The Worship Leader’s Most Important Staff Relationship

One of the most important Biblical principles to understand about ministry is “there is no authority except from God, and those that exist do so by God’s appointment” (Romans 13:1, AMPC).  A decision to enter into ministry is a decision to come under the authority of the people God has installed to lead the church you are serving.  If you have significant philosophical or theological differences that affect your ongoing ability to do your job well with a clear conscience, you may need to consider an exit strategy. Your ability to come under the authority of another is directly tied to your longevity at a church.  In other words, you need to be able to get under or get out.

Of all the people a worship leader works alongside, there’s one specific relationship that is more important than any other.  Your relationship with the senior pastor will ultimately determine the length of your tenure at a church and deeply contribute to how content and fulfilled you are in your job.

The senior pastor-worship leader relationship cannot be overemphasized.  

You and your pastor are the two who are leading weekly from the same platform.  More than others, you and your pastor are the people your congregation will see more often, hear more often and come to associate with the ministry of the church more often than any others.  Your ability to walk privately and publicly in lock-step has a direct correlation to the unity of your church and its ability to develop and maintain a healthy leadership culture.  

Jealousy, hurt, envy and competition are a few of the tactics the enemy will use to destroy this relationship.  Satan, a former worship leader himself, knows that if he can destroy the relationship between a pastor and worship leader, he can gain great access into dividing a church.  You can count on Satan to place a target on your relationship with your senior pastor so it’s critical you make an intentional plan for spiritual combat.  

Your relationship with your senior pastor must be cultivated, maintained and protected at all costs.  When this relationship is healthy, God uses it as a channel to pour out His grace on a congregation.  Scripture tells us that God “commands” a blessing when brothers (and sisters) live together in unity (Psalm 133:1).

Here’s a few ideas on how you can forward and facilitate a healthy relationship with your senior pastor:

  1. Pray for them.  Prayer can be an antidote to division and disagreement.  It is very hard to stay frustrated with someone you are regularly praying for.  God uses prayer to soften our hearts, hear from Him and build within us the power of grace and forgiveness that is needed for any enduring friendship.  Your pastor carries a different (and often more cumbersome) burden than you do.  Pray for protection from the enemy, wisdom and discernment.  Pray for them as they study and prepare their sermons. Lift their family and marriage up in prayer. Listen for the things that are close to their heart and unite your heart with theirs by praying for the same things in faith.  Ask regularly how you can be praying for them and commit to carrying their burdens as their number one prayer partner.

  2. Encourage them regularly. Pastors are often discouraged by the weight of ministry.  Encouragement unlocks the stamina we need to continue in ministry.  Chances are your pastor is regularly hearing what’s wrong with the church and is bombarded with difficult decisions, situations and circumstances you know nothing about – things they are likely protecting you and others from.  Instead of offering unsolicited criticism, be a life-giving voice in your pastor’s life.  Affirm what they do well, celebrate their wins and recognize and validate the things closest to their heart.  Be their number one cheerleader.

  3. Be devoted and reliable. Your pastor wants to know you have their back.  Don’t engage in any gossip or slander and when you hear it, step-up and shut it down.  As with all relationships, there will be times you disagree.  A good rule to follow is: support publicly, debate and disagree privately.  Public disagreement only invites others to create their own narratives, giving Satan a foothold to bring about disunity in the body.  When something needs to get done, be the person who knocks it out of the park.  Be a “speed dial” friend to your senior pastor; the person they can count on for anything and the first colleague they call in a crisis.  Your readiness and availability to them will go a long way in building trust in the relationship. 

  4. Stay in your lane.  Have a clear job description.  Be willing to go above and beyond it when asked but be the best at the things you were hired to do.  Occasionally your senior pastor may have input and/or concerns with how you execute your creative duties.  Receive their feedback with grace and teachability.  In the heat of disagreement, remember you have been called to serve a vision greater than your own and God has established your senior leader as an authority in your life.  When you submit to that authority, you are effectively submitting to God.  Obey your leaders quickly with a willingness to release your preferences for the sake of unity. When disagreement comes, instead of focussing on the disagreement, ask God what He desires to do in your heart through that circumstance. 

  5. Be open and positive. Topping the list of my favorite corny christian tee shirt slogans is: “blessed are the flexible for they shall not be bent out of shape”.  As you work with your senior pastor, demonstrate your flexibility by being open to suggestions, feedback and ideas that do not originate from you.  Don’t be territorial or rigid with your ministry methodology.  Remember, no one is indispensable in ministry.  The ministry you are driving is a “rental car” and you will one day pass the keys to your successor.  Be known for having a positive attitude.  When you need to identify a problem, be the first to offer a solution as well.

Let your senior pastor set the pace on the type of relationship he wants to have with you.  Be respectful and accepting of the type of relationship they can commit to.  Give up any unreasonable expectations for the relationship and be ready to reciprocate and build your part of the bridge to match theirs.  Relationships have seasons.  Be understanding that your relationship with your pastor may change as the church grows and that as more staff are added to your team, their time will further be divided to build relationships with others.

In my experience, I’ve noticed that many senior leaders have some common characteristics.  They are typically publicly gregarious, charismatic visionaries who’s minds are often operating at full speed, at all times, on multiple levels.  Their ability to “spin many plates” and think about the big picture is what suits them well for senior leadership in growing churches.  

Some high-capacity leaders are prone to distraction and so you need to be observant and develop wisdom on when the best time is to engage with them on specific issues.  You love your senior leaders well by sacrificing your preferences to communicate in the “how” and “when” that is best for them.  You also increase your chances of receiving support to the things that matter most to you when they are requested at the right time in the right manner.  Right timing is timeless and manner matters.

The lynchpin to maintaining a healthy relationship with your senior pastor is communication.  Spending time with each other both in a group and one-on-one on a regular basis is critical to executing your church’s vision and mission in tandem with each other publicly.  Depending on the size of your church, this may be a once a week or once a month meeting.  If this isn’t already happening, look for the right time to express your heart to intentionally build the relationship and pray for God to bring your hearts together so you can be aligned together in ministry.

I’m yet to meet a senior pastor who does not have a full and busy life.  Coming prepared with some relationship-building questions when you spend time together will make the most of your time and help lay a foundation, giving opportunity for God to grow the relationship over time.

Here’s some questions to consider asking:

  1. What are some ministry challenges you are facing and how can I support and pray for you?
  2. What are some things I can do to help better carry and execute the mission and vision of our church?
  3. If you could change one thing about the worship ministry at our church what would it be?
  4. In this season of ministry, what things are most important to you and closest to your heart?
  5. What are some of the things in our church we ought to be celebrating?
  6. How have you seen God working your life recently?
  7. What are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned in ministry?
  8. What do you think are the most helpful things I should know about who you are and how you tick?
  9. How do you define ministry “success”, what really matters to you most at the end of the day?
  10. What songs (past and present) have been significant to you in your growth as a Christian?*

*Pro Tip: Asking this question is a worship window into the heart of your pastor.  Occasionally using a song that has meant something meaningful to them is an opportunity to demonstrate alignment with their heart and vision and posture yourself as a fellow comrade and brother/sister in arms.

One of the most important things to know about worship leading is that it is a position of second chair leadership.  You’re there to serve and execute a vision not of your own.  Count the cost before answering the call.  For some, the “cost” means you won’t be the person in charge with final authority.  

The most fractured senior pastor-worship leader relationships I’ve observed largely result because each view one another as competing leaders of two different ministries instead of one in the same with a God-ordained authority structure.  God desires senior pastors and worship leaders to actively love and trust each other privately and publicly as unified allies.  You are on the same team.

You can draw a straight line from the unity of your church to the unity of leadership.  Prioritizing, maintaining and valuing your relationship with your senior pastor is one of the greatest efforts you can make in doing your part to “keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).


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