When I started out, worship leaders didn’t have the star power they have today. Photo shoots, Instagram followers, and product endorsements have made the profession of leading worship a bit more commercial than in the past. Regardless of all the changes, it is common for people to project on any public person, traits that are inaccurate. Here are clear strategies to deal with the mini-fame and micro-celebrity that a local worship leader might face when he or she is effective.
Am I A Celebrity Worship Leader? – How To Deal With Being A Public Person And The Accompanying Baggage
Back about eight or so years ago when social media was a new thing, the idea of micro-celebrity was just being discovered. My wife and I attended a conference for years in Franklin, Tennessee, where we gathered with fellow creative leaders from all over the US and internationally. The opening night mixers were legendary, with all sorts of treats for us. While greeting fellow attendees, a guy that I had never met suddenly appeared right in front of me and said, “Hey, you are the ‘Drum Shield Attacks Worship Leader’ guy!” That year, my one viral post of a worship service mishap destroyed the distance between my new friend and me. On separate coasts, we were connected by the common experience of this video. And, having a slightly introverted personality, it was as if I was in Hollywood with a fan of one of my recent movie projects. Social media creates small versions of celebrity that could not have existed before.
With Facebook, Instagram and other outlets now part of ministry leadership culture, the idea of a “platform” has grown for even the most modest worship leader. Our church member sometimes become groupies and fans instead of parishioners. They watch a video of our kids at a birthday party, comment on our vacation photos, and yet many have not ever had a relationship with us beyond seeing us on a Sunday and saying, “Hi.” If ministry was already living in a glass house, this has added intensity to the spotlights illuminating even mundane detail that would never make it in a novel. This reality-TV life is also intoxicating to some degree. Gaining the attention of people today is sought after even more than wealth. It affects how you might be hired for a ministry role. One pastor wanted to hire me simply because I had a rather sizable social media following! That leader thought that bringing on a staff person with a large social platform added to the church’s value more than the other things I would have hoped were attractive. Popularity seemed more important to him than basic character or skill in building up volunteers, things he never asked me about.
But, we all know the smoke and mirrors of it. Filters, angles, and editing make for agitating the envy within all of us. This is also true of how we view our own church ministry. The Instagram feed of the cool churches might make us feel less because our LED screen isn’t over 40-feet tall and we haven’t hosted a big artist or conference recently. You see, the idea of sending photos of that amazing conference you are at is to gloat and touch a nerve of envy in others who happened not to receive such an invitation to attend. If we can get a selfie with one of the famous speakers, then you are that much cooler. Do we feel better at the expense of others? Our micro-celebrity status requires maintenance. In fact, for some, it might cost them their job if they don’t make their church look that much better.
Whether it is intentional or not, a worship leader is a public person in the local church. Even in a smaller church, those that use a mic are considered special. So, whether you try to build a platform or not, you likely stand on one. For all of us, the baggage of being public puts our ministry in a different category to some degree. We may not have the weight of pastoring or teaching the church, but our presence is influential. And, this might scare our leaders to death… and cause envy. In our culture, this part of our job is coveted. In reality, there is more to what we do than simply what is visible. But, how do we manage the celebrity box we are trapped inside?
Let’s start with some bad news. Besides envy, being in public ministry means less privacy and more scrutiny. People will take you out of context and interpret what you say and do based on what suits them best. We are all self-centered, so this is understandable. Those we serve might choose to enjoy their image of who we are rather than the real deal. As you know, this means fewer actually will know us, right? Loneliness is already the worst part of being a leader. The more public you are, the greater distance needed. You really may be alone in a crowd most of the time.
Loneliness leads us to live inside a bubble. Before long, the press about us defines us. We react to the pressure rather than lead from principals. Principals require passion, and you may not have much energy for that if you are chasing the words that others say about you. Today that means we count the number of followers and likes we receive. A perfectly grown adult may be living in Middle School with insecurities about appearance and popularity. But, we are talking about the ministry moments we put online, right? Yes. We can easily compare what we do to the stream of social media players.
Do you really need a new guitar pedal? The power of social media is the influence of example. If enough of your cool friends end up buying a new pedal to get a certain sound from a new Hillsong CD, then you feel pressure to jump on the bandwagon. You might post your picture. Or, if you are me, you sarcastically post a picture of your piano pedal to protest. We are easily caught in our worship leader feedback loop, trapped into seeing ourselves more than the people we serve. We need authentic community, the recipe for popping our captor–the bubble of lonely leadership.
Now, we cannot dwell only on the dark side of this issue. Perks are not always a bad thing given the sacrifice we offer to serve our churches. Being appreciated and loved by your church community is not a bad thing. In fact, when we are loved healthily by our church it is done so, not as a transactional relationship, but as a familial one. We are a family member to our people. Our teachers—the pastors in our churches–deserve the honor, doubly, it says in scripture. There is nothing wrong and necessarily bad about this affection.
I remember more than one time getting ready to pay the bill at a restaurant only to be told that someone from my church paid my bill! Most of the time, these church elves wouldn’t show themselves. You are likely to get extra casseroles when the baby is born. Need a good seat at the game? You actually might find tickets in the third row in your inbox at the church. We moved to a new town, and our pantry was filled, while a tribe of people efficiently loaded in our furniture. I hear of some ministers being gifted cars and golf games. All of those acts of kindness should not be rejected.
This is the upside of ministry celebrity. Most of the time, I say we should enjoy allowing others to be generous. But, we all know that everyone is capable of bribery and agenda-seeking motives. Can you ever really trust that people are simply nice or that they want something from you? It may be that they love you because you represent the church they love! That is not a bad thing. It can also become dangerous if we then view that treatment as an entitlement. We are servants, not celebrities. While it is good not to discourage the generous hearts of our people, we have to be careful not to be trapped in the false relationship of being rockstars. We are part of a family, hopefully regardless of our popularity.
A Strategy To Deal With My Celebrity Status
Effective leaders often plan their responses before they enter a crisis. Our police officers undergo training. Even when I see these servants relaxing at a Starbucks with a latte, I know that they are ready when the situation requires them to act. As worship leaders, we should act instead of reacting. Without a plan, our values will fall by the wayside, and our character falters. Our local police have values they plan on maintaining ahead of time and prepare for possible scenarios that might challenge those values. If protecting the public is a value, an officer learns how to target a traffic stop to identify one who is a threat by their observed behavior. While we may hate getting a traffic ticket, the goal is to enforce the law which is there to protect others beyond my need to be in a hurry. There are a lot of people who are in a hurry in ministry, and we must observe the behaviors that threaten our leadership and ministry. To be passive is to not lead. And, again, if we react instead of act we likely are not living up to the very things we believe in.
I am going to list a strategy in three areas: green flags, red flags, and yellow flags.
The Green Flag
There is a zone of green that you need to defend. This green flag area is where you strategically develop relationships with people who will be both safe and challenging to you. A leader who is in the public eye has the same needs as any other man or woman. We need friends! We need people to tell us like it is. We need folks to be there when things are not going well for us and when we royally mess up. Without a green flagged zone, you will perpetually be on the defensive.
Find a friend or mentor around you who will tell you the truth about yourself.
Who around you do you allow to know the real you? Who in your closest circle is safe enough to hear your darkest thoughts and unfiltered ambitions? And, we need not only a safe and authentic space with a person like this, but we also need ones who speak the truth while having our best interest at heart. This will take some time to develop, and we should be careful who we put in this area. The green flag is for true friends.
Develop friends who like to be with you that could care less about how popular you are.
Often, popularity will fall as fast as it rises. Who is there for you when the worst happens? Who can you call at 2 a.m. and spill your out guts without repercussions? Will there be a friend around you who doesn’t care about your micro-celebrity? Your green flag people are those that will show up regardless of your job as a worship leader. If all your friends are there for you because of your role instead of there to be a friend you may be in danger.
The Red Flag
This red flag zone includes the hazards that are likely to take us down if we ignore them. People can be unhealthy to the degree that when they drown in their bad choices, they grab as many around them to sink with them as well. Who around you is there only for their own agenda? Who is crowding in your space that may be too much of a fan? Sometimes it is not the open critics that take us out; it is the “friend” that disguises their ulterior motives with kind actions. A red flag is the place of immediate danger. Don’t be caught off guard.
Form a buffer of separation from the parasites who drain you.
You can identify these people by one simple test. Ask yourself this: “Am I drained or energized by my regular interactions with this individual?” If you have answered yes to this question, then you need a buffer. This is the purpose of the red flag–to build a buffer between you and the people who will harm you and others. Aren’t we supposed to love everyone, including our enemies? Yes! However, loving a person does not mean we allow them to have a regular close connection to us. Don’t confuse care and love with proximity. We can love a murderer and still put them in prison.
Create a distance from unhealthy people who love your status too much.
These folks may also be identified with a simple test applied. If you were not the worship leader, would they want to be close to you? The red flag is raised when people are in our midst who desire to be associated with celebrity more than ministry. Does this person love music more than being part of the church? Can you ever talk about anything other than what the worship team is doing? Talking shop all the time is what this person loves to do. You would be wise to have some distance from people who love your status more than you and more than the ministry of your church. Once supporters, you may find that as your status changes, they turn on you.
The Yellow Flag
Some things require caution and attention, but seldom are they a direct hazard. One thing a young leader will learn eventually is that even the strongest, most charismatic leader around them can be hugely insecure. One’s gift in leadership doesn’t compensate for deficiencies that we all normally live with. The danger of leadership is that our dark sides are potentially amplified through the leadership structure we are charged with. Also, how do we treat our own families in all of this? How is our status in public hurting our interactions? Ministry is a family business, whether officially recognized as such or not. How do we navigate the impacts of celebrity on our leaders and our families?
Show caution with insecure leaders who may see you as a threat.
One desire in many of us, worship leaders, is to have a friendship with our lead pastors. The ideal of camaraderie should not be pushed aside. We are not trying to put up a barrier as much as keeping a level of caution. This is the yellow flag’s role–awareness of potential threats rather than mitigation of clear dangers. Is there a danger? The leaders we serve under and serve with are in the same boat as we are. We must assume the best, but it is wise to consider how your fame impacts those around you. Simply, be aware of how your micro-celebrity emotionally affects your leader.
Be aware with how you care for those most important to you—your family!
A constant yellow flag is keeping your eye on your family. While everyone may seem to know you, do your kids know you? Have we potentially replaced the time with our spouses with time on social media feeds? Anything that threatens us threatens those closest to us–especially our relationships with our spouse and children. One mentor told me that he would find a way to include his whole family during the busy Christmas season. If they could sing, they sang. If they could hold a spotlight, they did so. Keeping our family in the forefront is part of what the yellow flag intends to accomplish.
When You Lose The Limelight
Whether it is for a season or permanently, you will fade from fame one day. All the attention piled on you will suddenly disappear, and the likely result is a deep sense of loss. Some of you know what I am talking about. This is not a sin. This is simply the human reaction to losing anything. Like a limb, the feeling of importance that a role in the public eye offers seems like part of you. To lose singing center stage or the ear of a crowd hurts. It doesn’t matter how the loss finds you; it will be a loss all the same. If you are fired, aged-out, moved-out, or leaving for a better life you are equally put into the category of a grieving soul. And, you may be in a lonely spot. Most will not understand these intense feelings of loss.
Those of you who are new to this must realize the day will come for you. Enjoy what you have while you have it. However, seasons of life and ministry bring about changes. If you play for the NFL and you’re in the spotlight in week after week, you might not realize the loss of playing the game when you retire. It doesn’t matter if you retire at 30 or 39, the pain of your knees and shoulders may not match the pain of being off the field. Do not underestimate the loss of the limelight. Your life will never be the same when it leaves you–even if for a season of your ministry career.
This is why developing people has been a true north ministry for me. If I design my ministry career to only be about a role that may fade one day, then I will lose all I invest in when celebrity crumbles. But, if I base my ministry on building up people, I am investing in something that will outlast not only my popularity and platform but my lifespan. People are eternal. Worship leading is not. The sooner we accept that, the better we can live on both sides of fame. So, “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Colossians 3:2).
Rich is a writer, blogger, speaker, musician, father and husband to his best friend. You can check out his latest book, The Six Hats of the Worship Leader, on his website, RKblog.com