The Pastor and the Worship Team
Often the most divisive portion of a church’s programming and weekly activity is the line between the preaching ministry and the worship team. In today’s evangelical church it is more difficult to find a good worship leader than it is a strong teaching pastor. That might sound crazy, but frankly it’s easier to teach the Bible than it is to lead worship, as the elements of style and content with music has continued to make its mark on individual churches. Despite what might be a fantastic teaching ministry, church members will often determine their overall impression of their church and their level of involvement based on their perception of the musical portion of the services.
I have seen this firsthand. I’ve seen churches brought together by a fantastic worship team which works hand-in-hand with the pastor. I’ve seen churches damaged terribly by a worship leader that fails to connect with his or her church, and is unable to manage or repair the resulting division that is caused by this disconnect. When working weekly with a worship team, I’d encourage pastors to observe a few important practices.
Determine how you are going to worship. In the long run, separate traditional and contemporary services only serve to divide a congregation. Further, attempting a “blended” service won’t please anyone. You simply must decide as a church how you will express yourself in worship. This expression is not so much about style as it is about the foundational theology and practices you will apply to your worship time. In other words, what “rules” are going to govern your worship?
You may, for instance, come up with a list of questions or marks which you apply during your planning time. “Does our service contain something familiar for everyone?” “Does the music relate properly to the sermon?” “Will the worship team be able to execute this package of material with excellence?” “Are the musical selections doctrinally sound and in keeping with our church’s core beliefs?” Questions like these address the issue of consistency in worship. Your worship must be consistent in order to create a level of comfort from the congregation that leads to involvement.
Insist on a worship pastor versus a worship leader. A good worship leader may be a fine musician, know how to keep everyone on key, provide good transitions between songs, pace the service well and recruit and train volunteers. But there is a profound difference between a worship leader and a worship pastor. A pastor, at some level, must understand where the congregation stands with respect to worship, and how to lead them spiritually as well as musically. A worship leader can do everything right musically and still fail to connect with the congregation. A worship pastor will put connection above other values, and seek to lead the congregation with intention.
I have seen many fine worship leaders. I see very few worship pastors. Perhaps the idea of spiritual leadership for the worship team is not something that is emphasized as much as it once was. Most of the great hymn writers of old were actually theologians first, not musicians. Today we have many great musicians whose training lacks the pastoral element. If you have a great musician leading your worship, consider spending time training him or her in pastoral responsibilities and thinking—especially in sensing the needs of the congregation and growing them spiritually through their worship.
Treat the entire service as worship. I love Dr. Merritt’s attitude toward worship, which is that the entire service, both preaching and music, should be considered as a whole unit. I see a tremendous division here in many churches where the worship time and preaching time seem to have been planned in separate cities and come together on Sunday morning in the Worship Center. Chiefly the reason for this is that the worship team and pastor aren’t planning and creating the service experience together.
A pastor must be willing to spend some of his time weekly in worship planning. That doesn’t mean driving the song service note for note. But it does mean giving input into his preaching content and how it can be supported musically. Likewise, the worship team must have a proper biblical attitude toward the preaching as central to the worship experience. Either side of the team having the attitude that “the preacher/worship leader can do their thing and I’ll do mine” is destructive to the worship service.
Ruthlessly evaluate your services. At my church we spend, on average, 30-40 minutes a week in our leadership team meeting evaluating Sunday services (as well as Bible study and all the other elements of ministry and programming). Egos must be set aside. So often in ministry we’re scared to say, “This just didn’t work” or “that idea did not connect.” Only when we draw critique into the limelight and speak honestly and constructively to one another do we begin to make adjustments that improve the worship time.
In your evaluation, you must include some level of input from the congregation. Consistent complaint from multiple parties about volume, song selection, preaching topics, or other elements of the service must be listened to. Often worship leaders will shrug off consistent negative comments about musical selections. Usually pastors who receive feedback on their sermons take it seriously, but the tendency is to not let the pastor as “boss” know what we really think about his teaching. Honesty in evaluation of both the teaching and the music, taking into account those we are leading (the congregation) will lead to more effective services that deepen the believer and draw the nonbeliever as well.
Author: Eugene Mason, Communications Director for Cross Pointe Church under the leadership of Dr. James Merritt.