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.