More and more I hear about churches who are letting their Worship Pastor or Minister of Music, whatever you may call it, go after long tenures — I’m talking about guys that have been at their churches for ten, twenty, or twenty-five years when suddenly a meeting is called and they are summarily dismissed with little or no explanation. There was no moral failure, no dereliction of duties to point to. Perhaps the most they are told is simply that the “pastor and leadership want to go in a new direction.”
Brothers, this ought not be.
At first glance a person could become outraged and cynical at such an occurrence. How could a church whose very existence is to foster love and mercy, be so cold and calculating toward someone that has served them for so many years? The faithful servant-victim then shares his dilemma with all of his friends who summarily write posts — sort of like the one I’m writing now — and decry this savage practice of releasing veteran worship leaders from their ministry positions.
But now, I want to take my comments on this phenomenon in a totally different direction. Stay with me.
Ministry is all about relationships. And if you are leading a ministry for twenty years or twenty minutes, the impact of what you do will be totally dependent on the ways you nurture healthy relationships with the people you lead. And, the longer you serve in the same place, the more authentic your relationships have to be. You can survive a short ministry with surface relationships — in that case, by the time they start to really know you, you can just leave on your own terms and they will never know the difference.
But if you are in the same church for a long time, say ten years plus, you had better be building solid relationships based on a servant heart, authentic intentions, spiritually minded goals, and honest communication. The longer you are at a single place, the more likely it will be that who you really are — your fears, points of weakness, “hot buttons”, ambitions, and more will be painfully obvious to the people you lead.
Here’s something I have seen multiple times over the last thirty years; a leader who is a fantastic musician begins a new ministry — and at first, the people are so enamored with the gifts and abilities of their new leader, he can do almost anything and win approval. At the same time, the leader is so excited about the new place and new people to impress; he leads magnanimously and in an accommodating style.
And all God’s people said — “Amen!” Heaven couldn’t be any sweeter.
But as time goes by, the warts begin to show — his and theirs. And before long he begins to revert to his old tricks of motivating people to serve what at times feels to them like a personal agenda of his. He is so good at what he does that he is always attracting new people. But he is so exacting in his expectations and demeanor, he is always losing people too. It goes on year after year.
Along the way, several “skirmishes” happen. There was the time he fought the building committee tooth and nail for the new sound system and won the day — but lost some friends because of how he acted. And there was the time when he came to verbal blows with the new student pastor over the youth camp dates that conflicted with choir tour. He won that one too — but after that, the parents of the students never saw him the same way. One night at choir practice, he lost his temper because his assistant didn’t prepare the right songs for the choir folders — and he berated her to the point of tears in front of the whole choir. No one said anything — but that diminished the choir’s respect for him — big time. And just like that, year after year, one committee meeting at a time, he was losing his influence — and he didn’t even know it.
Now, after twenty years a new pastor begins to question whether or not the music leader is the right leader for their future. The Pastor begins to talk to trusted lay people and gets mixed responses. At this point, the veteran worship leader is in cruise mode. Week after week, and Christmas after Christmas, he delivers what he thinks the church really wants. All the while his circle of trusted friends is getting smaller and smaller.
And then, as sudden as a lightning bolt, a question about one of his decisions arises and — let’s just say, he doesn’t react to it very well. He is a little miffed that people half his age are questioning his leadership. The subject is minor — but the implications are huge.
The pastor meets with the personnel committee. And in the moment when all the music guy would need is one friend in the room, he has none. And the decision to let him go happens in the blink of eye. No one saw it coming. But no one is sad that it did.
The cause was not the worst thing he ever did — it was just the last thing. After twenty years of manipulative relationships, it doesn’t take much.
So, if you want to avoid this story being told about you, try this; build your ministry on a servant leadership model. Put people first, not music. Be authentic in the ways you communicate to the people you lead publically, privately, and electronically. Don’t always fight for your way and try not to win every argument. Serve other ministries. Lay your coat over rain puddles for the people that work along side of you as often as you can. Put on an apron and serve the mashed potatoes in the family night supper line every chance you get.
Remember that our friend in this example thought he was delivering what the church wanted — a great music program. He never realized that what the church really wanted was a great friend to lead their music.
And brothers, this ought not be.
Director, LifeWay Worship