The Pastor and the Worship Leader

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Ministry: Biblical Leadership

The Pastor and the Worship Leader:

Partnership of Powerful Ministry

(Author’s Note:  This article was written several years ago and has undergone some revision since then but it still speaks from a time when the staff member in charge of the musical life of the church also served as the  worship leader.  Today the different aspects of music ministry tend to be spread among several leaders instead of  being rolled into a multifaceted portfolio like those given to me. I have retained the point of view that I am still on a church staff even though I am not.  Also, I have retained all masculine pronouns for the ease of such references although I fully support my sisters in the Lord who so often lead music ministries today. The principles I deal with are still relevant in today’s smaller, more specialized music ministries.)

The senior pastor and the music pastor/worship leader bring the ministry of the church into public focus.  One leads the congregation in praise and worship, the other leads them into the Scriptures, and together they manage the prayer time.  This partnership is essential to the life of the church.but it   is not an easy one to form or maintain.

Built on Respect.  It should go without saying that the music pastor must respect the senior pastor.   I have learned to respect my pastor and the difficult job he must do. He is like the player-coach, or the first-chair/conductor, or the theatrical director with a leading role.  He must mold all of us into one staff while performing his own vital functions.

  • He brings us together and keeps us together, managing our conflicts while pastoring our hearts.
  • He plays contradictory roles: pastor and employer, mentor and manager.
  • He must do the hiring and firing, the inspiring and even the retiring of a challenging class of individuals—associate pastors. Some are world-beaters at the beginning of their careers.  Others are world-weary in the middle of their careers and some are world-wise nearing the end of their time of ministry.

This is no job for a coward; the office of senior pastor demands my respect.

This respect must be mutual.  An effective music pastor/worship leader is a versatile individual who could probably succeed at many other things.  Perhaps he can preach but is not called to be a senior pastor.  Perhaps he has taught high school or college but working with volunteer musicians is his true calling.  He may have composed and recorded music or traveled with professionals but leading amateurs gives him the most joy.  For a lifetime of studying a dual-discipline, music and the ministry, respect is due the music pastor.

The music pastor/worship leader is not a hired hand.  Our calling is to pastor the people of God.  Music and the other arts are the processes we use to pastor.  Music is not our primary product.  People are the product; music is the tool.  The effective music pastor pours his heart into the people as he leads them in worship and music ministry.  All the restraints of New Testament leadership (gentleness, non-striving, servant-style leadership) are on me as I prepare the worship team.  There is no room for the temperamental, overbearing maestro. Yet I must produce music of the highest quality week after week in spite of all the hazards of making music with volunteers.  This careful balance of artistry and ministry is worthy of respect.

An effective senior pastor/ music pastor team must also share complementary visions and dreams.  My goal is not just to adopt the vision of my pastor, but to color it with my own dreams.  The end result is something neither he nor I could have done alone.  Through God’s astounding grace, and built upon a foundation of mutual respect, he and I form an effective team, a partnership of powerful ministry.

Cemented by Trust.  A senior pastor and music pastor/worship leader can work well together only to the extent that they trust each other. While respect may come, at first, from the resume, from a reputation, or from credentials, trust comes from time and careful observation of the heart and the sharing of experience.  A pastor must be able to trust the hearts of the congregation to the ministry of the worship leader.  He must be able to release the singers and players into the hands of the music pastor.  The music pastor/worship leader must earn this trust.  How? We learn to trust or we withhold trust as we learn more and more about the other’s heart.   Along the way, our hearts are revealed by the work.

What is the attitude of the heart toward power?   Any pastor, associate or lead, who is hungry for power is dangerous.  For the musician, power hunger is rooted in performance-oriented music ministry, not worship-oriented music ministry.  As music people become  worshipers, not performers, the thirst for power lessens.  All pastors are under the command of the Lord Jesus to shun power. (Matthew 20:25)  Jesus always did.  There is not one power grab in the Gospel record. While He shrank from power, He welcomed responsibility.

  • Jesus refused to claim the nation at the triumphal entry, the throne before Pilate, or a even an army of angels to rescue Him from the cross.
  • But in the garden, He willingly accepted the responsibility for the sins of the world.
  • In the judgment hall, He took the whip and on the cross He took the nails.
  • He told us not to lord it over each other but to serve each other.  This is the way a pastor worthy of trust leads, music pastor, or senior pastor.

Let us shrink from power and welcome responsibility.

The trustworthy music pastor/worship leader does not divide the congregation. He does not steal the hearts of the people.  His success is never a threat to the senior pastor because he will never use it to build a power base.  He supports the pastor publicly and in those dangerous private moments when someone compliments the music and complains about the preaching.  If the pastor doesn’t trust the worship leader, how can he set him free to follow his heart or to lead worship?  Only when the heart of the music pastor/worship leader can be trusted, do the doors of ministry open wide for him.

The trusting heart does not keep score.  A fellow staff member stormed into my office once with a calendar.  He was fuming over all the days-off the pastor had taken.  He had them marked on his calendar!  He was keeping score!  Don’t constantly compare your lot with others.   Keeping score will not earn and keep the trust of the pastor.  There is so much music to be made for the King, so much truth to be expressed through the talents of God’s people, so much praise and worship to be prepared and presented to the Lord Jesus, who’s got time to keep score?

Powered by Prayer.  The senior pastor and music pastor/worship leader need to meet together and pray together in preparation for the services ahead.  If there is no personal spiritual relationship between the pastor and music pastor, there is little hope for a public display of God’s power on the platform. It should be routine for the music and the message to compliment each other.  Sometimes this happens in consultation but mostly it happens through the leadership of the Holy Spirit.  The music pastor/worship leader must be a person of prayer.  His or her private relationship with the Lord is vital to his or her public ministry.  Then, as the service unfolds, the worship leader will know what to do.  His walk with God prepares him for the moment of ministry.

I love being a part of a winning team.

  • I remember how it felt when I was an offensive tackle and the running back scored a touchdown.  It wasn’t just him, it was me, too, and the center, the quarterback, the pulling guard, the blocking back—every touchdown was a team effort.
  • I felt the same thing playing clarinet in a first division band, or singing tenor in highly acclaimed a cappella choir, or being in a successful play.
  • I have felt it stretching for the throw that completed the rare double play in slow pitch softball.

I have also known the joy of the team in pastoral staff meetings.

  • Across the table from me are the youth and the children’s pastors;
  • next to me is the singles pastor and on the other side is the tech director.
  • Down the table is the business manager, the senior adults pastor and the evangelism director.
  • At the head of the table is the senior pastor who has brought us all together; the man who built the team.

I am a specialist among specialists, each of us trained in a certain aspect of the ministry.  That expertise and anointing has brought us to this table, this meeting, where a diversity of gifts and callings becomes a unified ministry.  We are a team built on respect, cemented together by trust and empowered by prayer.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer
© 2019 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved


The Pastor and the Worship Leader

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