This article was originally published in Worship Leader magazine (Nov/Dec 2008). For more great articles like this one, subscribe today.
Just because we lead people in worship doesn’t mean that we are fulfilling the role of a worship pastor. Anybody with a guitar, a tour bus and a good song can lead people in worship, but when the bus pulls out of town all you’re left with is a great experience. God certainly uses these experiences, but the challenge of authentic transformation happens in the trenches of weekly coaching, encouraging, and serving the people in your own local church family. This is the value of a worship pastor.
Heart or Skill?
Psalm 78:72 describes David as a man who led Israel with integrity of heart and with skillful hands. Heart and skill are two primary issues that every worship pastor wrestles with, not just for themselves but also for the people they lead. Both are biblical mandates that take a central role in the job description of a worship pastor (Ps. 33:3; Pr. 4:23; Mt. 6:21).
Unfortunately, many of our worship ministries are obsessed only with skill. We practice and practice, running the song list over and over at a Thursday night rehearsal and then play it again on Sunday hoping that something different will happen. Most worship leaders in America hold a part-time or volunteer position and lead a team of volunteer musicians, so it’s no wonder that we tend to overemphasize excellence and give more time to developing skills than to healing hearts.
But a worship pastor is one who is not willing to focus on skill at the expense of people’s hearts. Worship pastors know both must be addressed but also realize that worship is fundamentally a function of the heart, and when a heart is transformed in worship, everything else follows.
When I was a younger worship leader I felt as though I had multiple personalities as I led. I was totally consumed with directing the band, giving signals to the choir, making sure I was singing the right part and leading the congregation through the songs. But I also just wanted to worship. I wanted to genuinely connect with God, hear His voice and follow His leadership and direction within the service I was leading. For a while, you could visibly see the struggle as I led services. It was a very awkward thing for people to watch and for me to experience.
But the more experience I gained, the more I realized that my leadership became an act of worship that actually inspired others, and my worshiping heart resulted in skilled leadership that people wanted to follow. We become worship pastors when we blend these two functions into one, so that people cannot tell the difference.
Director or Discipler?
The duties of a worship pastor can be difficult to figure out because many of our responsibilities often reflect the job of a producer, music director, or a service programmer. But worship pastors find ways to go beyond the logistics to the love they have for people. The starting place is our worship team. If we can’t pastor our own team effectively, we’re not going to be able to pastor our congregation. People will smell the disconnect. They will sense that our team is not cared for or are spiritually immature, and they won’t respond to us. This is a difficult challenge in view of the fact that we are working with some of the most insecure, emotionally sensitive, performance-driven people on the planet. It requires intentionality and commitment. But once our teams are heart-healthy, trained and connected, we get the experience, momentum and credibility to encourage and coach our whole church family in worship.
Begin with building genuine relationships with your team outside of the rehearsal or Sunday morning schedule. We shouldn’t just use our team and their talents; we must disciple our team and empower their gifts. Pray for one another at every rehearsal and teach them from the Scriptures, not just on the subject of worship, but other important life topics. Try to model an appropriate level of vulnerability with your team. You don’t need to share every hurt or mistake, but you should let them see the human side of your journey. This example will draw that same honesty and love out of them, and you will create authentic fellowship and community. Make your team a safe place to ask questions and share problems. Don’t be a spiritual policeman. Take time when you get together as a team to do what you’re actually called to do—that is to worship. This will bond you together as a team while exercising your pastoral muscles and prepare you for the challenge of pastoring your entire congregation.
Event or Evolution?
Worship leaders tend to fixate on the next big event rather than the evolution or process their people are experiencing. If the sacrament of worship is part of a larger discipleship plan to move people from casual followers of Christ to passionate, mature disciplers, then we must be willing to direct more of our energy into the journey of the individuals we lead. This means potentially less emphasis on event-driven ministry and more emphasis on how your family of believers is evolving and maturing in their faith.
A worship pastor should be prepared to identify the potential he or she sees in others. Their role should be to empower the gifts they spot in their teams, preparing, training and challenging the people they work with to greater maturity. They must be willing to confront issues and be secure enough to deal with conflict by speaking the truth in love (Eph. 4:15).
This isn’t a microwaveable process. It happens in small increments over a long period of time. It cannot happen in one great meeting. It must manifest itself in small exhortations between songs, short Scriptural challenges and transparent worship moments Sunday after Sunday. And it can only happen when leaders involve themselves in the lives of the people they serve every week.
An event-driven paradigm is too pressurized and makes our services too stressful and potentially over-hyped. We short-circuit the process God has for us when we embrace a quick-fix mentality. But an evolutionary process paradigm creates an environment of accepting people where they are, patiently developing leaders while being confident that God is at work (Phil. 1:6; 2 Cor. 3:18).
Leading by Loving!
People always reflect the values of their leader. We all reproduce who we actually are. If you want your team to fall in love with their congregation and develop a heart for people rather than just an ear for music, then you’ve got to fall in love with them. Loving the people on your team as well as those in your congregation is what creates the fertile soil for God’s presence to flourish (1 Jn. 3:16-20). In fact, falling in love with your people will cause you to know God better (1 Jn. 4:7-8) and foster an environment where people will experience God’s love in greater measure (1 Jn. 4:12). This kind of love and service builds an authentic community where people can trust one another and grow together in stability and confidence. When we settle that this is what we’re called to—loving and serving others—we find that we have indeed transitioned from worship leaders to worship pastors.
Ross Parsley is the lead pastor of One Chapel, a church in Austin, Texas. A graduate of Oral Roberts University, Ross has been leading worship for over 20 years in Colorado churches and has led several outreach teams to other countries.