7 Things Lead Pastors Wish They Could Say to Worship Leaders

By Rich Birch

Today’s post is a guest post by Unseminary’s Rich Birch

Lead pastors spend a lot time in the front row of the church participating in worship services. In fact, if you’re a church leader reading this you know the double track mind that we end up having during these experiences.

On one hand, we’re attempting to be engaged in what’s happening while at the same time we’re evaluating what’s going on and thinking about the feedback we’d like to give to the worship leader. For many pastors leading a church, we find ourselves wishing we could strike up a conversation with the worship leader about what they “do” but it can be hard to know where to start.

Worship leaders are typically center stage every weekend as they lead the church towards a deeper relationship with Jesus. They spend their time in the middle of what happens in the worship ministry and sometimes don’t have a clear picture of what’s actually happening in their area. Tension could easily develop in the relationship between the worship folks and the leadership folks and if not kept in check it might foster a rift in the church over time.

Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of serving closely with some dynamic lead pastors. Whether it was Bruxy Cavey at The Meeting House or Carey Nieuwhof at Connexus Church or Tim Lucas at Liquid Church, it’s been an honor to serve in a “second chair” to these leaders. In each of those churches, part of my role to was help give leadership to the service programming department. Functionally, that meant attempting to translate the vision of our Lead Pastor to the creatives and worship people. Over time, I’ve seen similar patterns in the conversations we ended up having that I wanted to share here in the hopes of stirring conversations in your church!

What conversations would lead pastors love to have with the worship leaders at their churches?

What would a lead pastor say to the worship leader if they were given the chance?

How would a lead pastor frame conversations with the creatives in their midst to help the church move forward?

Here are seven conversation starters that I could easily imagine lead pastors launching into with worship leaders!

1. What you do is really important to the life of our church

For most churches, the musical worship portion of the service is the first thing that happens every week. As a result, it sets the tone for everything else that follows. We know that first impressions really matter, so what you and your team do determines a lot. We’ve invested to make sure we have great sound, video, and lights so these first few minutes are fantastic.

In fact, the majority of our technological investments as a church are to help your team do what you do. It’s really important to us. Thanks for bringing your best to these opening moments of our services!

2. Your long-term value is in producing other worship leaders

At the core of church growth is leaders producing other leaders. We look to bring people around us and give them the opportunity and the skills to lead. The role of leaders in the local church is to help reproduce more leaders. In fact, great leaders make more leaders, not more followers. This can be particularly difficult in your area of ministry because it often seems like worship music is built on a “rock star” model where a few super qualified people just keep drawing crowds and making fans rather than passing along leadership to others.

If we fall into that pattern in worship ministry, we limit our ability to reach more people as a church. If you, specifically, fall into that temptation, it will limit your ability to grow and expand the church. You won’t always be leading on stage at the church, but the ability to develop leaders will be something you can take with you and use in whatever you do. Your ability to produce other leaders around you will be what determines your long-term value to our church.

3. No, I haven’t heard the latest Bethel song

Can I level with you for a minute? Most people who attend our church don’t listen to worship music outside of Sunday mornings. I know, it’s shocking. Lots of families listen to the Top 40 radio station in town or people are increasingly just streaming music that they listened to when they were kids. The problem with that for us is that they don’t necessarily know the latest worship song by Bethel or Elevation or Vertical Church or whoever we are tracking with these days.

We need to sing the songs that resonate with our community more than you are probably going to like. We might need to repeat the songs that seem to engage our community a lot more than you and your team are comfortable with.

The goal is to engage with the people who are attending our church and not to keep up with the latest songs from across the country.When we do (rarely) introduce new songs we need to do it slowly and deliberately. We need to teach people new songs and not assume they know them all. Oh, but by the way, I do like that new Bethel song! It’s great.

4. Your internal spiritual life impacts your ministry, deeply

How are things with your soul? As a worship leader you are in a particularly vulnerable spot. Having the public spotlight trained on such a private aspect of your spiritual life can do strange things to your internal spiritual life.

If your worship becomes more of a performance than an overflow of your relationship with Jesus, it will deeply impact our ministry and could do some damage to your soul. Like our teaching pastor, we need you to ensure your heart is right with Jesus. Your private spiritual disciplines will shine through in how you lead publicly. Take time to read scripture, pray, fast, journal. It’s vitally important that your heart remains soft and open to what God wants to do in your life.

We can’t set “outcome goals” around your internal spiritual life, but it really does impact the outcome of your ministry. I’ve seen worship leaders who have landed that tricky guitar solo, but it comes off stale. I’ve wondered as I’ve watched them lead if that reflects something going on in their personal relationship with Jesus. I don’t want you to be a shell of a person living in mission with Jesus; rather, I want you to be fully alive in your relationship with Him!

5. Engaging the people in the back row is the highest priority

You know those people in the front row that are totally into what you and your team do every week? It’s not about them.

They’ll most likely be engaged with the musical worship because they are “into” worship in their personal life. Our goal is to engage those people who come in late and stand near the back of the auditorium with a cup of coffee in hand. Sometimes I think it might be interesting to record a video of the audience so you can see how those people are reacting (or perhaps more pointedly not reacting) to what the worship team is doing on stage.

Our church is trying to help people who are far from God connect with Him. We’ve noticed that those individuals who stand at the back of the room are often people who don’t normally attend church on a regular basis. Engaging our entire community is what we’re aiming for and it is our purpose. It means we need to think about the people at the back of the room a whole lot more. We need to consider what it will take to draw them in. We have to work to ensure that they feel like they are part of what’s happening at our church.

6. Can you finish your expense report on time this month?

Can we talk about your expense report? I know, I know, it’s not the most exciting topic. Our finance team works hard every month to ensure we have up to date records. We use these records to make informed decisions about the future of the church. I know that (most months) you don’t spend that much, but if you don’t submit your report we end up with an incomplete picture of where things are at financially.

We trust you. We know that you invest the finances of the church wisely to help us achieve our mission. When I ask you to get those spending costs in on time, it’s not that I’m expressing a sense of distrust in you and your team. I’m not trying to be a killjoy or have some sort of tight leash on you. It’s just a part of the monthly process we need to work through here at the church.

Finally, there is a bit of an undercurrent when you don’t hand them in on a regular basis where it unwittingly communicates to the finance team that you think what they do isn’t that important. I know that’s not what you want to communicate but that is the sense it suggests. As your leadership grows, you are going to have more opportunities to manage finances in your role. Taking the time to learn about the rhythms of regular financial reporting by handing these reports in on time will prepare you for more responsibility in the future.

7. I’d really love to talk. When can we chat?

Can we have a DTR? I’d love to define the relationship between us. I know that we come from different worlds. I perceive you as an artist and you perceive me a suit. But I know we are so much more than the flat stereotypes that our roles at church could push us into. It’s true that I don’t understand a lot of what you do, and I’m pretty sure the feeling might be mutual, but I want to forge a strong partnership. I love what you do for our church, and it’s an honor to serve alongside you. I’m thankful you’re on the team, and I love seeing you use your gifts and talents to serve the church.

I’d love to know how I can better help you. I’d love to grab a coffee sometime and hear what’s happening in your area. Granted, I might not be able to help with a chord progression (I’m not even entirely sure what it is!), but I would love to help with other parts of your ministry. I value learning from you because you are a clearly gifted leader, and we’re a better church because you are leading here. My door is always open, and I’d be more than willing to have a conversation.

What would you add?

Are you a senior leader in a church and you have a conversation that you think we should have included in this list? Are you a worship leader and there is something that you think we missed? We’d love to hear it in the comment section below!

About the Author – Rich Birch

Rich is one of the early multi-site church pioneers in North America. He led the charge in helping The Meeting House in Toronto to become the leading multi-site church in Canada with over 5,500+ people in 19 locations. In addition, he served on the leadership team of Connexus Church in Ontario, a North Point Community Church Strategic Partner. He has also been a part of the lead team at Liquid Church – a 6 location multisite church serving the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. Liquid is known for its innovative approach to outreach and community impact leading to it being featured on CNN, The New York Times and Outreach Magazine.

Rich is passionate about helping churches reach more people, more quickly through excellent execution. He has a weekly blog and podcast that helps with stuff you wish they taught in seminary at www.unSeminary.com. His latest book, Church Growth Flywheel: 5 Practical Systems to Drive Growth at Your Church, is an Amazon seller and readers of Carey’s blog can get the first chapter for free at this link.

29 Comments

  1. Sherman on May 6, 2018 at 1:27 pm

    Please shout up and lead worship music.

  2. Weekend Leadership Roundup - Hope's Reason on April 29, 2018 at 5:40 pm

    […] 7 Things Lead Pastors Wish They Could Say To Worship Leaders – Carey Nieuwhof […]

  3. […] 7 Things Lead Pastors Wish They Could Say To Worship Leaders by Carey Nieuwhof […]

  4. Robert Johnson on April 27, 2018 at 5:42 am

    Hey Alan.
    It is an excellent article isn’t it. I’m going to circulate this to our little music team. I’m in my early 60s as well. We have much to contribute. A lot of work and prayer goes into worship leading. We pray before each practice. I love this article. There are many good points here. It would be nice if there was some way we could communicate. Two small churchs. From opposite sides of the globe praising God. Anyways, you keep on doing what the lord has called to.

    • Rich Birch on April 27, 2018 at 6:36 am

      Thanks so much for dropping by to leave some feedback!

      – Rich

  5. Alan Howlett on April 27, 2018 at 5:03 am

    An excellent post. We’re a small ( 200 +) Church in Australia with no serious instrumentalists and a laid back culture. I’m an ex worship leader in my 60’s. So good to hear the comments about the importance of congregational engagement instead of failed imitations of the latest “in” CD from Bethel or Hillsong. I’m hoping to set a strong foundation for us to build on as we pray a team together.

  6. Rhonda on April 26, 2018 at 10:45 pm

    This is a great article which I will pass on to my worship leaders. As the Music Director of our church I am always looking for leaders who are worshippers, then I look for ‘giftedness’ in music (actual talent), then skill sets (which can be developed0and an old word ‘anointing’ which is pretty subjective concept but real. Anointed musicians and anointed songs that bring the presence of Jesus into the worship experience. Performance based worship services leave me empty.

    • Rich Birch on April 27, 2018 at 6:37 am

      Rhonda!

      Great distinctions … keep looking for those people, they’re in your church!

      – Rich

  7. Robert Johnson on April 26, 2018 at 8:38 pm

    I am very impressed with this article and the comments. I am song leader of a small church in a town very close to Halifax Nova Scotia. I am going to share this article to the musicians and the The two pastors. You really have me thinking here. Some of these points I have never even thought of. This is a brilliant article, and I am not done with it yet. I’m also going g to share it with my son who is a song leader in a town an hour away From me.

    • Rich Birch on April 27, 2018 at 6:38 am

      Robert!

      I’m glad the article got you thinking! Thanks for serving! Thanks for sharing it.

      – Rich

      p.s. Are you coming to the Canadian Church Leaders Conference in June? http://www.canadianchurchleaders.ca

      • Robert Johnson on April 27, 2018 at 8:02 am

        Unfortunately I can’t. But thank you very much for the heads up. Reading this article and all comments makes me think harder about what we are doing here, and our responsibility as song leaders. I’m very impressed.

  8. Rich Frazer on April 26, 2018 at 2:14 pm

    How to Make Worship Make Disciples. Connecting Worship with the Great Commission. Since you cannot pass on what you do not possess, to make this happen, the Worship Leader/Pastor has to be a growing disciple.
    I think it begins with what you alluded to, focusing on the WL’s spiritual depth and relationship with our Lord and having the Sr/Lead Pastor play a part in this – coaching, praying together, envisioning outcomes. Also the WL discipling his/her team of musicians/fellow-worship leaders.

    BTW, I’m leading a seminar on this at Bayside’s THRIVE conference next Friday, May 4. I hope Worship Leaders and Lead Pastors come! Ha ha! Not a sexy topic, but, shifting this way will revolutionize the worship community.

    • Rich Birch on April 27, 2018 at 6:39 am

      Rich!

      Thanks for dropping by to comment. I hope the seminar goes great!

      – Rich

  9. Joseph Wright on April 26, 2018 at 12:02 pm

    Great article. One thing I would add to a worship leader, “don’t open your mouth to teach theology.” Or, be careful what you teach, you’re not the pastor. Too many times I’ve seen worship leaders stick their foot in their mouth, or teach bad theology, or something that contradicted what the pastor taught. Just focus on leading worship.

    • Adam Green on April 26, 2018 at 4:33 pm

      I enjoyed this article as well and I can certainly appreciate what you are saying, Joseph, regarding worship leaders not necessarily always stating the most effective or most articulate things from behind the mircrophone that they’ve been entrusted with. I expect that your addition to the list of “don’t open your mouth to teach theology” may be a sentiment echoed by many.

      However, if I might engage this conversation in all humility, I’d simply ask if maybe you’d consider encouraging and challenging them to become more of a theologian, understanding doctrinal and theological truths about God, about context the lyrical content their songs comes from and so forth rather than asking them not to speak. Worship leaders put words in the mouths of people to sing back to a Holy and Almighty God. It’s a weighty calling and responsiblity. It matters…a lot! A worship leader understanding the words he or she is singing or saying is immensely important.

      Lead pastors could greatly help their worship leaders do what they do more effectively and on a deeper level. The church, the team and your leader will all be better for it, I promise. Additionally, have them work their transitions before being on stage behind a mic playing an instrument, leading a team and thinking all of the other random thoughts that go into leading worship. Spur of the moment transitional statements or teaching around a new song are things hard to do well, even for seasoned leaders. Have them write it out, rehearse it, time it and tighten it up. Possibly even include them in knowing where the message is going and landing before Sunday morning, verses and passages that will be used, etc…maybe even weeks in advance. Let them plan their song set around that theme or idea…spending time in the text too… lead as a team around theological concepts, presenting a unified front and message.

      So maybe, along the same lines as your statement but from a slightly different perspective we could go with “I trust you and your heart enough to put you behind a microphone each week. Please be a thoughtful steward of both of what you sing and say.”

      After all, the lead pastor is not just the worship leaders boss or the main act that follows their opening act each week, the lead pastor is first the worship leaders pastor…equip them to serve well. It’s an investment that will bear much fruit.

      • Rich Birch on April 27, 2018 at 6:40 am

        Great discussion here, Adam & Joesph!

        – Rich

    • Laura on April 27, 2018 at 11:05 am

      Interesting thought. I am a worship leader, but more than that, I am a Pastor. A pastor of PEOPLE (as worship or music can’t be “pastored”). If my theology contradicts the pastor, then I probably shouldn’t be in pastoral leadership at my church. If I can’t have freedom to share theological points during worship, then I’m just a song leader. Being relegated to a song leader would be devastating.

    • Neal on April 29, 2018 at 8:34 am

      Are they allowed to sing the lyrics of the songs? That’s jam-packed full of theology. And who writes most of the songs we sing? It’s not pastors, it’s often worship leaders. So to assume because they’re not a pastor they can’t teach theology seems incoherent.

  10. Alisha Baker on April 26, 2018 at 11:33 am

    This was a great read… as they all are Carey. Thank you!

    Rich I particularly resonated with the section on rock star performance and the difference between calling out and fostering leaders versus just gaining more followers.

    I love it when a raw, unfiltered heart pours out to God. Humility delivers throne room experience. I also believe that God moves in us all, and God can use anyone to deliver His presence powerfully if they come with their hearts purely set on Him.

    Bethel is a great example of team worship. I love to see churches facilitate a variety of worship teams. Trusting God is moving through various people, not just a select few who fit ” the bill”.

    Bless you for this! I pray it opens the eyes of those who need it, and help foster growth in these areas.

  11. Susan on April 26, 2018 at 10:24 am

    Great suggestions. What I’d love to hear is more specifics on how you engage those “back-rowers” (as it were!) Ideas? Recommendations? Things you’ve seen work? I’d like to hear what others have done that has made a difference in this area!

  12. kendrick on April 26, 2018 at 9:10 am

    What if Senior Pastor IS the interim Worship Leader….hmmmmm
    (Senior as in 40 something, long story) Worship team in process-stage, only 1 year playing together.

    • Rich Birch on April 26, 2018 at 9:56 am

      Then maybe you have these conversations with yourself! 😉

      Thanks so much for leading in your church!

  13. Bob Phillips on April 26, 2018 at 8:36 am

    A practical suggestion: I think it would be very revealing/helpful for worship leaders leading a contemporary service with a band and ‘new songs’ to video a few worship services and, in most cases, see the high % of folk who are not singing! It raises the question whether or not those gathered to worship are really being “led to participate through singing” or are they just observing, waiting for a chorus or hymn that might be somewhat familiar..

    • Rich Birch on April 26, 2018 at 9:58 am

      Bob!

      Love this idea … in fact, I’ve done that in the past. Bonus points if you can record the last few rows and the folks on stage … then edit them together so you can see the people on stage at th same time as the people in the back rows. It’s fascinating to see what happens to the people “in the back” as people lead “at the front”.

  14. Jason Adams on April 26, 2018 at 8:22 am

    This is EXCELLENT. I’d like to know if there is a flip side to this conversation with “7 Things Worship Leaders Wish They Could Say to Lead Pastors.”

    I think between the two articles/blog posts, some DEEP conversations could be had…

    Does this exist yet? If so, where?

    • Josh on April 26, 2018 at 9:22 am

      I just finished writing a letter to my worship leaders (I’m a worship pastor in Lethbridge, AB, Canada. It is a blessing to see how much the two intersect.

  15. Josette Dingle on April 26, 2018 at 7:32 am

    Bethel and Elevation aren’t the only one’s producing quality music!

    • Wendy on April 26, 2018 at 8:40 am

      Agreed!
      I thought that was covered nicely in this portion of the article:
      “…The problem with that for us is that they don’t necessarily know the latest worship song by Bethel or Elevation or Vertical Church or whoever we are tracking with these days.

      We need to sing the songs that resonate with our community more than you are probably going to like. We might need to repeat the songs that seem to engage our community a lot more than you and your team are comfortable with.”

      • Bob Phillips on April 26, 2018 at 10:43 am

        Amen to Wendy’s comments. The Worship Leader could find it helpful to establish a mission statement for their leadership position and weekly stick to that mission. It should include: “Meaningful particiption by all.”

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