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Wisdom needed during time of church uncertainty/transition

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  • Wisdom needed during time of church uncertainty/transition

    Hey guys,

    This situation has been brewing for about 15 months. I'll try to be brief.

    Our worship pastor has been burning out for about 15 months, starting around the time that our church put out an EP. A number of us had serious misgivings arising out of the EP project and had a number of confrontations with the worship pastor about it. He was already under the pump with running the band, church events, and picking up slack when other pastors were on leave. Plus he was part-time and had no support structured into the worship team. So he burned out last year.

    He went on leave and came back a while later last year but never seemed to have fully recovered. I had previously had a good, supportive relationship with this pastor but we fell out over the EP and our relationship has not recovered, especially with him burning out and taking extended leave (which I totally support). He has recently gone on leave again and this time it seems more serious than before. I do not know where he is at but am pretty much waiting for his resignation.

    I say that to say this: without his leadership over the past year, the worship ministry has suffered. A number of people, core to the ministry, have left and more are thinking of leaving. Several musos tell me on a regular basis how hurt they are by the ministry and how disillusioned they have become. Many people have unresolved interpersonal conflicts within the team and there are a myriad of technical issues as well.

    All of this has been unaddressed while the worship pastor has been physically present but mentally absent and emotionally unavailable. I feel like the team is directionless, drifting and disheartened. I feel it is only a matter of time before it collapses. Perhaps I'm catastrophising but the ministry has been neglected for so long now that it's easy to start thinking that way.

    Here's my question. Is it time to speak up? Not to the worship pastor, he has stopped attending church and is incommunicado (which I think is probably necessary and will be good for him). But do I now approach the senior pastor and make him aware of the long-standing issues? Do I raise it in the upcoming church AGM?

    The last thing I want to do is be divisive or ambush anybody. And God seems to be doing something beautiful with our worship at the moment: worship has taken on a passion I have never witnessed in this church before. So maybe I should say nothing and just immerse myself in worship, trusting God with it all. Or maybe I should pursue the matter for the sake of the team.

    Wisdom needed!

  • #2
    Let me ask you this-

    If you speak up, will you be saying something that hasn't been said? Meaning, what will it do to start fixing some of these issues?

    Based on what you've shared so far, this is a systematic failure of leadership on a church-wide level. If your depiction is accurate, it never should have gotten this bad in the first place. It appears that this worship leader was set up to fail. He was under immense pressure to not only do his part-time 'day job; but tackle all this other stuff that's more than one person can handle. Church leadership overwhelmed this person and worked him like a mule. No wonder he burned out. He was set up to fail. Sadly, this is a narrative that has played out in so many churches with so many part time and full time worship leaders. That's why the average tenure for a worship pastor (or pastor in general) is 5 years and only 1% of those who enter the ministry retire as a minister.

    The common theme here is conflict and pressure. That happens everywhere, but it appears there is a major communication issue all around. This is not going to be fixed easily and not without painful discussions. In all realty, the church leadership is part of the problem. They are responsible for the structure he was working under that no reasonable person could withstand. If they aren't willing to acknowledge that this is just as much on them as it is anyone else, nothing will change.

    Circling back around, what makes you think the pastor isn't aware of the long-standing issues? Is 'bringing it up' mean to gripe about the lack of leadership from the worship leader? What solution can you offer? how can you help make it better? Not trying to be flippant or sarcastic, but as a manager of people in my day job, I have people coming to me with issues on occasion. What helps me as a manager help the situation they bring to me is when that person takes the lead on helping be part of the solution. Meaning, do they offer to lead the effort to make it better? Are they willing to get some 'skin in the game' to see their idea turn into reality? Or are they just 'armchair managing' and pointing out everything that's broken without bringing forth any ideas or willingness to help make it better (the world has a word for it, starts with B, rhymes with pitching)?

    As far as the worship being more powerful, the pragmatist in me says it's probably more emotional than spiritual- everyone's pent up frustrations and feelings are manifesting through the music and it feigns that 'God is doing something' when it's merely our emotions that are venting. Look at the fruit before calling it God's work.

    If I were you, I'd start with a few main Biblical concepts
    • Get people together and pray for the worship leader and for the team. Make repentance, forgiveness and restoration the main focus. Sounds to me like there are some opportunities for everyone to get on their knees before God and begin squelching egos and mending hearts.
    • Rally the team together to find ways they can help your worship pastor carry the load.
    • Start rebuilding this relationship with your worship pastor. He is likely feeling disenfranchised, hurt, abandoned, and thrown under the bus. It will take time, but it will be worth it.
    • Find out what went wrong during this EP process and make changes so it doesn't happen again. Hopefully it wasn't rock star/diva syndrome.
    Hope this can be resolved, but it will take time. This has been going on for way too long and the damage is pretty intense. It may be too late for some relationships to be salvaged. But you have to start somewhere, and the best thing you can do is focus on making sure you fix your own issues and reach out to rebuild your relationship with the worship pastor.

    If we want to go places we haven't been, we will have to do things we haven't done.


    • #3
      Hi Mike,

      As always, I appreciate your thoughtful, candid response. I think you are right in pinpointing themes of overwork, miscommunication and being set up to fail. It seems to me this situation could have been avoided with better systemic support, planning and realistic expectations. Sadly, this is a pattern I have witnessed in several churches in my lifetime.

      As tempting as it is to complain to the senior pastor for complaining's sake, I was rather hoping to gain some insight from the senior pastor as to where the worship ministry is headed. That is, what is going to be our direction and focus for this year, given we have been directionless for an extended period of time now, and given the absence of a worship director? He probably won't have an answer but I guess I was hoping to point out that the worship ministry requires some direction at this point in time. I guess I was hoping to let him know that they can't keep on letting the worship ministry drift, endlessly hoping that the worship director will recover and be back on deck "soon". That approach hasn't worked for some time now.

      I don't know if reconciliation is possible as the worship director is incommunicado. I can't contact him at all. I don't even know if he's coming back. That's what I mean about being in limbo. And I'm worried the senior leadership will just leave us in limbo indefinitely.

      Worship at present seems to be a response to some recent preaching by our staff that has contained an unusual element of vulnerability. The congregation seems to be embracing this. Usually our church is more intellectual than emotional, so they are unlikely to be responding purely out of emotion. That's what makes the current worship so remarkable: the people seem to be responding to the more heartfelt preaching that has been going on. Just a couple of weeks ago, the band started praying with a sense of urgency for God's fire. I have never heard the band pray like this before. It seems we are heading somewhere new.

      A bunch of us have been praying long-term about all these issues. I was just wondering whether it was time to do something else. I don't feel like this is my fight or anything - I'm not about to go on crusade - I just wondered whether I ought to start interceding for the band with the senior pastor.

      Thanks Mike.


      • #4
        It all definitely sounds unhealthy and your pastor is probably aware of that, but may not know the extent to which it is affecting the members of the worship ministry.

        Sometimes leaders are afraid to make the necessary changes to move things forward because when people are involved it likely means someone being disappointed or possibly having their feelings hurt, etc. So if it seems like no one else is noticing any negative impact they will just let things continue as they are even though it may be detrimental to the church as a whole. For most, change is scary! I don't know if this is what's happening at your church--and you may only have part of the story yourself in regards to the worship pastor--but if it is, it could be beneficial to connect with your pastor. Not to tell him he's not doing it right, but to let him know how members of the team are feeling.

        I don't know what AGM is, but if it's a church meeting of some sort I definitely wouldn't bring it up there. If your church is average to small in size you may be able to meet with him personally to discuss how the team is being impacted.

        I would also say this, you don't have to be the leader to take the lead. I'm not talking about some sort of coup that usurps the authority that has been put in place, but in the case of a leadership vacuum (what you have currently) people will follow whoever has the courage to step up and lead the way. Take the lead in encouraging the team. Take the lead in praying for your worship pastor, your pastor and the Sunday services. Take the lead in bringing resources to the team or even a devotional that has been impacting you personally. You don't have to come up with a vision and mission statement and declare yourself a leader--just push forward yourself and they team will follow that lead until there is someone in place who has been officially commissioned as the leader. Not as some way to have more power or influence for yourself, but because the worship ministry, as you said, is suffering. You don't need a title to be a leader, just blaze a trail.


        • #5
          Thanks Danielle, I appreciate your encouragement and wisdom. I think the best way for me to lead at present is to continue to do what I have always done - serve consistently, worship passionately, look out for others on the team and check in with them regularly.

          Quick update: we were told at church last night and via email a couple of days ago that the worship pastor has resigned. Apparently he has been suffering significant depression and anxiety for an extended period of time and is currently in hospital. While this has been upsetting for a lot of people to hear, I personally don't feel surprised by the news as I think it has been a long time coming. It will probably bring some closure for a few of us in the band. That said, we are spending a lot of time as a band praying for the worship pastor and his family. We are also praying for the band and our future direction as a ministry. I think part of my role at present is to support the interim worship leaders and encourage the rest of the band to pull together. People may come and go but God is the same and worship is our constant.

          I may yet speak with the pastor as I have a hint of guilt that perhaps I contributed to the worship pastor's deteriorating mental health, by pushing certain confrontations that I thought were necessary. I am also arranging a "debrief" with one of our band pastoral care guys who has been aware of my concerns and issues over the past 18 months and has been a great support.

          Thanks to anyone who has prayed.


          • #6
            Man- really sorry to hear the worship leader is going through this.

            I heard a great sermon this weekend that applies to this situation. We are studying Nehemiah chapters 1-2. When Nehemiah gets to Jerusalem to rebuild it, the first thing he has to do is assess the damage. The message of the sermon was assessing the damage in the areas of our life that lay in ruins- this includes being brutally honest but fair with ourselves about how things got as bad as they are. It often includes going back years to find the 'starting point' of where things fell apart.

            In this situation, the ministry as a whole needs to assess the damage- peel back all the layers, admit mistakes were made, identify what mistakes were made, and being honest about who and what contributed to the problem. It's the only way you can know what to address. Just remember that the repenting and rebuilding is it's own process but it's contingent on a thorough and honest assessment of the damage.

            I think that talking to the pastoral care person is a great idea. It does sound like it would be good to talk to the pastor as well and share how you are feeling and taking ownership of what you could have handled differently.

            Danielle is right that you can take the lead on doing things like bringing the team into focus, getting the train back on the tracks so to speak. Peer leadership is very important on any team. Peers are the most effective at influencing the team, either good or bad. It's one thing if the 'leader' tries to set the tone/attitude of the team, but peers carry a great deal influence- good or bad. Especially in situations like this. Bad attitudes spread like the plague, especially in times of instability and uncertainty. Stepping up with an attitude of confidence and cooperation and setting the tone of 'God's in control, I'm not sure what's going to happen, but I'm going to show up with a good attitude, worship God, and I encourage you to do the same' carries influence.

            I would hope that the pastor or church leadership will step in and let you guys know what's going on. One thing I learned as a leader is that in the absence of communication, people invent their own (rumors, misinformation, tale-bearing, etc.) Someone needs to get out in front of this from church leadership and communicate something to the team.

            Praying for you and your team and the continued heartfelt worship


            If we want to go places we haven't been, we will have to do things we haven't done.


            • #7
              Cheers Mike. Have begun talking to our worship leaders about Nehemiah and the need for rebuilding.

              Keeping focused on worshiping Jesus - which is what the worship ministry is about after all.