Ending the Battle Between Pastors and Worship Leaders

(Photo by Austin Neill on Unsplash)

"He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love" (Eph. 4:16, NLT).

There is an age-old struggle that happens in many churches across our country; sometimes it hovers just beneath the surface; other times, it might be buried under a plastic smile. But it is there, and it can tear a church apart from the inside out. It's the power struggle between pastors and worship leaders who aren't working toward the same goal. I believe it boils down to a misunderstanding of whom we are serving in worship ministry.

Worship Is a Cycle

Church service is a two-way path; a cycle. There is someone you are serving, and someone who is serving you. And, if you don't understand the purpose of how worship works, you will abuse it. Herein lies the reason why there are battles between church leadership and the worship team, the worship leader in general. I believe that worship leaders can sometimes overlook whom they are serving—I did for decades! If you haven't grasped the real purpose for worship in a congregational setting, you are prone to mistreating it.

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So whom are worship leaders supposed to serve? Obviously, we are serving Jesus with any ministry, and this is true, but I'm referring to serving in the practical sense of support and where our main attention lies, so I don't want to "hyper-spiritualize" it. We serve Jesus in every aspect of our lives (or at least we should be).

Know Whom You Serve

For years, I believed congregational worship was for leading the congregation to the throne room and preparing their hearts for the Word. But this is the added bonus if it done right! The actual focus of our service should be for the pastor (or whoever is speaking for that service). If your worship hasn't broken open the heavens for their ministry to be effective, we have lost the battle. Worship isn't a show; it's not a place where we can "shine" on a stage. Worship is the alabaster box broken open, preparing the atmosphere for the Word of God to come alive and change hearts. True worship will always bring inner change.

A Time to Worship and a Time to Minister

One of the concerns I hear most often from worship leaders is that the pastor cuts off the worship too early. It's easy to get offended and let it ruin our attitude for the service. I know people who let this type of disunity destroy their ministry to the point where they left the church. But if you know that the purpose for worship is not to get ourselves and everyone else "lost" in the presence of God, but to prepare the way for the Word of God, then you will understand that the best time for the pastor to start ministering is when the anointing is the strongest. It's not about us, not about the song and not about how long we worship—it's about what God wants to accomplish in that service as a whole. As worship leaders, we must never lose sight of the primary reason for corporate worship.

Worship Leads the Way

Worship within the right spiritual mindset will always prepare the way. This means that when the worship leader and team have accomplished their job for that day, the minister will know what direction they will need to go in order to best meet the needs of those in the congregation. Sometimes, looking back, I felt that worship should have stayed longer or, perhaps, the pastor should have gone another direction. In reality, I did my job; God used me to prepare the way. And now the leader of the flock can take the reins from there.

One common mistake that worship leaders can make is taking on the role of "church service director," which is attempting to lead the entire service without the leading and consent of their pastor. Sometimes forcing a service to go the direction we want it to go isn't helping the pastor at all. Mature worship leaders know the power of yielding to the Holy Spirit and their pastor. There are real stories out there where worship leaders spoke behind the pastor's back because they felt they were always getting cut off. If you have been around worship teams long enough, you have probably heard of a few. I think we need to be reminded so we don't make that mistake. The worship part is our responsibility; what the pastor does next is theirs, and therefore we have to trust Holy Spirit and our shepherd.

Our Tongues Should Always Praise

"I will sing to the Lord, because He has dealt bountifully with me" (Ps. 13:6).

There may be times when a leader makes bad judgement calls and cuts off worship prematurely. If this has happened to you (the worship leader), the worst thing you can do is complain about it. Bitterness (negative comments) can inject and infect the congregation like a virus.

Everything we do must be birthed out of love. Worship leaders, remain lovable, teachable, flexible and trustworthy.

Cathy Sanders has been involved with music for over 27 years. She is an anointed worship leader and psalmist who regularly leads worship for community and church events. She has produced three albums, and her music was played on the radio for over six years in the Northeast. She is also a prolific writer who has authored/coauthored five books. Cathy carries master's and doctorate degrees in Christian education, graduating with honors. Cathy and her husband, Andy, reside in New York with their two teenage children.

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