Let’s say you’re a lead pastor, and you need someone to lead the music in your church. You have enough money to hire a permanent worship leader, but you’re thinking about trying a different approach. Instead of paying a worship leader a full-time salary, you could use that same money to bring in some professional worship bands and leaders from outside your church to play each week.
Now, before you write that off as an outrageous idea which no church would consider, let me tell you this: I know of a church in our area that’s already doing that very thing. They don’t have an on-staff worship leader. Instead, they rotate four different professional bands each month from outside their church. The bands’ only responsibility is to come and lead the musical praise in Sunday services.
So, why would a church contract with outside worship leaders rather than hiring a permanent leader on staff? Maybe it’s because they don’t see a worship leader’s value beyond the platform. Could it be that we who lead worship as a vocation have allowed some pastors and church leaders to think of us mostly for what we do during services?
What Churches Need
A valid question that worship leaders should ask themselves is “What’s my real worth to a church? Why would a church want to have me on staff?”
To evaluate our “hiring appeal,” we first need to understand what pastors and churches look for in worship leaders and worship ministries.
To evaluate our “hiring appeal,” we first need to understand what pastors and churches look for in worship leaders and worship ministries:
• Churches want effective and excellent worship services—services that people want to come back to again and again. This is the “tip of the iceberg,” the part of our job which everyone sees each week. The band’s got to be tight, the music well prepared and the flow of the service carefully thought through.
• Churches need worship leaders who are competent in their skills, mature in their faith, trustworthy and full of character. They want leaders who know God’s Word and try to live by it.
• In addition, pastors and church leaders want their congregations to be worshipers who love God with their whole hearts. They want their churches to grow both spiritually and numerically, and they need worship leaders who can help facilitate that growth.
What Worship Pastors Can Provide
In truth, pastors and churches need what permanent worship leaders can best provide. Think about what the term “worship leader” means: A true worship leader influences people toward a lifestyle of worship. Through their own lifestyles and how they love others, permanent worship leaders can call people back to a heart of worship—which goes far beyond singing from a stage.
On-staff worship leaders can also help build a system to improve the culture and experience of worship in a church. Here’s a powerful maxim for a worship ministry: “Our goal is not to build quality worship services, but rather, to build quality worshipers, who will, in turn, help us build quality worship services.” Churches who reach for that goal will steadily see the excellence and effectiveness of their services rise. It’s important to be intentional and systematic in pouring into the worship arts team and into the church over months and even years, teaching them and training them about worship and leadership.
Three Goals for Worship Ministries
In Psalm 34:3 David wrote: “O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together” (NIV). In that one simple verse are three distinct purposes of a worship arts ministry. Permanent worship leaders can focus a church’s worship ministry toward all of these important goals—something a contracted platform artist simply can’t do. These goals can be summed up in three simple words: Lord, Leader and Laity.
1. Lord. David said, “O magnify the LORD…” Any worship ministry worth its salt will first and foremost seek to magnify the Lord to the best of its ability. Therefore, worship leaders must prioritize developing quality worship services week in and week out.
2. Leader. “O magnify the Lord with me” (italics added). The second purpose of worship ministry is found in the word “me.” Any public appeal to glorify the Lord must include some “me’s”—leaders who invite others to worship. We can’t ask people to go where we’re not willing or able to go ourselves. Me in this context should include every singer, musician and tech person who helps lead the call to praise. Thus, a successful worship ministry will give precedence to mentoring and developing their “me’s” into quality worship leaders.
3. Laity. “Let us exalt His name together” (italics added). Our job is to help our congregations worship God more deeply and consistently. David didn’t want to be the only one experiencing true worship of our holy God, and neither should we. We can’t be satisfied with just letting them watch us worship. We must strive to lead them to live lives of worship. Therefore, worship ministries should emphasize developing quality worshipers within the congregation.
More Than a Leader—a Worship Pastor
It should be the role of worship leaders to help pastor and shepherd their congregations—and not be content to just sing to them. This is perhaps the most important reason a church should hire a permanent worship leader. It’s difficult for contracted bands to have a pastoring heart toward a congregation. Someone whose only responsibility is to lead from the platform doesn’t have the time or focus needed to pour into people and raise up quality worship leaders and worshipers.
Worship artist, Laura Story, recently shared with me how she views the responsibilities of worship leaders at Perimeter Church in Atlanta: “Our worship leaders must be more than song leaders; they must be pastors to our volunteers. ‘Quality worship leaders’ must refer to our character and our interest in the lives of those serving alongside us, as well as our musical excellence.”
We could be at risk of eventually being replaced by platform personalities with better voices, cooler looks, and tighter bands.
Beyond the Platform
Obviously it’s important for worship leaders to be excellent on stage. However, if we don’t strive to become more than just a “music person” who leads on the platform, then we could be at risk of eventually being replaced by platform personalities with better voices, cooler looks, and tighter bands.
Embracing our responsibilities off-stage as well as on-stage by striving to love and pour into those within our ministries will build great value in us for any church. Becoming a healthy leader who produces lasting results and a person whom a pastor can thoroughly trust will cause pastors and church leaders to not only want to hire us, but also want to keep us for as long as they can.
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