As worship leaders, the music and spiritual side of things are often talked about. But, there are some tasks blindsiding worship leaders. Whether it’s building set pieces, mapping lighting design, creating a logo, updating social media, or meeting those other duties as assigned tasks, volunteer and part-time worship leaders often face confusing job descriptions. How do we navigate these? How do we measure expectations with reality?
Worship Leader Jobs: 6 Unexpected Tasks Worship Leaders End Up With
I grew up in the church, so the memories of music moving and inspiring me are still palpable. The pastor and his wife would sing, “We are standing on holy ground…” and I would actually feel the angel wings all around as the song carried on. I enjoyed it so much, I volunteered to be in the choir and the Christmas pageant as a teen. There was a team supporting the Christmas show that was called the makeup ministry team. They took what they did quite seriously. The tradition of huge programs for the holidays was at its peak during the years I grew up in this church. To be part of one of these was incredibly honoring.
I was a tanned kid, enjoying just enough Hispanic pigmentation to avoid severe sunburns through the years. Cast as a shepherd boy in the Christmas pageant, the director needed us to look as authentically middle-eastern as possible. Some makeup for the ginger kid made sense, for sure. But, for me it seemed rather redundant. I went along like a good soldier, only to feel the violation of the second step in the makeup process when the makeup artists began liberally applying a orangish hued liquid to my legs! The hell week of tech and dress rehearsals, along with dozens of performances, meant that it likely took at least a couple gallons of makeup to paint the shepherds—legs included—orange.
All that to say, as a worship leader there are things we end up doing in our job that feel a lot like having to wear orange makeup on our legs for a Christmas pageant. Unforeseen tasks and duties that everyone else somehow sees as normal find there way to our desk. The cold, orangish makeup never gets comfortable. Neither do these unexpected items that were not written on our job description. How do we learn to thrive when what we thought was our job as worship leader carries more amendments than a congressional bill?
When I started out as a worship leader, music was my training. Leading rehearsals, writing music scores, and managing the process of excellent music was all muscle memory to some degree. The old-school creation of loops through MIDI was pretty much like what a worship leader might do today, applying a multitrack loop behind the worship band. Years of voice lessons, music theory coaching, and classroom instruction paid off. To be a professional musician required all of these, and I was fortunate to have these skills. But, they were clearly not enough to succeed as a worship leader.
One of the most shocking expectations some of us in worship and music ministry face is a statement like this: “Rich, music is just the fun stuff, your real job will be the ministry and administration.” This can be interpreted a couple of ways. For one, it is saying the music itself is not really what I was paid to do for my job as a worship leader. It’s not valued as real work, and therefore it’s below all the other items that are actually worthy of compensation. The pain of this is real. After all, music is a vocation that requires a lot of sacrifice and commitment. To be a professional means you have to deliver. And, if you are delivering music 52 weekends a year to a church, then I would think that it is indeed real work. Music is ministry in the church, requiring the leading of people to share in a spiritually important activity. If what we do is essentially help lead the congregation in prayer through music, the importance of it should not be dampened.
The second fallacy of the statement is that since it’s fun to be in music ministry, then it’s OK to penalize your enthusiasm. I don’t agree that joy is allowable only when the tasks isn’t fun. I surely hope the preaching, however gut-wrenching—is fun for a pastor. There is joy in visiting the sick in the hospital and praying for the distressed. All of these have elements of joy, both in the moment and over time. Now, administration may not entirely be a joy to most of us, but the results of organizing systems shows we care for people. That does bring joy. Yes, we get to do music, and it’s an honor. Yes, there are many in this field who abuse the platform that music provides, and they need to grow in practicing servanthood. However, this is not a reason to penalize a ministry worker. Banish the thought that we should hate our work regardless of what it may be. There should be no shame in being an artist who serves the Lord.
With all of that being said, the reality is what we have to live with. The world we live in means that any job will have additional baggage to carry. This is something to get over with as soon as possible. No, it will not be fair. Life is not fair. By far, ministry is less fair than life will ever be. We seen in Acts the punishment taken for delivering the Gospel. From shipwrecks to mobs running them out of town we see an example of how life in ministry exacts a cost. In the very important role we have in helping lead the Sunday liturgy, we should be realistic as to how hard it may get at times. Tasks of great importance often come with great effort and even opposition. We must not be clouded by a sense of entitlement when events are unkind to our work.
I did a poll recently on a worship forum. The worship leaders gave me some pretty interesting duties they were assigned. For one, he cleaned the pastor’s pool. Another person told me that directing a choir was part of the job, but it was never talked about before he came to the church. Others were tasked with mowing, mulching, and even construction management. Imagine transcribing sermons from other pastors so your pastor can preach them verbatim. Whether it was folding laundry or managing events, the poll brought to light a diverse range of duties.
As you know, in a modern worship church setting, there are a few items on the job description that require mental preparation. Often there are tasks which are never agreed on when you take a position, and these can become landmines. They are the ones we must be ready to tackle. And, to the unique church they reside within, these duties are so normal that they never require being spoken about or explained in writing.
What follows are six typical tasks that are missing from job descriptions or grossly under-explained. My hope is that presenting them will help us prepare for success, rather than be blindsided by one of these tasks.
Every sermon series for some reason requires not only thematic music in many houses worship but a visual reinforcement on the stage in some physical manner. Whether it is theatrical backdrops or printed banners, this activity is far away from leading worship services and its typical preparation.
Some of us didn’t realize that we would be set designers, on ladders, and painting backdrops on Saturday afternoons. The fact that this has become so important is reinforced by websites where your latest church stage photos can be shared. Why reinvent the wheel when you can steal a great idea? This is especially true of backdrops and set pieces that may never be used again. On Pinterest, simply search church set design and you will find plenty of examples.
The design is one thing. What do you do about the thematic branding for each sermon series? For many churches, the stage area may change seasonally, so the workload is done in the seasons of the church calendar. However, if your pastor does a short four to six week sermon series, often the expectation is to reinforce it and match the branding with how the stage is set. Instead of the typical four or five weekends a year, you might now be doing a late Saturday on a monthly basis. Also, the budget you thought you could spend to repair your audio mixing console may become depleted with theatrical supplies.
The best way to deal with this role is to find a theatrically trained volunteer leader to consult or even lead the process. While you may be good at leading worship, it is less likely you will be as good with set design. It may be that you have a knack for it, but in the long run, if you find yourself constantly on a ladder, you may become overwhelmed in a short period of time.
A worship leader might end up updating social media, creating the church logo, or being the project manager for large events. It takes many worship leaders out of the prophetic voice of worship leading, and hooked into the gears of marketing, and these two don’t always meet.
I once found myself in a six-week T-shirt project with a senior pastor. He knew graphics as well or better than I did. The problem was that I had recruited a team to execute on things like T-shirts. The collective experience of this well-trained group of marketing professionals surely outweighed the brain power and creativity of my pastor and I combined. However important a T-shirt may be, if the main task of recruiting and empowering creative people is not in your purview, then even doing a fantastic job on that shirt is a failure.
Enlisting experts to take the helm of this might mean a long process of helping your pastor give away the messaging of the church brand to others. The very personal expression of vision that good leaders often carry can sometimes work against them. A leader may be the communicator of the vision, but everyone must own the vision. Spending time convincing your leadership to spread this task around will be healthy for the church, if you succeed. If you fail, you will be up late doing logos and T-shirts.
The time spent on marketing is time away from spending with your worship team. Can a leader have more than one core focus? For a season, anything is possible. A wiser approach is to look at the sustainability factor for your job. Some of us will be wired to help brand the church and execute communications. Others of us will be drained and frustrated at the very diverse activities of worship and marketing. Each are important, but their combination is not always helpful.
Since you already manage 52-weekend events plus holidays, why not include that expertise when a ladies luncheon is scheduled? Anything requiring a microphone and at least one table can become the task of the worship leader.
The preparation for 52 Sundays does indeed mean a worship leader thinks in projects like few other leaders in the church. To deliver a sermon, a pastor needs time in his or her study. To lead worship means recruiting, arranging, and managing a team. When that team is successful, the team gets the credit. When they fail, your on the line! It is not a one person show to lead worship. The behind the scenes people, such as tech, make events work. Since you already do this weekly, it seems logical to some people that you manage all events.
What is not always understood well is that the project of Sunday morning is entirely supported in a different way than other church events. There are clear lines of authority and expectations as to what happens to support a Sunday worship experience. If every time a microphone is requested, your number is on speed dial then there’s a problem. Why? There is only one of you and many events, all of which have competing schedules and overlapping expectations. It is also dangerous to have a single point of failure in a ministry.
One person should not be the sole supporter of anything critical in a church. To remove energy from Sunday and spread it around actually expands the possibility for failure to your Sunday mornings. To recruit or pay people to help support events means that you as a worship leader can be the back-up when things go wrong, or when a person doesn’t show up. Once again, the activity of recruiting people and empowering them to solve issues makes sense. From a single point of failure, a redundancy of faithful servants allows ministry events to securely express their mission.
It is one thing to lead a team, it is another to know how to program digital lighting consoles and train others do it well. Music is a technical skill that does not always cross over to theatrical tech. Do you have to know how to put on a production in order to lead the church in prayer? There is a tension here because one person can only do well in so many roles.
Believe it or not, just because a person is a young worship leader, does not always mean they are the best ones to solve technical issues in a church. Yes, there are audio issues that today’s musician should be trained to address. The signal-to-noise ratio settings for your instrument, voice, or PA all matter and should be taught. However, when we get into multiple video projectors, digital lighting consoles, and broadcast gear, a worship leader may sink under the weight of tech duties.
If a worship leader is actually good at this, a greater problem may arise. He or she may then become the only person who can setup and operate the gear for your church. Why is it that we as church leaders are willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on gear but pennies on training? Training will last longer than your gear, and, in the long run, people are always a better solution to technology. Having a volunteer force that is successful means hours of training. You do not want an audio operator at the console to be working on his first day for your Easter services. With skill-based ministries such as tech, the key is the instruction in skill.
Sometimes volunteers will not be able to accomplish the need for tech to be executed at the level you desire. This is where it is appropriate to hire or contract out to a skillful person. If your volunteers are all experienced in the sound system, for example, then your investment is wisely spent. The ideal is to not hire a person to show up and run sound, for instance. Can this person train your volunteers, upgrade your gear as needed, and have warmth for your spiritual community at the same time?
Going to Meetings
Administration may or may not be the sweet spot for a worship leader who is wired for creativity. We all have to keep deadlines and show up on time, regardless of our work role. However, there is a possible insanity in requiring a person who creates content like worship to also be institutionally savvy.
Leading a church is more like legislation than an authoritative rule. Things will take more time to decide than in a company that is based on a single director. In a church, leaders must learn to gain support and shape opinions from time to time. This type of leadership requires enormous amounts of time and skill. The goal is not to follow people but to move people from one place to the next. Unless you can physically carry people one by one, moving them will mean a process.
The process is what can drown a worship leader. To attend meetings, then attend meetings other meetings, saps the life completely away. While leading worship is a visible part of the church, it doesn’t always mean the leader is good at leading administratively. The unique administrative balance of a worship pastor is this dance between warm collaborative creativity and cold calculated project management.
This duty is likely to be the most tragically painful one for worship leaders. A person who is best at stirring the pot will not succeed at keeping the boat from rocking. In my opinion, seeing a worship leader as an institutional leader limits the kind of influence they should exhibit. It requires some breathing room in the role of worship leader to intuitively take the church on a journey rather than the busy work of organizing meetings. We all have to administrate, but to what degree is questionable. What would we rather have as a characteristic of our worship leader: super-organized or inspiring?
Other Duties As Assigned
Some worship leaders will be able to tackle one or more of the above items. But wait, there’s more. With any job, this should be expected and openly discussed. However, worship leaders might be served better if all of these are upfront. Hospital visitation is a great thing for any ministerial staff to participate in, as an example. When these additional duties collide with the visible demands of a preparation of the church service, will grace be applied?
When the list of duties grows for a worship leader, how will the weekend work be judged? I often marvel how a pastor can feel just fine about having his worship leader visit the sick in the hospital on a Saturday night, yet be unforgiving for the groggy singing voice on Sunday morning. Our human limitations are a reality. How much is too much? Cleaning the pastor’s pool or unloading bails of hay might be great acts of servanthood, but where do we draw the line?
Any job will have unwritten expectations. Worship leader, your role is going to have items that both surprise you as well as humble you. Either reaction is warranted and wanted. Remember the story about the orange makeup? I would never let my legs be painted again. There are times to question the sanity of a job when the main mission is at stake. This is done humbly, carefully… and with wisdom.