Nightmarish scenarios will rule the day when we least expect it. Worship teams, as a visible face of the church, will walk amongst landmines when a church splits, a pastor transitions, or major events like moving into a new church building. Yes, even good news can rock the world of your worship team. In one case, I met with my pastor about some conflict about music on the worship team. He had his opinion, and it happened to be the same as mine. But, his wife’s opinion lead the opposing thought. His wife happened to be on the team and he gingerly shrugged his shoulders as to how we were to move forward–talk about being caught in a “no-win” situation! One morning I walked into the pastor’s office only to find out there were two ladies there with papers in hand. The body language foreshadowed tsunami level waves of critique about the worship ministry that would be read from that sheet of paper in hand. An example of the fun was that one of them took the encouragement I gave to smile at people as saying she was unattractive. Things can get worse. That was not as bad as the time a worship team member accused me of being too attracted to her as a reason for not choosing her for our worship team.
Worship Team Nightmares: How to successfully deal with the worst of it!
Imagine a church board that has discussions about the worship leader wearing a hat in a service. Leadership in churches at times can be divided and we might be caught unaware as our head is to the plow. There was also that board meeting when the pastor who was supportive and partnering in our worship direction commenced to ask the opinion of each member of the council. They were clearly opposed to the pastor’s view, so he and I were not sitting pretty in that room that evening. While leadership encounters like these represent larger conflict issues that are often above our pay grade as worship leaders, being fully naive of them can sometimes mean that we end up the scapegoat. Not all nightmares are from negative issues. Growth causes almost just as much upheaval. Having been a part of new church facilities, there is always a push back when you move worship to a new place. No building is ever free of bugs! Of course, you now have to have improved sound, musicians, and impact when you’re going from a school cafeteria to a huge auditorium with folding seats, balconies, and catwalks. Everything you do may feel off because all of it is in a new context. And, the facility has a learning curve. You or I cannot control that response.
We have not even listed our personal contribution to the nightmare scenario, yet. Maybe you as a staff worship leader let some information slip that was confidential. Or, you vented to a “friend” about your insecurities, only to find that conversation quoted in your next review and disciplinary plan that follows. Sometimes, a simple desire to be “transparent” might backfire. In one staff retreat, I recall a worship staff member asking for prayer to grow the volunteer base in his ministry. The whole group of over a dozen of us prayed over him! The very next week the leadership, instead of appreciating his recognition of the issue, disciplined him. “Has he grown his volunteer team, yet?” A nightmare is a situation that clearly isn’t winnable. We contribute by both the cracks in our character, as well as slips in judgement. Short of morally train wrecking our ministry, nightmares come in all shapes and sizes and we both contribute to them and receive them, without any effort on our part.
No one ever signed up to be a lightning rod when they think of worship team ministry. We face the full blessing of being loved by many one day or the scapegoat of dissatisfaction the next. It is either hot or cold. And, sometimes it’s all our fault, while other times we are blindsided. Experience helps. When you serve in ministry long enough, you have to expect to navigate landmines. Otherwise, you won’t survive. Our goal is to thrive! How do we survive the impending doom a nightmare season may bring? Be encouraged! You can do this and realize that you are not alone. You have the full weight of God’s Spirit to aid you and must never lose heart. There is only one you and only you can make a difference like you were designed to make. Your Creator made you. Ministry, as is often said, is not a sprint, but a marathon. Marathons require strategic thinking to pace the resources you have for the long haul. My hope is that you are emboldened to keep going and trek ahead with a few more tools in your belt than before. As far as some tools of wisdom from one who has been there, I’ve collected a few thoughts based on my own tip-toeing of minefield-laden church work.
CHALLENGE ALWAYS CREATES BLOWBACK
Obviously, I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant.
– Galatians 1:10 (New Living Translation)
Every good change and expectation you bring to your team as a leader are likely to create a negative reaction. We have two very poor choices when we bring a challenge to our people, whether to one individual or our team. Choosing either of these will contribute to significant pain. Trust me!
The Dictator: I am your boss!
The first of these choices is to choose the position of dictator. This is when you bring a rule, such as coming to rehearsal on time, as a classroom rule to children. While in my experience your team of artists, musicians, and technicians are often child-like like the rest of the human population, the imposition of a rule as their dictator robs some of the less mature in your crew of the ability to accept it with thought. Treat people like adults who should accept reasonable and sometimes difficult choices that you make as their leader. Give them the benefit of the doubt rather than assume conflict. Yes, conflict may happen. But, let it ensue amongst adults! You don’t have to be the boss of adults. A real leader earns respect, not by the power to shame, but by empowering others to be better versions of themselves. That takes courage. The dictator role is an awful choice since it hoards power out of fear.
The Martyr: I’m the victim here!
The other poor choice is to assume the role of victim and martyr. You know your team doesn’t take you seriously, so you passive-aggressively ask. In translation, this means you make hint after hint about the behavior you want. You go too far in the direction of understanding that some conflict is a given and try to avoid it by very slowly pulling the bandaid off the wound. Your simmering disappointment will be felt, as it will soon come to light what you really want from your team. They will respect you even less because you did not trust them to follow your lead. When you build up unmet expectations inside of yourself, you increase the chances of acting out of character. You might say, “He always shows up last…I wonder what his issue is with me or the team.” Words like these spread bad behavior. Soon, others will roll their eyes each time the offender comes in. Worse, as the victim, I fire a shotgun to the whole team when maybe I should approach individuals. Instead of reading a new policy paper about coming on time, what if I talked in private with the person or individuals who are the worst offenders? If 90% come on time, then only 10% need to be addressed. Otherwise, you waste your platform as a leader disrupting those that don’t need to hear the warnings. Being a victim means you treat the issue as one who is trying to avoid being a victim.
Leaders accept their role, which comes with challenging others. Being a dictator or victim are immature ways to deal with that reality. If we first accept that honor, then our vision is no longer obscured by a lens of insecurity. And, we don’t have to deny the pain or stress that such a role creates, either. Painful or not, we can celebrate with humility that we get to challenge people to become better at being who God made them be! This indeed is an honor and the more we embrace that, the better we can manage blowback or pushback that we are likely to receive.
SOLVE YOUR OWN PROBLEMS FIRST
…why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own?
–Matthew 7:3 (New Living Translation)
Being wired as a leader of any kind means we have a keen eye for things that need improvement. Our critical nature can get the best of us at times, but it is necessary to understand that this human quality is not a bad thing! God put into some of us a vision of what things could be, and that then contrasts with the present and less-stellar existence we live within. What happens is that, while we see what is not working well around us, we often forget introspection. What if we are personally the roadblock to our ministry growing or becoming what God intends for it to be? Yes, those of us who are “artistic” may be too introspective at times. But, do we apply that leadership muscle in the direction of self as much as we do to the world around us?
Don’t confuse insecurity with sensitivity.
We might be feelers. This is a good thing in a leader, in my opinion. Our ability to feel allows empathy to occur, but it also can be a liability. We can become immobilized by insecurities masquerading as our sensitivity. That critique of the service by the pastor that stung deeply may be seen incorrectly. Am I embracing the changes I can make to improve? Or, am I resisting because of insecurity rather than a true disagreement? A healthy pastor will accept your disagreement, but will be disappointed by constant overreaction to criticism. I know this firsthand, by the way. Those poor pastors who led me over the years!
There are times when our sensitivity is telling us that things are not right with the feedback we receive. The intuitive reaction can then be managed and we then know why we feel the way we do. There are times when I may not know the difference. Recognizing when I don’t know if I am the issue or not and being careful not to react before I understand the situation is a recipe for success! If you react when you truly have an issue, that is a good thing. But, if you react the same way with the same temperature each time, then it’s like the boy who cried wolf. When the wolf really comes, who will listen? So when you don’t know for sure if you are the issue, listen, feel, and think it through before acting. If you are sure, then as an adult and leader, you need to find a way to express the issue!
Honesty about yourself allows clarity when things get hairy.
Whatever your personal leadership weaknesses may be, your honesty about these will allow you to show grace to your team and even the leaders you serve. No one is perfect or has “arrived”—even though we strive to improve every day. I know that I personally have limitations with details. Once I get to a certain level, the bandwidth has been maxed and I end up forgetting things and issues fall through the cracks. This has allowed me in the past to have team members around me who could support me. I know that I had to learn systems to plan and catalog workflow over the years. My level administratively will never, however, be that of those that soar in detail work–no matter how hard I try! With one ministry job I had, I explained this clearly–among other things, as well. “If you hire me, this role looks like I might reach my max pretty quickly. Hope for some grace if that happens.”
Well, it happened in six months. And, here is what I heard back at me. “Rich, remember when you said we would get frustrated with your handling of details at a certain point. We are there.” Talk about clarity. There was no need for me to make an excuse. The administrative help I was putting together at a rather large ministry was not coming along soon or adequate enough for expectations. Unfortunately for me, the leaders I worked for were not willing to own that they got what they got with me–my strengths and weaknesses. Yet, clarity was in the air and next steps could be talked about rather than beating around the bush. I knew what I had to own. I had already owned it before I even started the job. This gave me the ability to talk about what they should have owned.
KILL GOSSIP AT EVERY TURN, STARTING WITH YOU
A gossip goes around telling secrets, but those who are trustworthy can keep a confidence.
The worst feeling as a leader are those moments, or even seasons, when you feel all alone. There seems to be a lot to process, even on the “smooth” weeks, right? A huge mistake I have to admit to is in befriending the wrong person. That guy or gal who is there for you to be an ear may be your undoing if you are not careful! What you think is simply “sharing” about frustrations with leadership, or even your own issues, turns into fodder for gossip with the wrong friend. Gossip is an addiction. We like to be empowered to be the one who is most informed. If we are not careful, we might even be soliciting gossip in our efforts to lead people. Information we hope to gather to help us in making a wise decision turns into gossip when it is used by us or others to split relationships or cause confusion. Gossip leaves discord in its wake. Harmony requires our rejection of it at all levels. That means we have to play by rules that take the oxygen away from such behavior.
Where do you dare share?
You need to process information about people as a leader at times. As a profession, there is little training for us about the ethics of privacy. When someone comes and shares something with us, is it confidential? When we see a doctor, we know that what we talk about legally remains between the direct staff with that doctor and us. For us, as far as ethics are concerned, the line is not so clear. I suggest that you create your own set of simple rules. Never share information about a worship team member without their permission. What if they do something illegal? Well, you can tell them that they can report it themselves to the authorities or that you are forced to do so. For most of our daily issues, we simply have to realize that most of what we say will not be in confidence.
Do you have someone on the outside who is trustworthy who can help you process your leadership issues? When you talk to your pastor, you can ask him about what will stay between the two of you before you share. Words cannot be retrieved once spoken. There is nothing easy about this, except to be very careful with whom you share even the smallest details about you or about the people you lead! When in doubt, it is better to remain quiet. Gossip’s disease is hard to heal once it takes hold. Kill it, and you will enable more trustworthy encounters. Even as worship leaders, our world can get messy with people–in fact, it should! People are our business.
Choose positive, healing words whenever possible.
One of the ways to dethrone a spirit of gossip is to speak healing words. When things are good, give people the news that is worth sharing! In a vacuum of the good, we revert to the default of negativity. Healing words raise people up. As a leader, you can infect the culture around you. One good friend of mine was a leader by example. He exuded this every time he played drums on our worship team. His positivity pervaded our worship services to the point that people noticed and were moved by his leadership. He saw his role as the team captain who supported you at all costs. His playing was good, but his attitude was stellar! He made you feel like a rockstar by the words he spoke and the body language he displayed. When someone at rehearsal says, “I’m glad to see you, Rich!” it means that when you play together on Sunday, you feel you have a friend there with you. Positive language changes your whole team.
Every little “thank you” matters. When is the last time you texted and said, “thanks?” I make it a habit. There is an older gentleman who walks across the church building after every service and shakes my hand while looking me in the eye. “Thank you Rich, for all you do each week here.” It never gets old. Our worship team culture at times can be rather sarcastic. Sarcasm is fun, by the way. But, as a leader, if I take it too far, then instead of people feeling valued, they feel numb. Gossip also can be fed with sarcasm. Positive words defeat gossip. Celebrate and see how people perform beyond their own expectations!
FIND SUPPORT AND SHELTER FOR THE LONG HAUL
There are “friends” who destroy each other, but a real friend sticks closer than a brother.
Who takes care of you? A leader must lead themself, first! When others have gone home is when your job of leadership begins. However, you need a strategy. Support and shelter are necessary. Support maintains the emotional and spiritual temperature in your heart and mind as you traverse in your role as a worship leader. A shelter is needed at those times when you have spent it all. Believe me; those times will come! The shelter is that safe place to recover and triage the various internal and external issues on your plate. What we learn from Christ’s Incarnation is that we now represent him, physically to the world. So, we need people to be our protection–especially so as leaders.
Find A Friend: Someone you can trust to be by your side.
When you are in visible ministry such as worship leading, there may be people around you with agendas. On one hand we don’t need people so loyal that they never challenge us. On the other hand, we’d rather not have unsafe critics beside us who are waiting to take our position or simply lift theirs. Finding a friend is tough. The higher you go in leadership of ministry, the less likely you are to have close friends around you. Most lead pastors I know tell me this is true for them. I have experienced this, too. People love fame and if you are known by many, you qualify as famous. Add to this the micro-celebrity status that social media gives us. One church I interviewed with actually was more impressed with how known I was than about what I actually did on my resume. They were blinded, for some reason, by the glare of the Twitter and blogging followers I had. What is sad about this is that people know what we like to eat from our Instagram and call that intimacy. These “followers” are great as far as connection to people and we can impact real-life ministry online, but we need friends we can trust.
How do we find a friend, then? Finding a friend doesn’t entirely mean being a friend. It requires intentionality with some serendipity. Being married means I have a best friend in the scope of my life. However, my care for my soul should not require her to be everything for me. I need to have some of me left for her and my family. Right? I confess that this is an area of significant lack for us who are church leaders. It is not safe out there. Church environments often are filled with people who want to be close to the worship leader or pastor for not-so-selfless purposes. When you lose a position or have a setback in life, it is there that you find who your true friends really are. And, we can only have a limited amount of them given the time we have available to us. To help out, I have several questions to ask yourself when looking for a friend.
- Does the person have healthy relationships with others? This means gossip, drama, and discord should not follow from a person who you trust as a friend.
- Am I drained by being around this person or am I charged? Beware of vampires! Our ministry heart sometimes gets us stuck being the listener when we need equal footing with a friendship.
- Is this person too impressed with me or what I do? You are a visible worship leader. Sometimes if someone is too supportive, they may not be healthy for us.
- Does this person ever say hard things that help me out? Authenticity can hurt at times. A critic revels in seeing us squirm. A friend gently rebukes us out of love.
Meet A Mentor: Someone with wisdom to help you stay on the path.
Mentors will change your life! The best decisions I have ever made have been to spend time with people ahead of me in age, experience, and scale of ministry. Honestly, as you get older, some of your mentors might actually be a bit younger than you are. The point is to open your life to wiser people than you. Do mentors have to be perfect? The biggest myth is that only the most successful and impressive people can be good guides. Wisdom sometimes comes from the errors we make in life, rather than things that simply go our way. We often celebrate the wow-factor of shiny leaders, not honestly realizing that the rest of us live in a world that has twists and turns. Sometimes these are downturns.
In seeking out a mentor, you should look for wisdom, challenge, and encouragement. A wise person will have a lot of experience. You most likely have school smarts on your own, but do you have the voice of a person who has been in your shoes and lived to talk about it? Challenge is what makes us grow. Find a person who enjoys expecting more out of you! You won’t regret it. A mentor is one who you enjoy being around because after you meet with them, you feel like you can and should do better. It is not a shaming voice, but one of encouragement about who you are and your potential. We all want to reach higher, but we don’t always connect the dots on our own. A mentor is not there to do that work. The work is yours, but who believes in you?
A mentor also serves as a person you can say something stupid to before you do so in public, or in front of your leadership! Processing the nightmares you face is necessary. Having one who walks you through it like an adult is worth gold. This is why some even pay for a personal ministry coach or counseling. There is absolutely no shame in this. We go to the doctor to get our body checked up. Who is going to give us a checkup as far as our ministry leadership? This is where your mentor comes in.
THINK THE BEST OF PEOPLE
“Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn others, or it will all come back against you. Forgive others, and you will be forgiven.
I had a co-worker who was out to get me, with this fact transparently explained to me by a supervisor, my choice was to believe the worst. After all, the natural “flight or fight” built up plenty of adrenaline in that season to go around. Here is a life-saving word I was once told: “You can respond to a person’s behavior, but don’t bother with judging their motives.” I could make moves to protect myself from bad behavior in this case without being a prosecutor and bringing her motives to court as well. God is responsible for judging, not us. This release of this burden is not being Pollyanna-ish. We still respond and protect ourselves, but our pay grade stops before we go after someone else’s character. This means I inevitably can hold someone accountable for actions. The offender’s motives are not our domain.
The other idea here is that sometimes it is a culture that is to blame. People, who otherwise are godly, act out of character in an unhealthy system. While we hold people individually responsible for their choices, we have to also recognize that some systems, churches, or families are broken. Within the walls of these sick places, people get infected. We can forgive them with more ease when we see the external forces that created the mess. Nightmares are hard to recover from at times. The hope is that we can be without bitterness! The fruits of the Spirit need to be seen, even in the ugliest of moments. This is the beauty of God’s grace. Nightmares are always broken by the arrival of a new morning.