Becoming a Foster Church
Facing the Reality That Your Church Has Changed

The "Constructive Criticism" Offered to Worship Leaders Is Often Just Criticism

Most often after a church calls a senior pastor, the next leadership position to be filled, if they are able to pay more than one staff person, is a worship leader (or Minister of Music/Worship Pastor.) 

There is no biblical office of "worship leader" in the church. That does not mean the position is unnecessary or anti-biblical. Some churches hire worship leaders while others call worship pastors. There is a distinction. Any pastor or elder in a local body is bound by the calling and qualifications as defined in Scripture. A worship leader may or may not be considered a pastoral role. That is dependent on the local church.

The Worship Leader

On a Q & A posting from gotquestions.org, the following explanation is given in part as to the role of a worship leader:

Because worship leader is not a biblical office for the church, his role is somewhat indistinct. Most worship leaders are musicians of some kind, whether vocal or instrumental, and their primary role is to lead the other musicians/singers that are involved in the service. It is the responsibility of the worship leader to ensure that it is not the music, nor the instruments, nor the presentation, nor the voices which are the focus of the worship service. Worship is bowing humbly before God and exalting Jesus Christ as King of kings and Lord of lords. The responsibility of the worship leader is to become less, that Jesus Christ can become more. And when all of this is done, when hearts are humble before Him, His people are ready to receive, and be changed by, the focal point of the worship service—His glorious and living Word.

Beyond the requirements a church may have for paid worship leaders and the clear biblical requirements of one who also serves as an associate pastor/elder in the church, the reason I believe this position may be one of the most challenging in the church is due to the constant pressure placed upon him from church members and congregants.

This posting is not about the biblical, theological, or personal issues regarding a worship leader at a local church (though those must be high on the list for anyone standing before the church body in any position of leadership,) but rather about the pressures placed on those who work weekly in planning and preparing the gathered church's worship on the Lord's Day.

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In a conversation with our worship pastor earlier this week he stated "This has been the most difficult year in ministry for me regarding worship on the Lord's Day." I presumed he was speaking of the pressures related to COVID and the institution of online services, socially distanced gatherings, masks/no masks, a consolidation of campuses, and all that we faced together as a church. While those certainly added to the strain, he declared that never in his decades of pastoral ministry has he faced such a continual barrage of constructive criticism on how to do his job better. 

He was not whining. He is up to the task, but I asked and he was honest and shared things I did not know. I am confident he is not alone and thus, I hope to help all of us be more aware as we move forward as local leaders and churches.

I have always believed the role of leading worship in churches must be one of the most challenging. Since many churches have for years borrowed marketing strategies from Madison Avenue and shifted with themes, music styles, and scheduling, an unintentional result has been that they (we) often unwittingly create a sales/customer mindset on Sunday mornings.

The mantra for customer service in the business world has often been "The customer is always right." Recently this has led to the birth of the "Karen meme" (sorry to all the nice Karens out there) that features an image of an angry, entitled woman with a particular hairstyle demanding to talk to a "manager" for any number of reasons.

I don't really believe the entitlement attitude is overwhelming among members of  local churches like ours, but the idea that as we sit in rows on Sunday mornings that all that is to come is designed for our enjoyment is very real. Thus, as we lament the growth of consumer Christianity, we must admit this is the monster we created.

Sometimes We "Hear" What Is Not Being Said Aloud

Over the past few months as churches have gathered for worship and leaders have sought to honor God and lead well, comments have offered to worship leaders that have been intended to be encouraging and constructive. In most cases they are, but there are times when what is said verbally is drowned out by what is not said, but perceived.

I imagine what worship leaders hear is similar to what pastors hear at times. For instance when a well-intentioned church member encourages me to listen to another pastor's sermon because it was "soooo good" I know that is likely meant to encourage. Yet, I often hear, "If you only preached like this guy...you'd be worth listening to." I know it is not fair, but I am just being honest. And yes, I know that is all on me as my personal insecurity leads me to often hear what is not being said.

So, in that vein, here is what worship leaders hear and what they really hear based on what I have been told:

  • "I like it when the choir leads" (which sounds like "I hate when the praise band leads.")
  • "I like it when the praise band leads" (which sounds like "I hate when the choir leads.")
  • "I love it when you sing the old hymns" (which sounds like "I hate when you sing newer choruses.")
  • "I love the new choruses" (which sounds like "I hate the boring old hymns.")
  • "When is so-and-so going to sing a solo again" (which may mean simply that "I love hearing that person sing" but often misses that "that person" only shows up for solos, does not do anything else with the church or worship ministry, is good at karaoke only, has disqualified himself/herself from standing on the stage due to other issues in life, or may not actually be someone who can sing well and will never get a solo again.)
  • "You did really well today in leading us in worship" (which sounds like "Every other week is mediocre at best.")
  • "Oh, I didn't hear the music today because I didn't get into the worship center until after the music was over." (which sounds like - "The music is optional, like watching trailers before the movie, so often I just skip that part.")
  • "The drums are too loud!" (which means either "I hate the drums" or "The drums are too loud.")
  • "When are we going to do ______ again?" - fill in the blank with whatever musical presentation, choir special, solo, production, etc. that was done years prior. (which often means - "I only like that one thing we did years ago and until we do that again, I'm not going to be happy.")
  • "When are the kids or teenagers singing on Sunday again?" (which is often perceived as being a question not related to worship, but related to viewing the Lord's Day worship as a recital or a school chorus event. Sadly, some only attend when their progeny are on the stage. This unknowingly teaches a generation that church is a platform for performance, not a family gathered weekly for the glory of God.)
  • "I love it when so-and-so leads worship." (which often sounds like "Anyone but you is better.")
  • "The livestream audio is not good" (which often means...well, that the livestream audio mix is not good, but seriously the worship leader does not need to hear this ALL THE TIME because he likely knows and is working on it. And...to state the obvious in the comments on the livestream is not helpful.)

Just about every church I know is doing their very best to honor God well through all they do together throughout the week and on the Lord's Day. This includes solid, biblical preaching and worship through music that honors God and has good, biblically-sound lyrics to songs. So, let's give the worship leaders some grace (meaning..."Give him a break people!") and remember that we are not customers, we don't need to speak to a manager, and music on Sunday mornings is not a Spotify station designed simply for our tastes and pleasure.

Also...it's probably the Senior Pastor's fault anyway, not the worship leader.

Keep Encouraging - It's Like Fuel to Our Soul

The good news is that the vast majority of the people I call my church family are truly encouraging - like Barnabas - and truly seek to worship well and live by the theme "It's not about me." May their tribe increase throughout all our churches.

As for our Worship Pastor here at our church...he is a called, licensed, and ordained man of God intent on glorifying God as a pastor/shepherd and focused on leading God's flock to the throne of grace each time we come together. I have often said that of all those I know (and I am biased) he is first a pastor and secondly a worship leader. For that I am very thankful. I pray that his next year (and those after) will not be categorized as "the worst in his ministry" but the best.

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