enthusiastically, “A garbage man!” Puzzled, the mom asked why. The boy replied, “Because they only work on Wednesdays.”
Many people have the misconception that worship leaders strap on a guitar on Sunday morning and starts to sing, and everything merely flows out of his or her God-bathed spirituality. After all, how hard is it to play a Chris Tomlin tune? And while I believe that God is at the center of it all, the reality of worship leading is that it is a considerable amount of work.
The roles of worship leaders are varied and simultaneous: front man, vocalist, instrumentalist, music director, technical manager, spiritual leader, pastor and shepherd and friend, the guy who unlocks the doors in the morning and rolls up the cords after everyone goes home. And Sunday always seems to be right around the corner. In my experience, the typical part-time worship leader is working 20-40 hours a week, and the full-time pastor 50-60 hours per week.
Additionally, there’s the emotional exhaustion that goes along with the job. By nature, worship is spiritually filling but also emotionally draining. (One of the seemingly universal practices of the worship leader is the Sunday afternoon nap.) Adding to that, pastoring people (especially creatives) toward spiritual transformation is messy and imperfect and takes a lot of time, leading to emotional jet lag. Ministry burnout is real.
Two: This job can get pretty weird.
In my role as worship pastor, I’ve written funny parody songs, dressed in an animal costume, hung disco balls, washed dishes, consoled the homeless and the well-to-do, written drama scripts and liturgy, pounded nails and dug trenches, produced videos, baptized in a freezing river, danced in tights (not my idea!), and hung from 30-foot rafters to run audio cable. I’ve led worship at children’s classes, prison chapels, worship conferences from Europe to Asia, funerals and weddings, even at street corners and water parks. We once had a “Lord of the Rings” themed wedding at our church where the pastor was supposed to say, “Bring forth the rings!” Then there’s the monotonous side of the job, like managing budgets, upgrading computer memory (in every church, the person who is the least intimidated by computers becomes the IT guy), and replying to the never-ending tide of emails.
Recently, we had the idea to create a 16-foot sandbox at the front of our stage to signify a walk in the desert during the season of Lent. As I was single-handedly delivering 500 pounds of sand into our auditorium and spreading it onto our stage, I thought: I might have the weirdest job in the world.
Three: We are (mostly) normal.
Worship leaders are often a little eccentric. After all, we are musicians, with artistic dispositions and complex temperaments and unique ways of expressing ourselves. If there are tattoos in the sanctuary, chances are, the worship leader is the one wearing them.
At the same time, we’re just like anyone else. We have fears and doubts, goals and aspirations, secret dreams and hidden angst. We juggle the need for acceptance and approval with the desire to be humble. We are driven by insecurity and anxiety more than you realize. And ultimately, we want what anyone wants—love and grace and community and significance. We aren’t perfect. Please don’t expect us to be.