What Every Worship Leader Wishes the Pastor Knew
This guest post comes from Mike Passaro, one of the worship leaders at The Summit Church.
A few weeks ago, Pastor J.D. posted a helpful article, “What Every Pastor Wishes His Worship Leader Knew.” One of the blessings of being on staff at The Summit Church is that our pastor invited the companion article. I offer the following list (without fear of having to polish the ol’ résumé) in the hope that pastors and worship leaders can cultivate healthy relationships—all for the sake of loving and leading the local church.
1. Worship is an end, not a means.
The point of the worship gathering is to see and respond to the glory of God. Both musical worship and preaching, then, have the same aim: to help our people behold the glory of God and be transformed into the image of Christ. A service that treats musical worship as the warm-up to the sermon undermines the purpose of worship.
If the purpose of the sermon is to leave people worshiping (which it is), then be careful not to use worship to get people to listen to the sermon (or to “get them in the door”). John Piper says, “Worship is never a step on our way up to any other experience. It is not a door through which we pass to get anywhere. It is the end point, the goal.” Worship isn’t a means for anything else; worship is the goal.
2. Worship is missional.
Most people look to the book of Acts to see a picture of the missional church. It might be surprising to know that there is only one reference to singing. There are many references to “worship,” but singing shows up just once in the entire book. It’s in Acts 16:25-34, when Paul and Silas were “praying and singing hymns to God.” The next phrase? “… and the prisoners were listening to them.”
Be careful not to undervalue the local witness of a singing church (cf. 1 Corinthians 14). Be careful not to constantly look to the worship leader to “cut a song” because the service is running long. You might be undermining part of the witness of your local church. I’ve heard it said, “The lamp that shines the farthest burns the brightest at home.” One of the ways we let the flame burn is by engaging in passionate, heartfelt singing.
3. Cultivate the core values of your worship ministry.
One of the worship leader’s greatest frustrations is the lack of clarity in regards to the vision, DNA, core values, and tone of the worship ministry. A moving target is difficult to hit. If you don’t speak into the worship culture, don’t be too surprised if you end up with the guy in skinny jeans doing it for you. I’ve seen many pastors relegate the worship ministry values to the worship leader because they lack musical aptitude. But you don’t have to be a musician to help lead the worship ministry of your church.
Teach your worship leader why it’s important that the worship ministry be God-exalting (Isaiah 48:11), Christ-centered (John 1, Colossians 1:15-20, 2 Corinthians 4:6, Hebrews 1:1-4), Word-saturated (Exodus 34:6-8, 2 Corinthians 3:18), and Spirit-empowered (John 15:26-27, 16:13-14). Define those terms, and help your worship leader see the connection between the songs they select and the way they’re discipling the congregation.
You can help create clarity for your worship leader by speaking into the core values of the worship ministry. Trust me: We want that. And once you have helped create the culture, you are freer to step back and let the worship leader apply the core values in the context of a music ministry.
4. The entire gathering can be Word-centered.
I love how many pastors and churches are returning to expositional preaching. I love to see churches gathered around the Word of God, because the Bible is how we see God and how we are transformed into the image of Christ. Our gatherings must be Word-centered and Word-saturated. The most obvious application of this value is to guard the time for preaching.
At the same time, I would encourage pastors to consider how the Word of God is the center of the gathering even when the church sings. Many pastors equate “the Word” with “my sermon.” The sermon may be the time where the church hears the Word of God proclaimed through preaching, but the worship leader can help the church proclaim the Word of God through singing. Preaching and singing must be friends, not enemies.
5. Plan with your worship leader.
Planning with your worship leader can accomplish two things: a focused service and a more prepared worship team.
Planning with your worship leader can help ensure the service content is focused. It may be helpful, for instance, to consider sending your worship leader your sermon manuscript. The manuscript helps me shape my song selection, call to worship, exhortations, and prayers. If you don’t have the ability to give your worship leader your sermon manuscript, it still might be helpful to send a general sermon direction, rough outline, or at least the Scripture passage you’re preaching on. I can’t tell you how many times my worship leading and preparation has been informed by reading my pastor’s transcript before the weekend.
Planning with your worship leader also helps your worship leader prepare his team. Rarely is non-distracting excellence achieved by unprepared teams. When I see pastors frustrated that their worship leader isn’t “on the same page,” I wonder how many of those same pastors gave their worship leader scant planning and a mountain of things to change before the gathering began. Your worship leader may be top-notch, but is usually leading a team of volunteers that are not all virtuosos.
Planning with your worship leader can both minimize the number of last-minute adjustments and allow your worship teams to incorporate changes when they do arise.
6. Set clear expectations for your worship leader.
Early in my ministry, one of my pastors sat me down and asked, “Why don’t you ever say much when you lead us?” I responded, “Well, I thought you just wanted me to sing.” The conversation was helpful because it clarified what my pastor wanted from his worship leader. To be sure, he didn’t want a sermon from me. But he did want me to feel the freedom to call the congregation to worship, to exhort, to pray—to lead.
Have you been clear with your worship leader about how to lead in the gathering? Does he or she know if they can be (or should be) reading Scripture? Do you want your worship leader to exhort? Pray? How do you want your worship leader to respond to the preached Word? Setting expectations (and time limits!) can give your worship leader a healthy lane to run in each week.
7. Invest in your worship leader.
In my experience, musicians and worship leaders seem to live on an island. So don’t assume that your worship leader is being discipled by someone. I would encourage the pastor of the church to invest in the worship leader through intentional discipleship. Don’t farm this out to someone else.
In our specific context, the sermon and singing take up the majority of the service. By percentage, the sermon is roughly 65 percent of the gathering and singing is roughly 25 percent. This means that the worship leader is the second most visible (read: influential) person in the gathering.
Pastor, music may be like magic to you, but discipleship shouldn’t be. Send books, articles, and Bible verses. Give a book budget, if your church budget allows. The investment of your time and budget resources will help your worship leader become the co-laborer in ministry that you can trust to lead your people well.
8. Engage in worship.
In many ways, the pastor of the church controls the thermostat in worship. The pastor’s engagement in corporate singing speaks to its value—both to the church and to the worship leader. A pastor that sings from the front row leads his people by example. He says with his engagement, “This time of singing matters. This time of singing helps me believe the gospel. This time of singing helps me sing the Word of God deep into my heart and into the hearts of God’s people.”
On the flip side, it’s embarrassing and counter-productive if, during the singing, the pastor is sitting down on the front row looking over his notes. Most worship leaders have had this experience, and it takes some self-control to not say, “Um, we can all see you right now! Engage with us.”
One of the things that I love most about our church is how our pastors lead the way in engagement. The pastors sit on the front row and sing their hearts out. If you want a church that worships well, you need to lead by example.
9. Posture matters. So help your worship leader teach it.
Worship is the reflex response of a heart that has seen something glorious. The Bible is full of worship postures that occur as a response to the glory of God (Exodus 34:6-8, Isaiah 6:1-9, Psalm 47:1-2, 6-7, et al.). But discipling worshipers takes time.
At The Summit Church, we often say, “The posture guides the heart.” The reverse is also true: “The heart controls the hands.” As a worship leader, I could compel our people to lift hands, bow down, kneel, shout, or clap (I often do.) I cannot, however, produce worship from the heart. J.C. Ryle writes, “The inward and spiritual character of the congregation is of far more importance in His sight than the number of the worshipers, or the outward and visible signs of devotion which they exhibit.”
Be careful about measuring your worship leader’s effectiveness against the physical response of the congregation. This doesn’t mean that posture is irrelevant. It matters to us because it matters to God! But posture isn’t ultimate. And, because discipleship in this area takes time, we need you to help us teach it.
10. Fix problems, not preferences.
I know a pastor who has a 24-hour rule for giving feedback on his sermons. (He will accept any and all comments about his sermon, but only 24 hours after he has preached his sermon.) Over the years, he’s learned how deflating it can be to hear the list of gaffes the moment the service ends. Now, there’s a place for immediate feedback (Pastor J.D. invites this well when it comes to his sermons, for instance). But I think there is some general wisdom in the “24-hour rule.” For example, I’ve seen this in my marriage. My wife and I simply could not function if every single preference and problem was noticed, commented on, and corrected as it happened. A healthy marriage will surely address problems and preferences. But wisdom will help in knowing how many to address—and, just as important, when to address them. Sometimes love needs to bear all things.
I would encourage pastors to fix problems, not preferences. Did your worship leader misquote the Bible? Did he sing the wrong lyrics? Did she preach a second sermon after your sermon? Then fix those things. If the issue is a matter of preference—how fast the song was, what key it was in, whether the worship leader said, “Please be seated” vs. “Have a seat”—are you willing either to let those things go or address them later, in the context of your working relationship?
Ask yourself: Could your worship leader have a good reason for doing the thing that you think needs to be addressed? If so, it might be more empowering to let your worship leader lead out of his or her preferences.
11. Transitions aren’t everything. Care about content.
If you want your worship leader to pastor your people, pay attention to more than musical transitions or the dreaded “awkwardness.” Yes, transitions matter. I’ve heard it said that people’s hearts have gears. It takes time to go from first gear to fifth. A bad transition or a jarring intro from a slow song to a fast song can grind the gears of our hearts. But transitions aren’t everything, and awkwardness isn’t as complete of a disaster as you might think.
Is your worship leader exhorting the congregation? If so, how would you refine it? Focus it? Correct it? Your points of emphasis will teach your worship leader what is most valuable in worship leadership. Here at the Summit, Pastor J.D. may be one of the best examples of doing this well. After one service, he came up to me and gave me specific, positive feedback with one minor content piece to adjust that made the entire exhortation better. He was teaching me that the smaller, musical things are not ultimate. Content matters more.
If you want your congregation to respect your worship leader, then don’t make him or her the butt of every joke. A pastor who encourages the worship leader in public helps the congregation to see the worship leader as someone to be followed, honored, and respected.
For example, it is difficult to be crystal clear in a two-sentence exhortation. Sometimes worship leaders misjudge the amount of time they have to speak before the verse comes around and their words get jumbled (not me, of course, but I’ve heard it happens to others …). Economy of words is a time-improved skill. The pastor doesn’t need to comment publicly on worship-leading gaffes or missed vocal notes. A better model might be to praise in public and critique in private.
Worship leaders: Anything else you might add to this list?