In the Bible, no one was as disappointed as the twelve disciples were of Jesus. While Pilate rode into Jerusalem on a warhorse, Jesus chose a donkey. Instead of keeping expensive oil to sell for the poor, Jesus enjoyed the whole jar of it on his feet. We all see how some of those twelve had hoped for political power or financial gain. Nothing Jesus did met the initial expectations of his disciples, even His death on the cross. As worship leaders, sometimes we might feel like Jesus in one way; no matter what we do no one is happy.
On a good day, the Sunday preparation flows. But, it’s likely some bad days show up, throwing a wrench in even the most well-oiled worship team. When that happens, the worship leader sweats as the clock runs out. The ushers are signaling you that service must start in a few minutes. In the tech booth, the audiovisual team reboots the online streaming computer after it crashes, holding up corrections on slides, and a request to add a last-minute photo from an impatient preacher. Usually, the worship team shares positive vibes with each other but on a bad day, no one is happy.
When leading worship teams, tech operators, and creative people in your church, disappointment is bound to arrive. First, let’s define it. The definition of disappointment is when expectations do not meet reality. That means your team expects things of you that you didn’t deliver them. Additionally, as the leader, you have standards of what it is to be part of the team. So, the formula for disappointment comes from everyone’s unmet desires of each other, creating a multitude of scenarios that act as landmines in wait. Boom.
One key to success in leadership is when we as the leader define and moderate expectations. If every team member separately decides what those are, we will probably experience tension and conflict. We allow landmines to remain in the ground. These hazards wait to explode at our most vulnerable moment. Thankfully, there are several ways we can redefine and moderate expectations, improving the dynamics of our entire worship team as we prepare to lead our congregation in worship.
Make expectations clear
Communicate what you expect of the worship team in both personal and public ways. Yes, formal documents, emails, and posted lists are fine. But, don’t neglect the personal touch. One rule of thumb is this. Don’t make a general rule if it merely is one person’s issue. Precision is better than generalities in leadership. It may require more personal time, but unnecessary rules that single out one person send the message that the leader is passive-aggressive. Communicate openly when it’s about everyone, but privately if it’s just one person showing up late each weekend.
Lead by example
Don’t ask for anything you are unwilling to do. Share what standards you and the leadership have for yourselves. If you want your musicians to practice, show them you practice. Some worship leaders get paid to practice and prepare! Communication is more than our use of words. Our actions show whether we have integrity with the things we ask of others.
We do this when we shoot for progress over perfection. It may take people time to adjust to your newly stated rules or goals. We build trust in bits, not in chunks. So, be sure to praise progress instead of feeding frustration with others who miss the mark. Here is the secret. There will be times you miss the mark, too! I believe that creating a culture of grace isn’t about lowering standards. Does God lower His by inviting us to return when we fall? Like the Prodigal Son, we have a Father who runs to us as we walk toward Him.
Equip your team
If you want your musicians to practice, do they have charts or recordings sent to them? Do you offer ongoing training for your tech volunteers? The more you build into your team, the more they will be grateful. Our teams desire to do their best. And, if you need to recruit, often one of the biggest fears of new people is being asked to do things without training, support, and encouragement.
Own the expectation
When a landmine goes off, it’s on your watch. You’re the leader, which means caring for your team is job one. This doesn’t mean you excuse a toxic person for their behavior. You and I cannot forecast such events, but we must care for our team in the aftermath. Taking the blame is the choice to put your team’s well-being first. But this also means you must care for yourself. If your team is pressuring you with unhealthy expectations, your obligation is to care for yourself, leading them to see what’s best for one of you is best for all of you.
In my experience, we never finish the leadership task of redefining and moderating expectations. Some of these are ones we hold inside. Am I letting myself off the hook? Am I carrying burdens or responsibilities others should lift? Jesus fulfilled things beyond the expectation of his twelve disciples. Our job is much easier. We can’t make everyone happy, but we can effectively diffuse disappointment.
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Rich Kirkpatrick, a writer and leadership consultant based in Long Beach, CA, authored The Six Hats of the Worship Leader and leads worship with A Beautiful Liturgy. You can find him at rkblog.com