Worship leaders are not islands. To be a truly effective minister of music, its time to get on the same page as your senior pastor.
How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity! … For there the LORD bestows his blessing, even life forevermore. Psalm 133
I don’t know about you, but I am seriously interested in anything that causes the LORD (the ALL CAPS, self-existent LORD) to bestow His blessing and life forevermore. Through my years as a worship leader, I’ve learned that unity is more important than great plans, seamless transitions, or slick production. Those things, while beneficial, don’t cause God to bestow His blessing, but one, holy pursuit, does: Unity. A critical place for unity to begin is between brothers, and leaders. For me, that first means being unified in vision and purpose with my senior pastor, and then moving on to the necessary mechanics of facilitating and leading worship.
Long before Sunday
On the first day of the workweek, I get together with our senior pastor (Steve) to understand the heart of his Sunday message. Particularly important is to know the takeaway point for the congregation. What thread runs through the sermon, and how can we sing songs that are anchored to (or enhance) that particular thread? Because we have ministered together for almost 14 years, these conversations can be relatively short, but, regardless of length, they are the critical first step for making sure we are both aiming at the same target. I believe deeply that if the heart of the musical worship and the heart of the message are in unison, God comes and bestows a tangible blessing, and people can sense clearly where we are all headed. Asking questions and coming to a common understanding are the all-important first steps to a unified vision.
Now, before I go further, I have to admit things didn’t always work that way. There were plenty of times when I had no idea what he was preaching and he didn’t know what songs I was leading, yet the Holy Spirit graciously put us very much in sync. However, there were also times that the songs and the sermon told very different stories, and we realized talking might be a very good thing. A very good thing, indeed.
Building a Bridge
We began having more in-depth conversations about what the LORD was saying to our church, and how that message could be served from the opening to the closing prayer. These conversations weren’t always easy because he’s a visionary senior pastor-type, and I’m a quintessential sensitive artistic-type. We had to invest the time in our relationship to understand and communicate clearly with one another. The fruit of that investment is a very intuitive relationship that allows us to flow freely with what we believe God is saying. When Steve finds a specific song that fits he suggests it, and we almost always end up doing it. Otherwise he leaves me to select the songs, trusting that we are both heading toward the same goal.
More Than Choosing Songs
So here’s what the first day of the workweek day looks like: After my conversation with Steve about vision for Sunday, my work begins: the mystical journey of song selection. After praying, I often come up with one word to search for in my song folder. I’ll pull every song that contains that thematic word, waiting to see which ones strike a chord. Often, I spend lots of time walking laps around our sanctuary-guitar-in-hand-singing song after song, listening for the ones that have “life” on them. Once the songs are selected, we load them onto Planning Center for the worship team, giving us all time to move in unity for the coming Sunday.
For us, it’s a fairly simple process. We both seek God for his vision, tell one another what we’re hearing, and walk out that vision together. Amos 3:3 says “Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?” We’ve learned it is critical to get in sync (to agree) early, letting everything flow from that common vision and purpose in order to continually experience the blessing of the LORD.
Quick Tips: Connect With Your Pastor
1. Relate (build relationship) with your senior pastor
2. Pray (separately and together) for vision and share what you’re hearing
3. Listen to the teaching pastor’s vision for the service
4. Work through any roadblocks
5. Mutually honor one another
6. Define the theme
7. Pray, play, and consider
8. Select service songs
9. Distribute to the team
10. Move in unity in preparation for Sunday
Jonathan Allen has been leading worship at Grace Chapel in Franklin, TN, since 1998. Jonathan has been honored to lead and teach at conferences here and there and loves to spend time with his beautiful wife Allison and ridiculously great son, Levi.