WLM:What has been your past experience working together as pastor and worship leader?
JF: We’ve been serving together for twenty years. We began working in youth ministry, then started an alternative service for young adults, then planted a new church. In that process we’ve taken on a lot of different roles.
DK: Friendship has always been a primary factor, but it’s based around a common mission that we’re serving in together. The two are intertwined and that’s what keeps us going.
JF: The passion to see people come to know Jesus was initially what drew us together. Dan had respect for me not just as a musician but also in a pastoral role, as a shepherd, someone who could lead people into an encounter with God. When he asked me to work with him it wasn’t just about playing some songs on Sunday but having a real impact on real lives. Aside from trust and respect it also helps that Dan is a great musician in his own right. He has a heart and an appreciation for artists.
WLM: Do you see yourselves as equal partners?
DK: Very much so. Sometimes a worship leader is seen as merely an instrument used by the senior pastor to enhance the service. But the reality is that the worship leader is just as important to getting across the message as any amount of gifted teaching.
JF: I have a definite partnership with Dan, but in that I’m absolutely submitted to his authority. He’s the one who has been given the vision for the church and the one who God has put in charge.
WLM: How important is coordinated planning for the success of a service?
DK: The pastor has an obligation to prepare as far in advance as possible. I’ve spoken to some worship leaders who don’t have that advantage and operate in an environment where things are always changing and it’s hard to bring all the elements together. Of course, we should always be open to mid-course corrections from God but that’s no excuse not to do the hard work of planning.
JF: We work closely together to create an encounter for people around a specific topic. Everything has got to work together to bring about that experience. Dan will plan out a year of teaching in advance which enables me to look at each month and ask how I can best support the communication of that content. We meet weekly for at least an hour and a half to talk about the specifics of the upcoming message, looking for songs that can really communicate that theme effectively.
WLM: What are some of the most significant factors in maintaining a good relationship between pastor and worship leader?
JF: A servant’s heart is key. Any time a worship leader or a pastor develops a bit of a rock star attitude, getting too attached to being in the spotlight, you lose that humility.
DK: You have to always make sure you’re both sharing the same vision. Is the communication between you clear and consistent? Are you doing what it takes to foster the friendship? Is there the safety and space to express problems and the commitment to work through those problems? A good working relationship depends on a healthy personal relationship.
This article is from the e-book Worshiping Through Grief—a profoundly moving and richly rewarding read. Inspired by one of Worship Leader magazine’s best loved and most commented on issues. Find it here.
“So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36 NAS
Mechanics should be able to turn a wrench, chefs should be able to dice tomatoes, and professional marathon runners should be pretty well versed in the skills of walking, let alone the bigger issues that come from stepping it up to a run for 26 miles. These things are what most would call the “givens.” The obvious parts of the job, and if an aspiring mechanic just can’t seem to twist a wrench in a circle, they may want to explore some other options. But what happens if you’ve been doing a job for a number of years, then suddenly lose the basics? The foundation starts to crack. Jon Egan was one of the leaders of Desperation Band (at the time he led alongside Glenn Packiam and Jared Anderson)—the youth band at New Life Church in Colorado Springs known for it’s high-energy worship—when he had such an experience.
Sitting in a hotel café 20 floors above the downtown Nashville strip, running a little late for the ASCAP awards, where his song “I Am Free” was about to receive an award for being one of the most played songs in Christian music in 2006, Jon Egan shares about the genesis and private import of his song. And though many people have been drawn to it, “‘I Am Free” is extremely personal to him. “It represents the end to the pain,” he says. “I’ve always known I’ve been called to lead worship. It was always such a passion of mine, but one winter, I was headed up a mountain to lead worship for a junior high retreat, and I was completely consumed by fear.” When Egan was in High school, anxiety started taking a prominent role in his life, which would lead to depression. It would show up in his days without warning and make him feel caged to a life of fear. And it reared its head on the way to the to the junior high winter retreat. “It was this fear that I wouldn’t be able to pull it off,” says Egan. “I wouldn’t be able to sing, to lead effectively, that I would just be a joke. It was not good. I struggled through the whole retreat.”
In high school, the anxiety seemed to fade away on its own. But, every once in a while, even through college, it would show up and remind Egan that it could always show up and take control. Then in the months before Egan wrote “I Am Free” it came back, but with a tenacity that wouldn’t go away. “I got convinced that something was up. Something was wrong ’cause I couldn’t kick it,” says Egan. “And I was on staff at New Life to lead worship. That was my job. So pretty much, every day became a struggle. I’d wake up in the morning and not want to get out of bed. I didn’t want to face the next time I’d have to go onto a stage and lead worship. I had this very convincing fear that when I would open my mouth to sing, nothing would come out—that I would be ineffective completely.
“And I tried praying through it. I’d say, ‘Lord, you’ve got to help me. You’ve got to deliver me. You’ve got to set me free.’ But I wasn’t gaining any ground. In fact, it just started to get worse.”
In the Thick of Things
Jon Egan started to feel the familiar signs of depression. Desperation Band had just signed with Integrity and were playing more, the church had a vibrant youth group that was being drawn into a deep faith through the worship, and yet Egan was ready to quit. “It was a nightmare. I was confused. I was frustrated. I hated it. So, finally it came to a head. I was leading the youth on a Wednesday night, and that morning, when I was sitting with our youth pastor, Brent Parsley, and he asked me: ‘Do you feel like you’re called to lead worship?’ When I told him ‘yes,’ he just said, ‘Then what’s the problem? Just do it.’
“When you hear truth like that, it just cuts you, you know? So I started processing it. And I picked up this little booklet by Joyce Meyer called Do It Afraid, which was the same thing that my friend was saying. If you’re called to do something, you do it. Even if you have fear about it, it doesn’t matter. If you feel sick about it; it doesn’t matter. You don’t let your fears dictate what you’re going to do. You let God dictate what you’re going to do. So that night, I led worship. And it felt a little better. It was still hard. But it felt a little better.”
That attitude started to give Egan a different outlook. Though the battle wasn’t over in one night, he felt headed in the right direction. And with a few days respite from being onstage, Egan took the opportunity to explore God’s call. “God started speaking loudly about freedom,” he says. “And basically I had been asking God to set me free, for him to heal me, to do all these things. And the Lord came back and asked, ‘What I did on the cross, was that not enough for you? You are free. Just open your eyes. Look at the cross. Look to truth. Look to who I say you are, and stop respecting your fears.’
I’d wake up in the morning and not want to get out of bed. I didn’t want to face the next time I’d have to go onto a stage and lead worship.
“I just started to realize that fear exists solely in our obedience to it. If you stop believing in it, it doesn’t have a place to live. It doesn’t have a place to breathe. It was like the Lord asked me: ‘What are you going to bow to? Who are you going to respect? Who are you going to live for?’”
I Am Free
Egan realized that he had been asking for a blessing that God had already given him. He asked God for freedom from lies that paralyzed him. God had a vision of Jon Egan that Jon himself didn’t have; it was a vision of a pure and free life that was possible because of the Cross. And all Egan had to do, was live in that truth. Of course, that is not always an easy task. But Egan continues, “As I made that decision and continued to walk that path, it was amazing to watch this fear and anxiety start to decrease. And it didn’t take months. It took days of practicing that truth.
“I was in my office late one night and pretty much everybody was gone. I had my guitar and decided that I wasn’t going to sing about how I want to be free, I am free, you know? I am free to run, dance; I’m free to live for God in the way that He’s called me to live. I wanted a proclamation of that truth. So it was the Lord and me in an office. I wasn’t asking for freedom, I was opening my eyes to it. I am and I always have been free.”
That night the chorus was written as a prayer and proclamation to God. From there, Egan played the chorus with his youth group and found that people could track with it musically and emotionally. So he set out to write the verses and make it complete. Since then it has literally made its way around the world. It resonates with Christians because it is a proclamation of the power of the Cross, and it lays claim to God’s redeeming grace. As much as that has been true around the world, it seemed to be a grace that Egan’s home community has needed as much as anyone.
No More Chains
New Life Church was subject to a very public scandal. And while the world could look on from the outside and make their judgments, Egan and Desperation Band were in the thick of ministry—engaging with the pains, fears, and inestimable sense of loss and grief of their community, as well as their own. That is when the song, “I Am Free,” in a way, came home. “There were a few weeks in the church where we were just focusing on taking care of the body,” shares Egan. “Our worship services were a bit more subdued. We had a major loss. But in that grieving process, there came a point where it was the healthy time to make the turn and start to look to the future. And that’s when we sang ‘I Am Free’ and it was a significant moment for our church.”
Grabbing onto the truth of the freedom that has been given to us through the Cross is significant in every arena. We could spend a lifetime in fear, anxiety, grief, bitterness, despair, anger, resentment, a litany of possible constraints, keeping us from our calling and the promise of our relationship with Christ. “I Am Free” helps us proclaim that and gives us a push to begin living in that truth.
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WLM: What are the essential elements for a harmonious and productive relationship between pastor and worship leader?
It helps a great deal if the preaching pastor is organized in advance. I like to know upwards of eighteen months in advance what I am preaching every week. I lay out my series well in advance, down to what text or topic each Sunday will have. This helps me prepare. It also helps the team prepare. Anything a preaching pastor can do to get organized, write down where they are going, and help the rest of the team follow their leadership goes a long way. A preaching pastor cannot only focus on their sermon; they also have to love and serve the whole team and the whole church and do all they can to help everyone succeed.
WLM: Does that relationship function best as a partnership or as a hierarchy? Artists don’t like to hear this, but there have to be teams with leaders and someone has to be in charge. Partnerships have a hierarchy. This is the case with the Trinity: Jesus is equal to the Father, and they partner together. But while on the earth Jesus says stuff like “I have come to do the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38). This is the biblical model for godly leadership.
WLM: How much input do you have in the preparation of the worship service? Do you help select the songs? Structure the set? I tell our worship leaders that there are two basic kinds of services regarding emotional flow: there are “weddings” that are up and happy and joyful, and there are “funerals” that are dark and convicting and tough. I have to let my worship leaders know if I am handing them a wedding or a funeral. Sometimes the preaching pastor focuses almost solely on theological content and tries to organize the service order theologically, as if each song were simply a line in a syllogism forming an argument. They can overlook the emotional flow and put the worship leaders in a tough place if they do not also let them know where the preaching is headed emotionally.
WLM: What are some of the potential pitfalls in maintaining a healthy relationship between pastor and worship leader? They have to pray for each other. If they do, they will grow in love and respect. If they become conflicted, it opens the door for visible division between the most visible leaders in the church, which is what the enemy wants. Both leaders have to remember to always do what is best for Jesus and the people—not themselves. A worship leader needs to understand that, although they may not be high up the chain of command in the church, they are the second-most visible leader in the church representing Jesus, the preaching pastor, and the church. This is a great honor and serious duty.
WLM: Any advice for a young pastor selecting a worship leader? Preaching pastor: love your worship leader, disciple your worship leader, invest in your worship leader, and don’t just use your worship leader. Love them enough to tell them the truth and be willing to lose them if they get emotional, immature, sinful, or self-absorbed. If you are only using your worship leader, you will not invest in them or tell them the truth. When this happens, you are worshiping yourself and not Jesus Christ, which means there will be a serious worship problem in your soul even if the band is great.
WLM: How important is communicating the theme of your weekly message to your worship leader? A worship leader and preaching pastor are like two pedals on a bike. The service cannot move forward and stay out of the ditch if they are not pedaling together. Every week around Thursday or Friday, I send the worship leader my sermon notes and sermon slides. On Sunday before services, we go over the service order and set list together in detail. Between services, we huddle up to make any changes that are needed. The longer we work together the easier it is to get into a rhythm—much like a band that has stuck together long enough that each player just instinctively knows where the others are going.