10 Ways to Hate Your Congregation

Early in ministry, I had a senior pastor say to me, “You know, Jon, you do a good job leading worship, but I’m not sure that you really love the people of this church.”

My first thought was, “Well, I don’t hate ‘em.”

My second thought was, “Ow…”

It hurt because it was true. I was more focused on set lists and segues and building a band than I was forging relationships with those I was leading. I didn’t hate them, but I sure wasn’t loving them.

I was in a relatively small church where it was possible to get to know everyone. So I took his rebuke to heart and started to work at getting to know and loving the people I was serving. When I left there a few years later, it was tough departure because I had grown to truly love the people of that church.

But there was still a part of loving the congregation that I didn’t get.

A while ago, I heard Tom Jackson, a live music producer, talk about “loving your audience.” Translation for the church: loving your congregation.

Tom says this:

“The enemy of love is not hate. Rather, the enemy of love is self-conciousness. We’re preoccupied with our ‘selves,’ and when I am concerned about me, then I’m not concerned about you.”

I realized that when I was on the platform leading, I was leading my congregation from a place of self-consciousness. And my team was following suit.

So we’ve begun to take Tom’s message to heart. We’re learning to express visually and not just musically. We’re learning what it means to be so prepared that we’re free to NOT think about ourselves and able to think about what the congregation needs.

The church I serve at currently is beyond the size of knowing every person. And so while I can build relationships with some, I can’t really know them all. But I don’t need to in order to truly love them. So I wanted to build on what Tom says about loving the congregation and give you some practical ways to love the congregation that you’re leading, both on and off the platform.

Sometimes it’s easier to look at the negative side first. So here are 10 ways to hate your congregation as you’re leading them in worship.

1. Don’t Support The Vision And Mission Of The Church And Senior Pastor.

Loving the congregation means helping lead them in the same direction your senior pastor is. It’s kind of like parenting: the best gift you can give your kids is a healthy marriage. If you and your senior pastor are pulling in different directions, that makes for a confused congregation. (And you’ll probably get fired at some point. Just sayin’…)

2. Blend In When You’re “Just Part Of The Congregation”.

For some reason, when I’m not leading worship, it’s tempting just to put my hands in my pocket and zombie-stare at the screen like most of the people around me.

It’s tough. The energy of playing live music often makes it easier to show expression on stage. It might look a little different since you may not have a microphone or instrument, but put as much energy and passion into congregational worship as you do leading.

3. Don’t Practice Your Songs (Just Assume The “Holy Spirit” Will Pick Up The Slack).

You serve the congregation by learning your songs well. The better you know your songs, the more you can freely worship and confidently lead others. Preparation matters.

4. Don’t Show Physical Expression Or Movement.

If the teaching/preaching pastor stood still, looked at his notes the whole time and spoke in a monotone voice, we’d all be praying for the rapture (unless you’re single). No matter how good his material is, if his delivery doesn’t support the content, people aren’t buying it.

The same is true for us worship musicians. You and I are actually more distracting when we’re frozen like a statues or fright reading from behind a music stand. We’re just not believable. If our outward expression doesn’t match the lyrical content, people will sense the incongruence between the two. And that’s a distraction.

5. You Don’t Have To Like Your Team Members To Make Good Music.

Look at all the popular bands that have proven that. But here’s the deal: a unified team will always lead better. Will there be conflict? Absolutely. And there should be if you’re truly loving each other. But that healthy conflict will be the thing that makes your group a great ministry team.

If there’s unresolved tension, gossip, and all-around disunity, the congregation will be able to sense that. It will take away from their worship experience. So love your fellow team members.

And speaking of gossip…

6. Make Sure You Voice Your Complaints To Others About The Church, The Leaders, Or People In The Congregation.

I know, you’re just venting. I do it too. And it’s killing our churches. You can’t be divisive and love people at the same time. If something is wrong, talk directly to the person, or to a person who can help fix it.

7. Choose Songs For Corporate Worship That Only You And A Few Other “Gifted” Singers Can Sing.

Just because a song is on K-Love doesn’t mean it belongs in corporate worship. Or just because it’s a worship song that came out of a very popular church, that doesn’t mean it works for your people.

Stay within an average singer’s range. Don’t pick stuff with too much syncopation. (Especially if your congregation is tragically Caucasian when it comes to rhythm.) And watch out for lyrical content that’s too abstract or poetic for the average person to connect with. (How many people feel like a “tree bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy”? I LOVE the song…not sure it’s always the best fit for every congregation.)

Bottom-line: make sure your songs connect with your congregation.

8. When You’re Introducing A New Song, Just Assume People Will Pick Up On It.

To truly love your congregation with a new song, take time to teach it to them.

And when I mean teach it, don’t just say, “Sing along when you get it,” the first time you play it. Actually teach them how the different parts of the song goes. The extra time and effort you spend says to the congregation: 1) We WANT you to participate. And 2) we love you enough to not just sing at you.

9. Don’t Repeat Songs More Than Once Or Twice A Year.

I had a worship leader say to me: “We haven’t repeated a song yet this year.” I wanted to Chuck Norris karate chop him in the throat.

His congregation was just probably singing “from the screen” if they were singing at all. People require repetition to know and sing songs from the heart. You need to have a solid plan to repeat songs. (See the SongCycle for more help.)

10. Don’t Pray For Your Church. There’s Probably Some Group Of Blue-Haired Saints Taking Care Of That.

I NEED to pray for my church: the congregation, the leaders, and for those who haven’t yet come through our doors (but someday will). The more I pray for my congregation, the more I’ll love them and care for them as I lead them in worship.

So that’s how you “hate” your congregation as you lead them in worship. I know there are several other ways to be hatin’, so let me hear from you.

For discussion below: How do we “hate” our congregation as we lead them, and what’s the loving flip-side?

Jon Nicol