Proverbs 29:18 tells us that “where there is no vision, the people perish.” In Mark 6:34 Jesus has compassion on the people because “they are like sheep without a shepherd.” Ephesians 4:11 tells us that it was God “who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers,” and I feel safe in saying that worship leaders fall somewhere in their too. I could give more examples but the point is that the Bible teaches that godly leadership is a great thing but a lack of leadership is a very bad thing.
WHERE THERE IS NO VISION
I’ve come across worship teams with no clearly defined leadership and it’s bad. Usually these teams are small, but not always. The reason I said “clearly defined leadership” is that functionally there is almost always a leader. Maybe it’s the person who is the most opinionated and no one wants to cross. Sometimes it’s the spouse of the nominal “worship leader” who is the real power behind the throne but takes none of the responsibility.
Some people honestly hate leadership. They just don’t like being told what to do, and so this kind of worship band is the best thing ever. I was playing bass in a worship band years ago and a gal in the church started singing with us, she had a good voice and was nice enough, then she suddenly stopped. When I saw her after service I asked her why? She described her last churches worship team as being like one I described above and related that she didn’t like being told when or when not sing by the worship leader, so she quit.
DO PEOPLE REALLY PERISH?
So far as I know, no one has yet died for a lack of leadership on the worship team. Solomon was talking about worldly governments and Jesus was talking about heavenly ones, and certainly people have and will perish from a lack of godly leadership in that sense. What can die without leadership in our worship ministries is the future.
Think of the church that started 20 years ago, and now the children of that founding generation are leaving for other churches because there was no vision or leadership to embrace and incorporate them. Think of the worship community that never grows because there is no leadership in place that sets up systems and practices that accommodate growth. The future can perish.
WHAT DOES LEADERSHIP LOOK LIKE?
I believe like it says in Ephesians 4 that God raises up leaders in the church and the church is supposed to recognize that leadership. This will look different in each church, or group of churches. Some churches have a board of elders, others have a bishop or leading Pastor. Both of those two systems are biblical models of leadership and aren’t wrong, just different. So for our purposes I will just refer to “Senior Leadership” or “the Leadership of your church” instead of Pastors or Elders. I’m more interested in function over title. There are churches that on paper are lead by a Senior Pastor by functionally are lead by a group of elders. Churches that on paper are lead by a group of elders but functionally one Pastor takes the bulk of the leadership. So I’m no really concerned with how leadership works itself out in your church so much as I’m concerned that we understand that God will raise up Senior Leadership in our church.
WHO DO I REPORT TO?
In Matthew 8:9 a Roman Centurion tells Jesus that he is a man “under authority” and he knows that Jesus only has to speak the command and the miracle will be done. We are all men and women under authority. Ephesians 5:21 tells us to “submit to one another in reverence to Christ”. For a worship community, lets start from the bottom up.
I’M IN THE BAND
I’m the bass player in my church’s worship band. I bring and contribute my musical skills and experience to the sound of the music, but I need to do so in biblical submission to the vision cast by the worship leader. If he asks me not to play, I don’t play. If she wants a Third Day sound on a song, I’m gonna hop on Spotify and figure out what that means for bass. A good worship leader will know what I can do musically and figure out how to incorporate that, but for me to be a good worship player, I need to figure out what the worship leader actually wants musically and incorporate that into my playing.
Musical vision isn’t the only kind of vision I need to catch. What’s the culture of my church and my worship community? Am I the only one standing when everyone sits? Or am I sitting when everyone else stands? Have I even thought to ask if it was a big deal? How would I respond if the answer wasn’t the one I wanted? These are just examples of “cultural vision” that can be set by the worship leader, worship pastor, or Senior Leadership that I as a band member should try to be aware of.
I’M THE WORSHIP LEADER
Yes, you’re the worship leader. It’s Sunday morning and you’re leading the band. But that doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want. Many worship leaders are under a Music Director or Worship Pastor. This means that as the worship leader I have the freedom to lead, but I’m still biblically submitted to godly authority. If I like for people to stand during worship but I’ve been in asked by the Worship Pastor to have people sit after the 2nd song, I don’t get to ignore that because I’m leading the band that day. If I’m given freedom to pick my songs, but if I’ve been asked by someone in leadership above me to not pick a certain song, then like the Apple in the Garden, I must not touch.
For me personally, at my last church I was a worship leader but not the Music Director. I had certain songs that I liked a lot that I was asked or told not to do. There was a flow or liturgy to the service that had been established long before I got there that I was asked to follow. There were styles or expressions of music that were ok and others that were not. I needed to listen. I needed to communicate. If I was told to do something on a Sunday morning I did it, then during the next week I would send a text or an email, or have coffee and ask why and discuss it. Then I would submit to what was decided. I know from both being a worship leader and my secular day job that being middle management can be tough, but that’s the role you’re in, and you are actually worshiping God if you serve Him and His church well in both your leading and your submitting.
I’M THE MUSIC DIRECTOR/WORSHIP PASTOR
What’s the difference between the two? It’s a pastoral role. If I’m in the band and have an issue I talk to the worship leader. It may be decided there or bumped up to the next level. A music director oversees the worship ministry and various other musical or audio/visual artistic elements within a church. That’s my role currently, the difference between me and being a worship pastor is that if there is a “pastoral” issue such as someone being in sin or rebellion, or someone only showing up on the Sundays they play, etc I pass that up the chain to a Senior Leader (pastor, elder, overseer, etc) who then can take on the pastoral work that I haven’t been tasked with. For some people that is incredibly freeing to not have to handle the pastoral ministry side of overseeing the music, for others, it’s a great lesson in humility to not take more authority then you’ve been given.
So you’re the Music Director/Worship Pastor, it’s up to you to catch the vision from Senior Leadership. What do they want? What don’t they want? Where is God leading them for this season of the church’s life?
I had coffee with my pastor last week and I opened my notes app to right down a few comments he made just because I thought they applied to this next year of the church: fresh starts, and 2nd chances. I’m not really sure yet how that’s going to work out for our worship community but my goal is to run with it!
In addition to catching fresh vision from Senior Leadership, I have the vision that has already been cast: Do Something Good. Keep It Youthful. Make it singable. Etc. I don’t agree with everything. For example, on the song “All My Tears”, I’ve been requested to keep that at the front of the set list. It’s not a big deal, but I do as I’m told. I’ve had a couple times when I’ve been asked to use a musician that I wasn’t big on, but that’s ultimately not my call. If I have a really big issue then I’ll talk to my Leadership. Sometimes I’ve been wrong to very wrong and it’s turned out great, and a few times I’ve sadly been right and it’s born itself out. Either way, it’s not my responsibility. I’m submitted to Senior Leadership as a way to honor and worship Jesus who has appointed them to that task.
Whether it’s a single pastor or a board of Elders, all of these men who serve faithfully are worthy of a double honor (1 Tim 5:17) but they will also have much to answer for before the Father (James 3:1)
It’s their job to hear from the Holy Spirit on how the church is to be run. But that’s not to say that they aren’t submitted. Senior Leadership needs to be submitted to the Holy Spirit. Senior Leadership needs to be submitted to service and not power. Senior Leadership needs be submitted to one another amongst themselves and to the church, not in a sense of leadership but service. If a pastor has everything just the way he likes, then that’s questionable. What happens when a younger generation of worship leaders playing a new expression of music comes along?
The question that those of us who are not in Senior Leadership have to answer is: if we trust them to lead the church, oversee finances, teach the bible, counsel people, and oversee the youth and kids ministries that our children are part of, why don’t we trust them to lead the music community as well? Now, if a Senior Leader won’t ever listen to any input or expects blind loyalty without ever being willing to help you understand the thinking behind a decision, then that should send up red flags, but I think for most of us, in most churches that’s just not the case.
Now, sometimes, because senior leadership may not be musical or think in musical terms, I do have to walk them through something, or say “this is what you are telling me you want, and you think it’s no big deal, but here’s why, musically, it’s not going to happen.” Sometimes what you think are the unreasonable dictates of a tyrant are really just guys who don’t have the expertise in this area. But again, if they want or feel certain that something is supposed to be a certain way in the church, those conversations aren’t me telling them what to do, but that we need to figure out a new way to get there.
WHAT’S THE POINT?
God has established leaders in the church for the church’s good. Have there been Judas’ in the mix here and there, yes. Have there been well meaning Peter’s chopping off people’s ears? Sure. (see Matthew 26) But for the most part it’s up to us to recognize that God has both put us over and under people and we need to function for His glory in those roles to work effectively as a Worship Ministry serving the church.
Whether we are in the band or Senior Leadership, we all have the same Lord and King who is worthy of our praise.
Thoughts? Feel free to leave a comment.