Of all the ingredients needed for a healthy church, one of the most important is a leadership team that works well together.
This is true for a megachurch with paid staff, and for a small church working entirely with volunteers.
One of the most visible and influential relationships on a church leadership team is the one between the lead pastor/speaker and the worship leader (or choir director, or song leader...). And nowhere is the health of this relationship more important (or more on display) than during a worship service.
Over my decades of pastoral ministry, I’ve seen just about every version of this relationship played out – in both healthy and unhealthy ways.
In my experience, they fall into five main categories, two that are unhealthy, three that are healthy:
Two Traps To Avoid
1. The Top-Down CEO
In this situation, the lead pastor is not just in charge, it’s a “my way or the highway” situation.
Certain songs are outlawed, others are required, and they can change at a moment’s notice on the pastor’s whim.
The leadership and abilities of the worship-leader are secondary, if they’re taken into account at all (forgetting the “leader” part of the title “worship leader” in the process).
This usually leads to
- a revolving door of worship leaders
- a puppet for a worship leader
- a pastor who takes over the worship-leading
- or no worship leader at all
2. The Hostage-Taker (a.k.a. The Diva)
In this case, the worship leader oversteps all appropriate boundaries and does whatever they want to do, for however long they want to do it, holding the service hostage – along with everyone in it.
This is often the result of one of two situations: A) a worship leader that has become so popular that their fame outweighs all other considerations, or B) a church that has been without a worship leader for so long that they’ll put up with anything just to have one.
Neither is healthy. Both must be resisted and corrected.
No, it won’t be easy to dislodge a diva, or to lose a hard-to-find worship leader, but it must be done for the long-term health of the church.
Three Ways To Work Together
While both of the previous styles are unhealthy, any of the following three (or a hybrid of them) can work, depending on a variety of factors. None of them are perfect, and some may not be right in certain churches, but I’ve seen all three work at different times and places.
1. Follow The Leader
In this situation, the worship leader takes their cue from whoever is speaking in a particular service.
At first, this may seem like the Top-Down CEO model we saw above, but it’s not, because of one big difference – there is a cooperative spirit that respects the gifts of all leaders.
On teams like this, there’s a leadership meeting (or several meetings) in advance of each service in which the pastor/speaker lets the worship leader know some combination of
- What the topic of the sermon will be
- What scripture passages will be read
- What order of service will fit best
- And what types of (or specific) songs they’d like to use
Often, one pre-service meeting will be enough, and the pastor won’t know the full song set until they’re sung during the church service. In other situations, there will be follow-up meetings to go over a preliminary song list that will be approved and/or tweaked. Sometimes they’ll have a full dress rehearsal with follow-up changes.
What all of these variations have in common is that the pastor/teacher takes the lead in a cooperative relationship with the worship leader.
2. The Collaborative Partnership
In this style of leadership, the pastor/teacher and worship leader contribute equally, collaborating on all aspects of the service.
Some weeks they realize that the sermon needs to go longer, so the worship time will be cut short, while other weeks they decide to feature a longer time in worship through music, topped off by a word of encouragement or affirmation.
No one has the final say, and each leader adds something to the overall mix.
3. Independent, But Cooperative
This may be the most common leadership style of all – especially in smaller churches.
In this situation, the pastor is in charge of the preaching/teaching, while the worship leader oversees the music – and neither knows much about what the other will do until they hear it on Sunday.
For some leaders, not knowing every detail of the service in advance sounds like a nightmare – and a recipe for disaster. But it works in a surprising number of churches – maybe most churches.
What Works For Your Church?
In my experience, the most important principle is to keep a cooperative spirit between church leaders.
As long as we’re all trying to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, the format is secondary.
Yes, leadership matters. In preaching, worship, music and more. But in a healthy church, our leadership always comes in second place to the leadership of the Holy Spirit working through everyone.
Copyright © 2019 by the author or Christianity Today.
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