Why Worship Leaders Leave Their Churches

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Hiring the right worship leader for your church can be a challenge. You want to know the person has the skills for the position, not just musical talent, but also the ability to lead a team and usher in the presence of the Lord.

In my previous article, I told you the story of Pastor Dan losing his worship leader to another church "for just a few more dollars a year." A deeply disappointed Pastor Dan then had to search for a "solid, anointed and passionate" worship leader and hire as soon as possible. Now it's time for the other side of the story.

I asked the worship leader who left if I could have an exit interview with him. He wholeheartedly agreed and even said he had hoped for the opportunity to tell me all about it. What I heard from him astonished me.

The conversation went something like this:

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"Where is your heart in all this?" I asked. "Tell me about what motivated you to leave your position."

"Honestly, I really never wanted to leave," he said. "When I came, and got to know and serve with Pastor Dan, I really thought I'd be there for a very long time. I loved everything about the church, really enjoyed serving God there, and thought we were making some great progress on building up the people in the worship ministry."

"That's what I had thought as well," I said. "Then what turned the tide for you?"

"It surprised me, frankly," he said. "Way back, when I first interviewed, one of the questions they asked me was, 'What is the Lord's calling on your life?' I remember answering that, overall, I was called to lead God's people in worship. But I also remember telling them some of the things I saw in the future, like, that I would be involved in leading people from many nations and tongues in worship—a dream I believe the Lord had put on my heart. Well, that's the thing that got this whole ball rolling."

Two years ago, he had had the opportunity to go on a mission trip, which the pastor and church leaders fully supported. Now, in this church, he wanted to do the very thing the Lord had shown him years ago.

"I was leading worship involving people from four different nations, and seeing miraculous things happen and people coming to the Lord!" he said. "That trip changed my life and opened doors for several other trips, where we even took teams from the church to minister in both worship and service to the communities we were reaching."

But that's where the trouble started in his new position.

"I began to hear comments from the pastor from time to time that seemed to be saying, 'I hired you to lead the worship here, not other places.' I mean, I know he has a good heart, and he truly does want to see the entire earth come to know Jesus, so it's not that. But it's like he couldn't see that my doing both things could have a positive effect on both. And over time, it wasn't just comments, but other things that let me know they really didn't support me being gone 'from the house.'"

The worship pastor knew the Lord had called him to lead worship both at home and on the field. He was disheartened to not feel support from leadership in his home church for what he wanted to do overseas.

When the worship leader got an unexpected call from a friend about another opportunity, it was one of the first things he mentioned.

"I wanted to make sure that what God had called me to was the same thing that God had called them to," he said. "I had very mixed feelings about the whole thing. But once I had talked with them extensively and prayed over all of it, I felt like it was what the Lord had for me."

My heart goes out to this young man but also to Pastor Dan. Both had needs that had to be met and, I believe, could have been met in harmony.

I wish this story were the exception to the rule, but it's not. Church leaders need to focus on making sure we are raising up people, not filling wheels in a cog.

If we need a "worship leader" for our congregation, and we fail to recognize who it is God has sent us—in their full self and their full calling—we may just find ourselves having the same need again a little further down the road.

Instead of praying "Is this the right person for this role?", let us pray, "Is this the person you have for me to disciple into their full calling?" I am convinced we will then see more long-term growth in the ministry of our local congregations.

If you are in need of hiring anyone on your staff—worship leader or other—I encourage you to focus on whom you partner with, not simply what they are tasked to do. That is my prayer for all of us.

Tim Sauvé led worship and served on the pastoral staff at a local church for 13 years. He is now president and CEO of Worship Interactive, an international ministry that focuses on unifying the body of Christ through worship mentoring and teaching.

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