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Who's the Leader?

Much of the conflict that arises among leaders and volunteers in the church comes from a simple question… who is the leader?  Who is the one calling the shots, with the my-way-or-the-highway kind of authority to lead God’s church?

And the obvious answer is, it’s the lead pastor or board of elders.  But, it’s very easy for things to get out of hand as soon as someone takes the position that “things would fall apart if I wasn’t here… they need me.”  And that attitude can come at any level of leadership or membership within a church.  “They need my tithe.” “They don’t understand God like I do and they need me to set them straight.” “They can’t do this without me.” “I’m the only one who cares.”

So when it comes to worship (music), who is in charge?  Is it the lead or senior pastor?  Is it the person we call the worship leader?  Is it the expectations, demands, or responsiveness of the congregation?  Or is it the Holy Spirit?

The first step in dealing with this kind of conflict and confusion is to understand the role God has given you.  Don’t deny that He knows your situation fully and that he placed you there for a reason.  But also understand that God puts everyone under some form of fallible human authority, and with full knowledge of the personality conflicts and struggles that will arise from it .

If you’re the worship pastor, understand that you are not the teaching pastor and that there are others God has put in place to take care of teaching and congregational care.  Understand (and be thankful) that you are not the one who is ultimately in charge, and offer grace for the best intentions of your non-musically-inclined lead pastor.

If you are the lead pastor, it is your responsibility to guide and care for the whole congregation (including aspects of music), but also to guide and care for your staff.  Honor the one God has given you as a worship leader by receiving and respecting their expertise.  And regardless of your role, don’t be afraid of being wrong every once in a while and of letting other people shine in the gifts God has given.  We all must work together, with our own unique functions, for a healthy body to operate.

This does not mean we have to agree all the time.  We simply are not always going to agree with the authorities in our lives, but one thing we are called to do as the body of Christ is to honor the ones God sends.  “Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me,” Jesus says in Matthew 10 (40-42), “and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward.  And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”

This isn’t just about you (with the “if they reject me, they reject Jesus” mindset), but also about you receiving the ones you serve and serve with.  Now yes, there are times when you will have to agree to disagree, and even times when you will need to find a better cultural fit somewhere else.  But God rewards a humble heart and one that submits to Him and those He placed you with.


As we discussed in the introduction, called Rediscovering Worship, one of the primary purposes of our worship is to create unity between us and God and between us and other believers.  So a good question to ask when conflict arises is – how can I as a leader foster unity in this situation?  Is my disagreement worth causing division in the body of Christ?

I’ve had some incredible opportunities to serve worship teams and ministry teams where everyone was on the same page.  We were all in agreement and everything was happy and smelled like roses.  But I’ve also been in situations where the lead pastor didn’t like my worship style, or randomly requested the most out-of-place songs in the middle of a service.  I’ve been in situations where band members would take over services, sing over the worship leader, and try to “steal the show” for themselves.

Those are difficult to say the least, but not impossible to overcome.  But the first step is not waiting for the other person to change.  The first step is to deal with your own offenses and change within yourself. 

Number one, begin engaging in prayer for the other person – not that they would change or that they would suddenly “get it” or that they would be hit by a bus, but pray for their blessing and success and fulfillment in Christ.  Taking this position will help you see God’s heart and dream for the other person, and will begin to develop a sense of value for their personality and gifting.

Then, humble yourself and make every effort to discover who the person is on a deeper level.  Take them to lunch just to listen to their story.  Invite them to your house for coffee.  Begin to take an interest in their life.  Not only will this soften your heart toward them, but it will open theirs up to you.  When you show a genuine respect for them as a person, 9 times out of 10, it will be returned to you.  Remember, you reap what you sow into any relationship.

Of course, if you can be proactive about these things, you might prevent some of the conflict to begin with.  I recommend that every worship team be involved in something together besides weekly practice, whether that’s Bible study, group prayer, a monthly dinner or social outing, or anything else that helps you share life together outside of worship services and practice.  Get to know each other on a personal level and watch the unity and strength of your team explode. 

One team I led was struggling with greatly with honor and submission, from the bottom up and also from the top down (yes, that means I was also part of the problem).  So, we had a footwashing service with our team to reconcile our differences and to be a catalyst for humility, honor, and mutual respect.  It was a powerful time of healing and forgiveness.  And when we all realized the value in what each other had to offer, and most of all realized that everyone else valued what we had, our worship was transformed.  It was no longer a battle on Sunday mornings, but a joyful, earnest, passionate interaction with God that led our whole church to new heights.

Whatever it takes, whether it’s a private lunch or coffee, a footwashing with the whole team, or a mediation between two of your members in the pastor’s office, it is critical that your team be unified in worship, just as it is critical that your staff be unified to lead your church.  Jesus taught us that “every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand.” (Matthew 12:25)  Your number one role as a leader is to foster unity with God, but it is just as important to foster it amongst your team, your staff, and your congregation.

Worship Leader Vs Worshiper

So often, I encounter great worshipers and musicians with absolutely no leadership skills, struggling to lead a church in worship.  Their worship is full of life and passion; their musicianship on point, but something doesn’t translate to the congregation, and they stare blankly ahead, at best trying to enjoy the spiritual atmosphere.  Those gathered together may have an enjoyable and even spiritual experience, but they do not engage and often wonder why they can’t follow or seem to enter in like the leader does.

As for the leader, their frustration increases every Sunday when the congregation doesn’t match their level of passion and engagement.  They look out at the blank stares and get discouraged and even angry, because nobody else seems to want to enter into God’s presence like they do.  They often feel like a failure in the end, confused and hurt by their experience and continually looking for a new group to lead that will match their enthusiasm and desire for God’s presence.

While this often turns into frustration with each other, and a seeming disconnect between the worship experience and God, it can be boiled down to one simple thing.  Your “leader” may be fulfilling the wrong role on your team.  There is a significant difference between a worshiper and a worship leader, and it’s important to consider that when placing people within your team.  Likewise, if this scenario feels familiar, you might consider your own expectations when it comes to leading worship.

First, understand that there is no shame in being a worshiper and not a worship leader.  There is a very important place for a worshiper on the worship team, in the house of prayer, and before the throne of heaven.  But the worshiper tends to get lost in the presence of God, to sing new and spontaneous words from the heart, and pays little attention to the others in the room, and little attention to their ability to follow or understand what is going on.

In the house of prayer, this is a beautiful gift, especially in a harp-and-bowl environment, where worship and intercession flow back and forth in a beautifully choreographed dance before the Throne.  It brings worshipers into a deeper connection with God in a context that doesn’t necessitate corporate singing and enhances the attitude and atmosphere of prayer and communion.

However, in the context of a primary worship gathering for a church or event, a worshiper often fits best in a supportive role.  The person leading needs to be just as concerned with the people they are leading as they are with God, whom they are worshiping.  Where a worshiper will get lost in the spiritual atmosphere and lose sight of the natural atmosphere, a leader needs to be attentive to both, constantly evaluating the best way to make a connection between the two.

To do that, your worship leader needs to also and foremost be a worshiper.  And in private, they should worship the same as a worshiper does.  But knowing how to inspire and lead people in worship is a different gift entirely.  It is one that is sometimes inherent, and other times learned, but one that will help to foster unity and participation in worship in ways that will bring transformation to your church or congregation.

Who Are You Leading?

As we’ve already discussed in Rediscovering Worship, your number-one goal as a leader is not to lead the band, the music, the experience, or the show.  Your number-one goal is to lead people to God.  God alone is more than enough to inspire true worship.  He is and always has been sufficient to evoke worship without the presence of a leader or even an instrument.

And as important as remembering this goal, is remembering WHO you are leading.  These are God’s children, coming at different levels of faith, with different backgrounds, comfort levels, expectations, cultures, understanding, etc.  And each one has a story that would likely break your heart as much as it blesses it.

It can be easy to see just a crowd, especially in a larger gathering or congregation.  It can even be easy to miss the crowd, and focus only on your team and the music and the order of service.  But don’t forget that these are people; people who are hungry enough for God that they gave up their time to come to a worship service; people who are seeking healing, truth, purpose, peace, and forgiveness.  And it is your job to show them a God who will give them all of that and more.  It is your job to demonstrate how and in a sense give them permission to approach God, to worship Him, and to respond to Him.  Always keep this before you, and remind your team often.  It is a holy calling, a great responsibility, and a great honor.  Don’t take it lightly.

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