10 Roles You Probably Didn't Sign Up For When You Became A Worship Leader
Before you were a worship leader, do you remember what you *thought* it was going to be like? You imagined that each week you would...
- plan a set list that was spooned-fed by the Holy Spirit himself.
- rehearse a team that shows up on time and fully prepared.
- lead worship for a congregation that sings out, claps and lifts their hands without any prompting, and rushes the platform after the service to tell you how amazingly God moved through you to bless them.
And then in between all that bliss, you would...
- have ample time to hone your vocal and guitar (or keyboard) skills.
- spend hours at Starbucks mentoring team members.
- log at least 5 - 10 hours a week in focused prayer.
- start a blog detailing your awesome worship leader life (or at least tweet about it 6 - 9 times a day).
- write and record deeply artistic and inspired songs (and probably sign a record deal with Integrity Worship).
If you’ve been leading worship for more than 10 minutes, you know the above is a worship leader nirvana that not too many people ascend to. And even if we think another worship leader has reached that apex, spending 10 minutes in their fashionably-scuffed boots and tightly tapered jeans would probably reveal otherwise.
What we thought we were getting when we signed up as a worship leader is really only a small part of the package. Here are ten roles that we didn’t think we signed up for as a worship leader.
Any good worship leader understands that there is a huge aspect of service involved, especially service to their team members. Whether you're a vocational or volunteer leader, you work hard to make your team members' lives easier.
However, at some point, “servant leadership” gives way to spoon-feeding. I used to bend over backward to accommodate my team members’ crazy schedules, their fickle attitudes, and their overall lack of commitment to the team. I somehow thought if I worked hard enough I could make up for what they couldn’t (or wouldn’t) give.
Some of these next few points go into more detail on this "servant leader turns personal assistant" phenomenon.
How many times have you walked onto your platform on a Monday or Tuesday and realized that your team just abandoned their charts, empty water bottles, and granola bar wrappers.
So not only do you need to get ready for the coming service, you now need to spend an hour filing music and cleaning up from last week.
I recently was given a three-week rotating work schedule by a team member:
"On the first week, I work Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday. The next week I work Sunday, Wednesday Thursday. Then the next week I work Monday, Tuesday, and Friday. Then it starts over.”
So essentially he has this small window where his schedule allowed for both a Thursday rehearsal and a Sunday worship service. But it rotates every three weeks, so each month it’s different.
It's like a Sudoku.
Add to that all my other team members' schedules, and I’ve got to have the code-cracking skills of John Nash* to complete the schedule in any given month.
After my "beautiful mind" schedule posts to Planning Center, inevitably someone cancels, calls off, or otherwise creates havoc by bowing out, usually with scant notice. So now I switch roles to be the "replacement finder."
This involves texts, emails, phone calls and the occasional bribe: “If you can cover this Sunday, I’ll give you a solo on Easter.” Heck, it’s ten months away, maybe she’ll forget.
But we worship leaders do what it takes: reshuffle bands, broker trades and even fill the spot ourselves if we can. We didn't sign up for this role, but survival demands it.
"They’re responsible adults. I only need to say it once; they'll get it and follow through."
If you’ve worked with musicians and techs in this era of over-scheduled lives and under-developed attention spans, you know that above statement is all but a work of fiction.
When it comes to communicating with our team, we are required to communicate enough so that they hear it, but not so much that they tune us out from overcommunication.
No, I’m not talking about your drummer in his Plexiglas fishbowl. I’m talking about you, the worship leader who never has time to pick up the guitar or write songs or play the piano other than when it’s necessary. Your inner musician gets locked up in a “ministry" prison and only gets to come out for rehearsals and services.
Whenever I talk to students who want to be vocational worship leaders, I try to warn them that music is only about 10% of the job. I also tell them they’d probably have more time to make music if they sold insurance or worked in a factory.
They look at me like I’m an idiot.
But that’s the reality of being a worship leader. The music takes a backseat to the administration and “ministry” requirements of the job.
As the chief of an artistic tribe of fragile egos, most every worship leader spends a considerable amount of time “counseling” team members. Sometimes it could involve nursing the hurt feelings of a soprano who didn't get the lead part on a special. Other times it's the true pastoral work of helping a drummer through a failed marriage. Both extremes are part of the gig.
You just need to know when to refer people who need deeper help than you can give. And you need to pull in or raise up other shepherds to help you carry the load.
Nobody told me when I signed up to be a vocational worship leader that I’d have to would have to know far more about video, lighting and sound engineering than I ever cared to.
Unless we have killer volunteers or a budget big enough to hire someone, oversight of the tech ministry falls on us. As duty calls, we have to put on our tech-pants (complete with side leg pockets) for upgrades, troubleshooting, budgeting, and general maintenance.
I used to think worship planning was some mystical trip to the mountain where I’d emerged with a glowing face and an inspired set list etched on my iPad by the finger of God himself.
I also distinctly remember the first time I was so far behind in my worship planning that I grabbed a set list from three months prior that I thought could work for that week’s band. I was sure I’d get my worship leader license revoked that week.
But then something happened. The band played well. The church sang out. And no one surfaced to accuse me of plagiarism, or even laziness.
I don’t make it a constant practice, but I’ve gotten over the need to reinvent the wheel each Sunday. If a certain group of songs works really well together, I’ll schedule them en masse again. Or sometimes I find a coupling of two songs that work, and so I use those two together regularly.
"Hey, have you heard Oceans? Can we do that this Sunday?”
"No problem," was my standard answer. And then like a gaudily lit jukebox at a greasy pizza joint, I would spit out requests each week that came from the teaching pastor, worship team members, and congregants.
I remember early in ministry how I’d try to oblige most any song request that came through, especially if I liked the song or didn’t want to disappoint the person. Before long, I realized that people were treating the worship team like their personal jukebox. It was putting a significant burden on me and my team of volunteers musicians.
And I also began to see what that was doing to our hymnody. Our master song list was bloated, overgrown and lacked intentionality. I eventually took steps to develop a lean, active song catalog and limit the number of new songs we’d introduce. I also cut down the number of specials and one-off songs.
[If you want to learn more about this process and how it can help you, check out The SongCycle.]
Even with boundaries in place, you’ll still get treated like a personal Spotify account at times. Sometimes you roll with the request if there’s a compelling reason. Other times you just have to say, “Sorry, we just don’t have space in our active rotation rotation right now.”
This jukebox is closed.
Now before we wrap here, I'd love for you to comment below on one of these two questions:
1) Which of these roles do you feel eats up the most time for you?
2) What’s another “I didn’t sign up for this” role that you’ve had to play that I didn’t mention here?
*John Nash is the mathematician who was the subject of the film, A Beautiful Mind. Tragically he and his wife were killed in a car accident a few days before the writing of this blog post.