Playing Hurt: Leading Worship Through Pain


Suck it up. Shake it off. Take one for the team. These are adages we often hear from sports coaches and fans. Publicly acknowledging an injury can sideline a player and even threaten his/her future with the team. So players continue to play through their pain with the reality that it’s often easier for a team to replace than rehabilitate them. This same pattern of expendability is also evident in church culture. To save face, favor and financial security, worship pastors often sense a profound pressure to perform even when they might not feel like it. To secure their position, they often play hurt.

Most church members don’t realize the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual demands required to serve as a worship pastor. They may be aware of the investment their worship pastor has made in their own lives. What they don’t often calculate, however, is the cumulative time and energy those investments require when multiplied by the entire population of their congregation.

Worship pastors often serve as personal counselors, mentors, leaders, friends and spiritual advisors. They are usually the first ones called to musically and technologically marry children or bury parents. When the families of worship ministry participants are in crisis, the worship pastor is often expected to referee, repair and reclaim.

Additionally, serving as a worship pastor doesn’t necessarily mean you are immune from the personal struggles of life such as depression and anxiety, physical health issues, marital conflict, rebellious children and financial strain. With all of these personal and professional stressors, how can we not expect pain to eventually take its toll?

Church culture doesn’t often put safeguards in place to protect ministers from ministry. So if you are beginning to feel a slight twinge you might want to consider putting your own guardrails in place before the pain becomes chronic. The following questions might offer a place to begin:

  • How often do I engage in personal prayer or Bible study not related to the role or function of ministry?
  • Have I ever considered a sabbatical, ministry hiatus or leave of absence?
  • How often do I participate in worship when I am not the leader?
  • Do I listen to music for personal inspiration in addition to professional preparation?
  • Have I enlisted a confidential friend, mentor, coach or counselor with whom I meet regularly for processing and prayer?
  • Do I participate in an accountability group other than my church staff or personnel team?
  • How many days off do I take each week?
  • Do I take all of my vacation? Do I take church-related phone calls and respond to texts and emails while I’m on vacation?
  • How much time is reserved for home life? (Four nights a week? Two nights? Saturdays? Rarely?)
  • For married worship pastors: How often do I have a “date night” with my spouse? For single worship pastors: Do I spend time with friends or family members on a regular basis?
  • Do I have friends who are not members of my congregation? Do conversations always circle back to my church activities?
  • Do I have an annual physical?
  • How often do I engage in physical exercise lasting at least 30 minutes? Am I heavier than my recommended weight
  • How balanced is my diet?
  • Do I have interests or hobbies outside the church? Do I set them aside when I get too busy?
  • What would I willing to change or do to stay in ministry for the long haul?[1]

In his book Leading on Empty, Wayne Cordeiro used surfing to illustrate how ministry longevity is possible. He wrote, “Veteran surfers possess an uncanny sense of the ocean’s currents and how waves behave. Their intuition tells them which ones to catch and which ones to let pass. They seem to discern which waves will carry them in and which waves will do them in! But one of the true marks of a veteran is not how he catches a wave, but whether he knows when and how to get off the wave.”[2]

[1] Some of these questions were edited and adapted from Jill M. Hudson, When Better Isn’t Enough: Evaluation Tools for the 21st Century Church (Herndon: The Alban Institute, 2004), 42-43.
[2] Wayne Cordeiro, Leading on Empty: Refilling Your Tank and Renewing Your Passion (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2009), 28.


Dr. David W. Manner serves as the Associate Executive Director for Kansas-Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptists with responsibilities in the areas of Worship, Leadership and Administration. Before joining the convention staff in 2000, David served for twenty years in music/worship ministry with congregations in Kansas, Arkansas, Texas, and Oklahoma. He holds a Bachelor of Music degree from Oklahoma Baptist University; a Master of Church Music degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; and a Doctor of Worship Studies from the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies.

Originally published on Worship Evaluation – David W. Manner – Republished with permission.