The Coming Worship Leader Crisis
There is a massive problem brewing in mainstream evangelical churches’ music department all over the US.
This came into clear focus for me a few weeks ago. I was having breakfast with some worship leader friends of mine. As we sat in Cracker Barrel waiting for our breakfasts to cook, we talked about what life had dealt my friend, a worship leader at a megachurch until a few weeks’ earlier.
Half way through scrambled eggs and Texas toast, my friend turned to me. “Here’s something you need to write about in your blog.”
He’d lost everything. His life and career had taken a nose dive in the last few months, ending in a messy divorce, a long illness, and him being forced to sell his house and leave everything he loved behind.
As we talked, I realized that my friend was set up to fail from the very beginning. Here’s why:
1. He was overworked.
My friend was the worship leader at a church of around 4,500 people, and his duties included playing 4-5 services a weekend, planning the music, rehearsing the musicians, and a million and one little things that had to be done each week.
But this wasn’t what made his workload spiral out of control. It was the dozen odd meetings he had to attend each week. My friend was spending over 20 hours a week just in conference meetings. Combined with his other duties, he had just one day off a week, putting in a whopping 70+ hours on the other 6 days. My friend had a wife and kids, and he almost never saw them.
As Christians, we are insane to think our worship pastors can put in this much time at church and maintain a healthy home life.
2. There was no neutral spiritual accountability.
When my friend was struggling, there was literally no one to turn to for guidance and support. If he was honest about his spiritual struggles with the senior pastor, he felt that he risked getting fired.
A few year’s back a friend of mine that led worship at a church explained to the congregation that he’d been struggling with pornography. The next week he was promptly fired. This isn’t an isolated case. I’ve seen dozens of similar incidents take place in other churches around the midwest.
As the Church, we have to create a system that gives our leaders a safe place to work through their spiritual problems. To be weak, vulnerable, and fallen (as all of us are) without judgement or the risk of getting fired for being real about struggling with sin.
3. There was an emphasis on excellence at any cost.
I’m the first to believe worship music should be amazing. But my friend was constantly running into the problem of excellence at any cost. If his family didn’t see him, if his relationship with Christ was neglected, if he constantly got less than 4 hours of sleep a night, that’s what was needed if it produced great services.
4. He felt like he couldn’t say no.
If there was an event at the church, he was expected to be there. If there was a meeting, he’d better show up. If there was a job to do in the music department, it was on him. And he felt if he said no, he’d be fired.
I wish this was a rare problem in the church. But in my experience, I’ve seen this manipulative management technique used many times at churches big and small. Pastors or boards of directors put pressure on church staff to be at every single function at the church, every meeting, no matter how it cuts into their life. There’s the implied threat that if they say no, they aren’t fulfilling their duties.
As a result, my friend spent massive amounts of time at functions that he neither wanted to be at, or could even contribute anything to of significance. This further cut into my friend’s precious family time.
I am ashamed that churches put insane workloads on their pastoral staff, expecting them to be superhuman and somehow manage under the extreme stress involved with looking after a congregation’s needs. Then this same group flips when pastors and worship leaders crack under the unsustainable workload, proverbially shooting the wounded.
Christians, we have got to make a change. We have to demand excellence, but at the same time focus on and insist that family and spiritual life to be the #1 priority. If that means production suffers, so be it.
Let's switch directions as the Church, the redeemed by the blood of Christ bride, before it's too late.
I didn’t want to leave this blog without mentioning some solutions we talked about. Here’s how we both believe churches could change to fix the above problems:
1. Make the church administration more efficient.
Send everyone to business coaching classes, and constantly focus on reducing and minimizing time spent in meetings and conferences. I’d recommend every pastor, church board and staff member read the “4-Hour Work Week” by Tim Ferriss, and immediately put his time saving tips and concepts into practice. Meetings are a horrible waste of time for most people most of the time, and with a bit of smart tweaking, this can drastically drop the workload of everyone in the church almost overnight.
2. Develop a third-party, completely disconnected support network for pastors.
If you’re a church board, make it mandatory that your pastoral staff has to have a free night each week to attend a small group, church service, or bible study that is NOT connected with the church. Also, encourage all pastoral members to attend a qualified counselor that isn’t connected with the church, too.
3. Set maximum work hours.
The secular world does this: why don’t we do it, too? If a worship pastor starts consistently working more hours than his maximum, call a meeting and figure out a way to reduce his workload. If your worship pastor is consistently over his hours for long periods of time, hire a helper.
4. Just say no.
This one is on the worship leader: you have to say no, and if you get fired for saying no, you’ve got to trust God to provide. Your family is your first priority.