Person in the lobby after church: So when was the last time you had an Easter Sunday off?
Me: Hmm…probably not since the Clinton administration.
That’s right. I stepped aside on Easter Sunday and had my volunteer leaders carry the day. You might be wondering why I committed the worship leader equivalent of career suicide.
There were three big reasons.
The first reason is that I’ve been an almost-absent father/husband during Spring Break for years.
Our school system typically schedules Spring Break the week leading up to Easter. As a worship pastor, that unmistakably means no vacation days, leaving my wife as a Spring-Break-single-mom trying to entertain bored kids.
As worship leaders, both the Christmas and Easter seasons take us away from our families—physically away, yes, but also emotionally.
So family was one big reason I stepped away from the platform this Easter.
And by the way, we were able to take a trip to the Washington D.C. for a trip over the coldest recorded Palm Sunday weekend in recent history. The cherry blossoms were like, “we ain’t coming out in this weather.”
(This magnolia tree had to suffice.)
Weary of the Weekend Grind
The second big reason I took off Easter was that I just needed it. Over the last few years, I’ve gotten weary of the weekly grind of Sunday after Sunday after Sunday.
I still like leading worship and love leading my team. But honestly, church music has starting feeling more like a widget factory job than a calling to ministry.
This feeling started over two years ago. In late 2016, I fell into a leaderless black hole. All of my volunteer leaders who were capable of carrying a Sunday had left.
- One moved out of state for a job.
- One took a long, personal hiatus.
- And another left to fill an interim position at another church.
So I led the team every week for a big chunk of the year without a Sunday off.
Now, you might be thinking, “Quit your whining, Nicol, I lead 50 out of 52 weeks.”
I get it. I recently had lunch with a volunteer worship leader who told me that in the 7+ years he had led at his church, he could count on one hand the number of Sundays he took off.
That’s how I used to roll. But in recent years I discovered a truth: It’s tough to lead the ministry when I lead on Sunday.
When I’m planning, preparing, and leading Sunday services, there’s not an abundance of time and energy left to think, dream, read, plan, mentor, develop, shepherd, train, etc.
And it only got worse when I went half-time at my church to give more attention to WorshipTeamCoach.com. I realized that if I wanted to grow leadership and develop effective ministry systems, I needed off-weeks where I wasn’t learning guitar riffs or the melody to the new pre-service song.
So part of taking Easter off was giving myself space to work ON the ministry versus IN it.
Substitute Worship Leader
The third reason I took off Easter Sunday was that I needed to get serious about leadership development and succession.
There’s a day on the liturgical calendar during the Advent season known as Youth Pastor Sunday.* It’s that sparsely-attended Sunday after Christmas—a preaching purgatory between the last Advent message and the Sunday-After-New-Year’s rah-rah-let’s-be-better-Christians-this-year series.
The conversation among leaders goes something like this:
“The senior pastor needs a break, who can fill in?”
“The youth pastor could.”
“But what if he bombs?”
“Meh, no one’s here anyway.”
We joke about it. But as worship leaders, that’s how we treat our volunteer leaders.
- “I’m on vacation. Can you cover me?”
- “I’ve got a conference in November. Want to lead?”
- “Sunday’s on the 4th of July. You free to step up?”
There are two problems with this:
1. We’re training substitutes, not leaders.
A fill-in Sunday might be a beneficial way to stretch a newer leader. But if we want high capacity leaders, we need to challenge them beyond just Sunday subbing.
2. We’re creating a cult of personality.
The North American church is riddled with celebrity-status teaching pastors and worship leaders. And it isn’t just in the high profile mega-churches. The cult of personality grows up even in the smallest churches.
How many times have you heard this “compliment” after taking a Sunday off: “I’m so glad you’re back. Worship just wasn’t as good without you last week.”
Early in ministry that used to stroke my ego. Now it breaks my heart.
If we’re serious about Ephesians 4:11-12—shared, interdependent leadership who are equipping the body of Christ to do the work of ministry—we have to make some bold changes.
First, we need to stop doing the work of ministry ourselves and start equipping others.
Second, we need to throw off the celebrity leader status and start doing the selfless work of letting other leaders take our place in the spotlight. (And not just when we’re on vacation.)
So abdicating my upfront leadership role on Easter was about more than needing a break. It was a proclamation to myself and my church, “Leading leaders has to be more important than leading on the platform.” (Want to tweet this?)
And you know what? No one came up to me after our service and said, “Gosh, that would’ve been better if you had been up there.” No—my volunteer leaders did a fantastic job of leading us musically and helping us worship the resurrected King.
So what’s your next step to move towards leading leaders more and leading on the platform less?
You might not be in a place to take off one of the “big Sundays.” No worries. I didn’t start there. (Nor do I recommend it.)
You probably need time to develop leaders capable of leading an entire Sunday service. And it might take awhile to break your church’s co-dependence on you as the main leader.
A great place to start is with this with one of our free, Quick Guide resources, Your Role As a Lead Worshiper.
It’ll help your potential leaders to understand the spiritual and practical aspects of leading worship from the platform. You can access it for free on this page.
* OK. Youth Pastor Sunday is not really on the liturgical calendar. But it should be. Who do we talk to about getting that adding that? The Episcopalians?
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