By Tim Swanson
I love my team so much. I am so proud of them. And I threw them so completely under the bus.
At the beginning of the year my boss asked me to preach once at the beginning of July. I had been asking to preach, so if course I said yes. I had months to prepare. I am also very fortunate that our youth worship leader, Jonathan, is a paid member of our staff, and a better worship leader than I am, in my opinion. So asking him to lead worship, on the week I preached, was a no-brainer. I paired him up with a talented young lady, named Allie, who has great potential to be an outstanding Worship Leader. As a team, the two were excellent together. So I went on planning my sermon without giving it much more thought. I checked in periodically with Jonathan to see how things were going. As I expected, he had it under wraps.
Then in June, I had a conversation with my boss, who offered me a second opportunity to preach. As we spoke, I was thinking about another one of my team members who I had considered encouraging into worship leadership. So I accepted the second preaching opportunity, and called my team member, a true lover of worship named Andrea. She jumped at the chance to lead, which was encouraging. I felt like things were really looking up. I was finding leadership potential all over the place within my team. And I was going to get the opportunity to preach twice (which is exactly twice as often as most Worship Leaders get to preach in a year).
The first Sunday in July came and went. I preached. Jonathan and Allie led the Music together. It couldn’t have gone better. My team was pumped, and so was I. I was walking on clouds all week. I felt like I wanted to shout about the greatness of my team from a mountain top.
Go away team. I’m on a roll!
Then in the middle of the week, I got an email from our lead teaching pastor, Bob Kerrey. He said my preaching skills had gotten some pretty high praise from a prominent church member. He said he was encouraged by it, and offered me the opportunity to preach a third time in July. At this point, I was no longer thinking about my team. I was thinking about myself. And I had become greedy. I accepted the opportunity to preach a third time and scheduled Allie & Jonathan to lead the music. Without thinking about how it would effect my staff and volunteers, I saddled them with the pressure of working without me for a third week so that I could pursue the things I wanted for me.
My second week preaching came along, and again I received high praise for my oratory skills. But this time, my team did not seem pumped up. They seemed tired. I was dropping extra work on them at the last second, and they were clearly getting worn out.
That was last Sunday. Today, I’m in my office preparing for my final sermon this Sunday. It has been almost a month that I have been completely unavailable to my team. In every interaction that I have with them, I’m increasingly aware that they’re getting burned out. I don’t think the issue is that I accepted three preaching engagements in one month. I think that my mistake is that I accepted three preaching dates without preparing my team or thinking about how it would affect them. It’s hard for me to watch them suffer because I was being selfish.
In the future, I plan on preaching with some regularity at my church. Only, the next time I preach, the well being of my team will be in the front of my mind. I will spend time in advance preparing my leadership for the rigorous extra work that they will face when I am unavailable. I will spend more time with them planning, praying and preparing for the weeks that I will be away. I won’t accept big responsibility at the last minute, if it means that my team will bare the brunt of the burden.
As Worship leaders, it is not just our responsibility to lead our congregations in worship on Sunday. It’s my view that we have at least an equal responsibility to our troops who follow us into battle every week. It is essential that we spend quality time preparing them for new responsibilities. When we drop things on them at the last second, we are cashing in on their trust in us. Some of us are in the habit of changing songs right before Sunday morning services begin, or even worse some of you are like me and you selfishly saddle your team with last minute burden so you can take more opportunities. Whatever it is, we have to learn to mind our staff and volunteers better. We have to learn to bring them along with us. We will never build high functioning teams if we don’t learn to do this. These are some things you can do to begin preparing your team to hold down the fort if you have to step away for any reason.
1. Become a leadership scout. If you haven’t begun looking for leadership within your own team, start now. Look for people who have experience leading worship in the past. If you’re feeling risky, look for someone with no experience, but lots of potential. Relationships with those people can be the most rewarding.
2. Rehearse your leaders. Once you’ve identified some leaders, start with baby steps. Ask them to lead a song or two during rehearsal. This is a safe way to check out your new leader’s strengths and weaknesses. By doing this you’ll discover which direction to go as you coach and encourage your new leader.
3. Give away small opportunities to lead. Look for places where you can let your leader step out and lead during a service. Even if it’s during a youth service, or a night of worship. Don’t scoff at any opportunity. Find a place where he/she can come lead one song. That will not only give your leader experience, it’ll also begin to familiarize your audience with him/her. Then when you’re away, your leader will be better received by people.
4. Begin building a leader through mentoring. The most effective way to build new leaders is through mentoring, which just means that the two of you do life together. Spend as much time as possible with your leader. Invite him/her to planning meetings with you. Even if you’re backup leader has a lot of experience, he/she may not be aware of the intricacies of your church body. Show your leader the ins and outs of how to lead your congregation.
5. Create an emergency backup plan. You can do this by yourself, but it’s best done with your backup leader present. Plan out a whole service: music, slide backgrounds, transition videos, everything. Then stick it all in a manila envelope and write ‘Plan B’ on it. Keep it somewhere where you’re leader can get to it incase you get held up for any reason.
6. Get the leadership above you on the same page. Tell your supervisor about your plans. This will do a couple really good things. First, it’ll show your boss that you are a good planner, and it’ll build your rapport with the church’s administration. Secondly, it’ll make things run more smoothly for your leader when he/she steps up to bat for you. The last thing you want is for your new leader to become frustrated and disenfranchised as the church administration tries to fill your shoes after you already have.
Over the next couple weeks, I have some serious apologizing to do to my teams. They are strong and mature believers, so I know they have already forgiven me. But that’s not the point. In my selfishness, I have cashed in on some of their trust in me. I plan on spending some serious time and money reminding them about how important and necessary they are. Lets face it. When the Holy Spirit moves on Sunday Morning, he uses all of us, not just me. Every person is important, not just me. It is the collective effort of my team that accomplishes the will of God, not just mine. I have had to be reminded of that this month. My hope is that you will learn from my mistake, and not have to learn this lesson the way I have.