The Pastor-Worship Leader relationship has, in recent times, been one of the most difficult ones to navigate, whether a church leadership team is large or small, paid or volunteer. I have had innumerable conversations with worship leaders over the years who feel HUGE amounts of tension and friction between they and their overseeing lead pastor. In another post over at The Gospel Coalition, I cite this relationship as one of the top five reasons for worship leader burnout.
There are many things that need to be addressed about the relational dynamics between the worship leader and the lead pastor, but I’d like to side-step the details and just look at one thing…one thing…that I’ve seen pay huge benefits to this relationship. And this is, of course, from the worship leader’s perspective, because it’s the seat I sit in.
Dear Pastor, if there’s one thing that would bless me as a worship leader, it would be for you to
Call it a weak constitution. Call it a “typical needy artist’s profile.” Call it what you will. When the rubber meets the road, I need your encouragement. The Spirit in me knows that all the affirmation I need I already possess in Christ. But my flesh, in its weakness and unbelief, is incredibly blessed, affirmed, uplifted, energized, and recharged when you simply tell me, regularly and often, that I’m doing a good job.
I have been blessed, over my years of worship leading, to have worked for now four different senior pastors who have been great encouragers. But many (maybe most?) worship leaders I know don’t feel that way.
A few weeks ago, I was hanging with a local worship leader friend of mine (someone with whom I have that kind of no-strings-attached-safe-place-to-blow-off-some-steam kind of relationship), and he was sharing about the recent turnover of pastoral leadership in his church. He related how disconnected the new pastor seemed to be to him and that they really hadn’t had much face-to-face interaction. Often times, it seemed like the only communication came in the form of business-like emails, sometimes asking for something, sometimes shoring up details, sometimes bringing up thoughts or concerns. My friend began doubting whether his pastor thought he was doing a good job or the job he wanted. This all reached a boiling point in his heart, and he sat down with his senior pastor for “the talk.” He poured out his heart and was brutally honest in a sincere but respectful way. Thankfully, this conversation seemed to open up the doors to a lot of vulnerability between he and the pastor, but I want to focus on something specific my friend said about a moment in the conversation.
The worship leader related to his pastor how he hadn’t received much feedback or guidance and frankly didn’t even know whether the pastor liked what he was doing and the direction he was headed in. The pastor responded by basically saying, “Oh my goodness, no…I’ve never worked with a more gifted worship leader. You’re amazing. I think what you’re doing is spectacular.”
My friend told me that those 10 seconds were all he needed. He said it put wind in his sails and honestly gave him such a boost that he could in that moment say, “Hey Pastor, whatever you need me to do, I’m behind you. I’m yours.” That’s the power of encouragement.
Please Encourage Us
I’ve experienced it time and again. There’s something special and unique about encouragement that comes to a worship leader from the lead pastor. Worship leaders can be encouraged ten times over by anyone else and it doesn’t have the same effect.
I will speak for myself, here. When I have been regularly encouraged by my overseeing pastor, I’ve felt as though I could go to hell and back for him (I say “him” because I’ve only worked for male leaders, though I know others in different situations). When I know that I am supported and that he is behind me, I’ve been able to withstand all kinds of unpleasant things elsewhere. I’ve been able to withstand those nasty, critical, character-assassinating emails from disgruntled congregants. I’ve been able to withstand unstable staff environments and rocky times in the church’s life. And on the flip side, when there have been moments of doubt or tension between me and my senior pastor, it really has the opposite effect of destabilizing everything. In short, a healthy relationship between worship leader and senior pastor, fueled by perpetual encouragement, is one of the most critical ingredients for a worship leader’s stability in ministry.
So, pastors, we love it when you encourage us. We are charged, energized, and fueled by it. And please tell us specifically what we are doing that you really appreciate. Chances are, we’re likely to do it again…and even better…the next time.
Finally, I have to brag on my awesome senior pastor, Tullian Tchividjian. I am blessed by his encouragement tremendously. In fact, yesterday, almost embarassingly to me, he went out of his way to express his thanks for me before the congregation. It was a wind-in-my-sails moment. I pray that all of my worship leader friends have many, many, many of those moments in their lifetime.