Worship leaders often sit in a "middle management" level of leadership within the church. Although viewed as leaders, vision casters and core members of the pastoral staff, worship leaders are usually not on the elder board or in an executive or senior pastor role.
But operating somewhere between the two levels can be frustrating.
The church often gives these leaders permission to operate in some authority and to dream, but many worship leaders' desires get sidelined if they don't align with the senior leaders' vision. This puts the worship leader in a position where hope is deferred. Constantly living in that state can shut down creativity and may lead to bitterness toward the church and its leadership.
Of course, quitting the ministry is not an option. So here are some tips to help the worship leader avoid bitterness and keep dreaming:
1. Give the gift of fulfilled vision. We've just been through Christmas, when most everyone knows it's better to give than to receive. Even though getting the ultimate present can feel great for the moment, there's nothing like seeing loved ones light up with joy when they discover how well they are known and loved. Like giving that kind of Christmas gift, there is great joy in helping someone fulfill their dream.
Worship leaders must learn to really listen to the heart of their senior leader and make their leader's heart the inspiration for new goals. It is one of the most rewarding feelings when the worship leader anticipates a pastor's needs before those needs become a reality and sees the pastor's delight when his vision is furthered. As a bonus, the worship leader gets the satisfaction of completing his own goal, of seeing through a dream that came to his own spirit as a result of pursuing the pastor's heart.
When the worship leader puts the pastor's vision ahead of his own agenda, it builds trust with the senior leaders of the church. In the long run, this approach will create more opportunity for the worship leader to implement and chase down his own ministry goals.
2. Take a "yes and" approach. Another way the worship leader can avoid bitterness when his ideas get shot down is to develop a "yes and" attitude. For this, we look to the world of improv. In improvisation performance, the first and most important rule is this: The actor's response to another's spontaneous joke must take a "yes and" approach.
In an improv class, when an actor presents the idea that his scene partner is on a train, the partner has to roll with it as if he is on a train whether he wants to be or not. After the partner acknowledges being on a train with a "yes," he can then go in the direction he wants to go by presenting an "and" element to the act such as "and now we are coming to our final destination, where we can move on from the train." The "and" is the improvement or advancement of his counterpart's idea.
In ministry, it's vital to operate with a "yes and" culture. Whenever a team member or co-worker presents an idea, take the time to indulge the thought. Even if it's a terrible idea, giving the idea plenty of "and" qualifiers could actually take it somewhere surprising!
This doesn't mean every idea gets executed, but it does mean every idea has a chance to get fully vetted before a final decision is made. Sometimes people just want to be heard to feel valued. They don't necessarily need to get their way to feel inspired. If they do, that's a whole other issue.
Now, when the worship leader is in charge of hearing ideas, it's easy to implement the "yes and" culture. But if the leader is the one introducing the ideas to senior leadership and constantly hearing "no," there are a few things to do to work toward a "yes and" environment.
Cultivate this kind of environment by asking someone one-on-one: "Hey, I have an idea I'd love to explore with you. Would you mind helping me figure it out?" This invites the team member into the process and gives them buy-in with the idea.
Another approach is to schedule "Safe-Place Brainstorming Sessions." This can be a once-a-month team gathering focused on thinking up fun, new ideas for the church. Make sure everyone knows the session is a safe place, which means no idea is a bad idea.
3. Embrace humility. The quickest downfall for any level of leader is when the leader starts thinking he knows it all, that his vision and goals are the only ones worth pursuing. This will sink the leader and completely impede the ministry.
Instead, the worship leader should adopt the attitude of a servant, someone who offers ideas with an open hand, without expectation, then he can endure rejection without losing hope. Understand that seasons come and go. Just because this isn't the season for a certain dream, that doesn't mean it will never come to fruition.
As the worship team grows, it's important to focus on relationship more than on being "right." In unity, even what seems impossible can be achieved.
Joshua Mohline is director of WorshipU (worshipu.com), the online school of worship from Bethel Music. With a background as a worship leader in settings from small to large, he has been a part of the Bethel Church worship teams since 2012. He facilitates the worship school as it equips and empowers thousands of worship leaders and teams worldwide.
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