Ask a Worship Pastor #1: What is the biggest misconception about your job?

A little while ago a friend of mine suggested I do an "Ask a Music Minister" segment on my blog and then she gave me a few questions she would like answered. I thought the idea sounded great, but I didn't want to be the only one to give the answers. I happen to know a decent amount of worship music leaders in the Peoria (Illinois) area and I thought I would get them in on this project. I knew their answers would be different from mine and that is what I hope readers will find interesting.

This week our question, asked by my friend Jayme is:

"What is the biggest misconception about your job?

Other than myself, there are three other worship pastors answering this week. I'm so honored they all decided to take part in this. A brief bio, with links to the various artistic and ministry works they are a part of is included with each answer.

Joe Santiso—director of contemporary worship at First United Methodist Church in Peoria. You can follow Joe on twitter here: https://twitter.com//joesantiso.

The biggest misconception (or most serious misconception, perhaps) about worship leading in my opinion is that the music in a service is somehow less important than the sermon. 

We’ve probably all heard that before, but I want to offer a different take. I grew up in the 90s and 2000s, when many churches were first starting to give “contemporary” worship a go. I watched many people flounder on their philosophy of worship, music, church, etc. but one thing was constant for me: I always heard that the music in a service was preparatory for the sermon. The message was “it” and it was the worship leader’s job to warm up the crowd or something. It seemed like the music was the opener for the headlining band (which consisted usually of one lower-middle-aged, pre-bald-comb-over wearing khaki Dockers man).

In recent years, perhaps as we’ve grown to more fully understand modern worship, the idea that the sermon is most important has become less verbalized. Worship leaders have more freedom to be spontaneous, to follow the Holy Spirit, and do be more daring in their leadership of God’s people. Pastors and speakers have come to understand more the power of God’s presence and how vital that is to us all. And these things are great, but the idea that the message is still the most important part of the church service is still there, lying in our subconscious.

For instance, how many times have you seen job postings for worship leaders haphazardly thrown together with the only qualification being the owning of a capo, while pastors routinely need a Masters of Divinity degree? How often do worship leaders grab the “theme” from the speaker of the day and have to fit their songs into it? How often have you heard “just do this song” or “just come up with a new arrangement” as if arranging a song, finding a band, rehearsing with them, and getting the music up to par in one practice is somehow easily doable, yet we would never tell a pastor “just preach on this” or “just make this your main point.”

Now, before you dismiss me as jaded, understand I’m not. I’m speaking in generalizations here from what I have experienced growing up and in churches along the way. No one means harm, but there is a subconscious inequality here that is detrimental to those we are trying to service. Bill Johnson from Bethel Church in Redding, California has a very fitting thought on this. He says that for centuries the Church has camped around a sermon, but Israel camped around God’s presence. He stresses the importance of the entire service being centered on God’s presence. We are missing the point of our relationship with God individually and corporately if we put a burden on worship leaders to “usher in God’s presence” but yet still view musical worship times as less important than the message.

The solution, at least in my mind, would be that pastors and worship leaders need to be in constant community with each other. Pastors and worship leaders need to work in complete harmony, none above the other, to create environments where God’s presence is sought earnestly and just as meaningfully in the music and the message portions of the service. Pastors need to yield a bit more to the people they’ve hired to lead people into God’s presence. Worship leaders need to come alongside their pastors and show them just how powerful we know God’s presence can be. Then we can truly have services where God’s presence is the point, and the music and message are just different aspects of being with Him. The idea is not to throw out the message as the most important and replace it with the music, but rather it is to replace it with God’s presence, and to use the music and message as avenues toward that goal.

Nathan Peterson—lead singer and songwriter in the band Hello Industry and former worship leader/director of Richwoods Christian Church. Nathan is currently focusing primarily on his band and their music (which isn't a worship band even though they did put out a worship album at one time), but Nathan has years of experience leading music in both congregational and conference settings. You can listen to an interview I did with Nathan here. Their latest album Matter can be streamed or downloaded (for free, I might add) right here.

Three misconceptions come to mind right away:
1. Worship jukebox misconception
2. "Make us look like them" misconception
3. Parkinson's Law misconception

If I have to choose one, I'll choose the "make us look like them" misconception.

Under this misconception a worship pastor believes his/her job is to take the way their church worships and turn it into the way other places worship. No one says it like this, but it's the practical expectation of 90% of the worship pastors in today's Church. Our "them" models come from superstar churches like Willow Creek, Northpoint, Hillsong, etc. With good intentions, church leaders see the impact these ministries have and, envisioning how great it would be to have that kind of impact in our own community, decide looking like them will lead to accomplishing the same level of success in their own ministries. If you stop to think about it, it's kind of a big assumption. We're assuming that the reason these other ministries have the impact they have is because of how they operate. They have drums and keys. They use Ableton Live. They have 400 singers on stage. But if they're having real impact, it's not because of these things. We take their methods, but we miss the heart. People are impacted by love, honesty, and humility. They're impacted under a tin roof in the pouring rain in Mexico while an off-key worship leader sings a 30-year-old song.

Focusing on tools, methods, song-choice, gear, software, how many people we can fit on stage, whether we have drums or not—these are all ways to avoid the much harder and scarier work of looking around and asking the question, "who are we?", being ok with the answer, and helping our church be whatever that is, even if it's not impressive.

This misconception, that a worship pastor's job is to recreate what we saw on the latest Hillsong DVD, is a practice in vanity, and it's 90% ineffective. If we want to pastor the Church, we'll throw out everything that's not naturally "us", and invest in the 20% that is. Willow Creek wasn't emulating another church when they became who they are. They were being true to themselves. It was difficult and took decades to develop. We can't expect to have the same level of impact they have had without the same levels of fear, trying, failure, and frustration. There are no shortcuts. Tools and methods are worthless without substance. And contrary to our belief, non-musician church-guests can sense the lack of substance underneath a perfect exterior about 10 seconds into our service. The job of a worship pastor is not "make us look like them"—it's "make us look like us".

Harold Greenea professional musician, a worship leader, a music educator, a director/conductor (of the Peoria Pops Orchestra), and now the director of Greenehouse Ministries which seeks to consult with and mentor worship leaders as well as to give lessons to younger musicians. Here is where you can find Harold's music page.

Misconception—"is this really a full time job?"

This goes in the same category as the belief that since we have natural gifts we haven't really ever "worked" at being a worship leader. Yes worship pastors have a full time job. In my experience many of them have been putting in nearly full time hours or even overtime as volunteers or part timers for years on end without a second thought. The difficulty in this scenario is when the dangers of burnout are looming and everyone assumes that since "it all just comes natural" or "surely you don't put in a full time schedule doing music for your church" the worship leader falls into a broken pattern of pouring out from an empty cup and missing the glorious spirit-filled life that he/she was pursuing when they first answered the call. It takes a lot of effort to become a craftsman and even more to organize a group of them. It is not helping the community for people to continue to hold on to this misconception. Some of these soldiers even sacrifice their own family's needs to keep up the pace! How can people help? Just become available to help—with administrative tasks, interceding in prayer, with set up and tear down, with power point, or running sound. Make their load lighter so they can flex that most prized muscle of breaking open the heavenly atmosphere and drawing us all into God's presence. Pour into them by praying for them and meeting their needs and then watch them pour it all back out, in a glorious God ordained way that makes Jesus smile and uplifts us all!

Chris Marchand—Hi, I'm Chris, I run this blog, I lead music at my church, I lead a Christian school here in Peoria, and I compose my own music as well.

Misconception—that our jobs are about doing "spiritual stuff" only, that our primary duty is to be really spiritual ourselves and to help others be spiritual using the aid of music.

While I certainly believe the primary role of the song leader is to usher the people of God into the presence of God using song, or, put another way, it is to create an atmosphere where the people of God are opened up to and can dwell in God's presence through the use of song, I believe we do this as bodily creatures. We are not spiritual beings trapped in our bodies—we are both spiritual and body always and at the same time. Therefore our worship should always be both spiritual and bodily. I think we often forget this, making worship more about either the mind (with good preaching/teaching), our emotions (how we feel, which is often described as being "spiritual"), or a truly spiritual experience where we come to know God on a deeper level that is often too difficult to put into words. Instead, I would argue worship needs to be all these aspects all the time. Sure, some moments of worship will be more focused on our emotions to the detriment our minds or our bodies (and vice versa for the latter two), but we need to structure our times of worship so they all balance each other out. When it comes to leading the people in song, it is apparent to me that the physical activity of singing and playing music is an oft neglected but implicit fact. If our music is a bodily action (along with a spiritual and intellectual action) then it is important whether or not the people are able to sing or follow along with the song. Thus, it doesn't make someone "unspiritual" if they can't or won't sing a song because the melody is too high, low, or difficult—instead it means the song leader has allowed the physical aspect of worship to become a burden to the spiritual and intellectual aspects. That is, the physical difficulty of the song has not allowed the people's minds, emotions, and spirits to engage with God. The same could be said for when a music ensemble completely wrecks a song or even if someone disturbs a time of worship through disharmonious noise or physical movement—the physical is having a legitimate impact on the spiritual in a negative way. In light of this, it is my contention song leaders should be allowed to take every physical aspect of worship into consideration when it comes to planning for worship so the spiritual aspects can facilitated to the highest degree: e.g., how long the singing lasts, people's bodily positions during singing, the volume of the music through the sound system, the visual medium people look at in order to sing the song, the smells, temperature and lighting of the worship space...the list of variables could go on. This means a song leader to should be just as skilled in educating people on the physical aspects of worship as they are on the spiritual aspects. They go hand in hand. Such considerations are often neglected though because they seem "unspiritual", but as spiritually embodied beings (or embodied spiritual beings) it's time we mature past this misconception.  

Other recent articles on worship and worship music:

Why I've Never Sung Matt Redman's '10,000 Reasons' At My Church
4 Things I Learned About Worship By Being on a Podcast
5 Pieces of Advice For Matt Redman (not that anyone asked...)
Dear CCLI: Here are 5 ways you can become better

Thanks Jayme for making the suggestion to do this series. I hope you enjoy it!


1 comment:

JamaLee said...

Myth 1. I've been guilty of this misconception, even though worship often impacts me just as much as the sermon. I appreciate that Joe spoke about adapting songs to sermons too. Sometimes it's painfully obvious when church leaders do this!

Myth 2. Yes, yes, yes. While searching for churches after we moved, we saw this numerous times. We didn't end up attending those churches because the worship didn't seem genuine.

Myth 3. I've also been guilty of this one, partly because I became a Christian in a small baptist church whose music minister worked part time. She picked the songs, played the piano, and led the choir. The church I attended from birth to age 14 had a song leader in the congregation start the acapella hymn and pick the hymns to be sung (in fact, that denomination has no paid staff members). I always assumed that was all music ministers did, until Chris started blogging about music ministry. I seriously never thought about the sacredness of worship in the church.

Myth 4. This one is really interesting! I've attended churches that have believed and not believed in this myth. And I must say, it is easier to delve into worship when the churches allow the worship minister to create a more comfortable place to worship.

Thanks for this!! I learned a lot!