The Difference Between Worship Leaders and Spiritual Leaders

Did you think these were one and the same thing?  Never thought about it?  I have only begun to think about this recently.

Worship leaders and spiritual leaders can be the same person, but that is not a given.  In fact, in my experience worship leaders have to learn to be spiritual leaders.

For instance, I grew up playing on worship bands.  By the time I was finishing high school I was leading worship from time to time, and by the time I graduated college I was the primary worship leader at my dad’s church.  After grad school I took a job at a church and became the primary worship leader there in both the traditional and the contemporary services.

I’ve been leading worship for over 20 years now, but only in the past 5 years have I actually began to be a spiritual leader.

I have noticed some key differences between worship leaders and spiritual leaders.

  1. Worship leaders lead and prepare teams to lead events.  Spiritual leaders lead people.
  2. Worship leaders choose music to propel the theme of a service or fit a particular “slot” in the service.  Spiritual leaders choose music to speak to people’s hearts, and then think about the theme.
  3. Worship leaders hold rehearsals for events.  Spiritual leaders use rehearsals to find out where the team members are in their own walk with God.

Spiritual leaders care most about the people they are leading, not the product.

I have spent much of my life trying to be excellent in music and produce good services.  These are good things.  The problem is, I was pursuing those goals ahead of caring about the people on my teams.

If you want to be a spiritual leader and not just a worship leader or some other kind of leader, here are a few thoughts to consider.

  1. People are most important.  Period.
  2. Because people are most important, you will need to sacrifice other things in order to succeed in keeping people as a top priority.
  3. In rehearsal sometimes we have to let a detail go for the sake of encouraging the volunteer rather than running the volunteer into the ground for the sake of perfection.  Note: This does not mean horrible intonation and sister Mary’s autoharp get to go unaddressed.  This does mean that a missed note here or there is not the end of the world.
  4. Prayer, group sharing, and devotions are critical in rehearsals, not just music.  Note: This does not give you license to hold a revival meeting instead of rehearsal.  This does mean you should take 15 minutes to help your volunteers prepare their hearts and support each other with God’s help.
  5. In a service a slight change on the fly to meet a discovered need is worth a few seconds of disarray.  I have my mentor, Stephen Michael Newby, to thank for this.  He likes to shout “Reggae” and other random musical styles in the middle of a song and expects his players to switch the style.  Needless to say, he only does this when working with higher level musicians, but there always are a few moments of disarray.  The overall result is awesome, though, and Stephen makes these changes when he feels it will help bring people along in worship, not to be “cool.”
  6. If you have to choose between writing a cool new song for the service and having a coffee with a volunteer, choose the volunteer.

As you love people, people will love you and God will bless you.  Worship leading becomes much easier when you are a spiritual leader first, because suddenly people want to follow you where’ve you are leading them.

In fact, musical excellence will thrive when an excellent worship leader is also an excellent spiritual leader.

Your team members will relax and perform better because as a spiritual leader you have demonstrated that you care more about them than you do about whether they are perfectly executing a piece of music.

What changes do you need to make in order to be a better spiritual leader?


How to Value Your Volunteers and Avoid Being an Ostrich

Have you ever volunteered for something and come away feeling used?  Or have you felt burnt out working for someone because you did not feel appreciated?

Whether you are a volunteer or a staff member, feeling valued in tangible ways by the leader makes all of the difference.  An easy work load or a tough one really do not make the difference so much as the atmosphere in which you serve.  And, yes, even as an employee you are serving your boss.  Emplyees volunteer to work for their boss.

If you have a high turn over rate in volunteers or employees, ask yourself whether or not they are feeling valued.  Do you have exit conversations or interview with people who are leaving to ask them why, or do you let the door hit them on the way out?  If you do not know specifically why people are leaving, you cannot improve your chances of keeping the people you have.

You’re sticking your head in the sand.  Like an ostrich.

Recently I noticed that a choir member was no longer coming to rehearsal and singing.  Because I am in a retiree area, having people miss from time to time is not unusual, so it was not until after a few weeks that I called and left a message for this person asking if everything was ok.

Note: do not ask if everything is ok unless you want to hear the answer.

I got a detailed email back outlining not only the crazy life things they were dealing but also the issues they had with the way I direct the choir.  Their tone was not mean, just honest.  I sent a note back genuinely thanking them for their response, I told them I would be praying for them, and then I told them what I learned from their email.  I did not guarantee I would  do everything as they liked; I just said (honestly) that I was going to try to learn from their poor experience.

In response this person said they may come back, and they appreciated my inquiry.  I wish all of my interactions went this well.  I do not know if this person will actually come back, but I have repaired a bridge I did not know was broken.

Here are a few suggestions for making volunteers (and staff) feel valued.

1.  Ask them how they are doing, about their family, about their hobbies, and then listen.  Just asking = no kudos.  Asking and paying attention = major kudos.

2.  Ask people who have quit why they are quitting, and then listen.  The people who still volunteer for you will see this as maturity and a willingness to grow and will respect you.

3.  Cancel staff meeting or rehearsal and take them someplace fun.  At one church the senior pastor bought us all tickets to the minor league team in town and we skipped staff meeting that week.  Talk about a morale booster!

4.  If a volunteer or staff member mentions a struggle, pray with them right then and there.  Being a spiritual leader has very little to do with words and everything to do with actions.

5.  Follow up with them on prayer requests and concerns they have shared.  If a volunteer or staff member mentions a struggle and you pray with them, they are appreciative.  If you follow up with them a few days or week later, they begin to feel valued and safe.

6.  Be straight up.  In my last interim position, I felt a little like Wesley in The Princess Bride.  “Good night, Wesley.  I’ll most likely kill you in the morning.”  The pastors said very clearly they were looking for a younger person and a guitarist to be their music pastor, both of which I was not. Every week they would say, “We love what you’re doing, and here is where we are in the search for the right person.”  Oddly enough, I felt very secure because I knew exactly where I stood with them.  Ultimately they adjusted their view and I got the job, but that is another story.

7.  Ask their opinion, and then incorporate their advice.  If you always dictate what should happen and never ask for their input, volunteers and staff will feel unneeded.  People want to be needed, and you should be humble enough to know that you need them.

8.  Don’t rush.  The “Putting Out Fires” syndrome is one of the biggest diseases in church.  Leaders think that they are saving their church when they run around putting out fires, when often really all they are doing is servicing the tantrums of children.  When pastors service the urgent “fires” first, they neglect the important work of spending significant time with their staff and volunteers.  Rarely are urgent and important the same thing.

Patience and time are two of the most valuable gifts a leader can give to their volunteers and employees.  (The same is true for your family, incidentally.)

The only “fires” that are truly “fires worth putting out immediately” are serious illness, actual fires, public sin, and aggressive malicious behavior.  “I don’t like the music,” or “Brother Jerry hurt my feelings 10 years ago when he stopped wearing a tie,” are not fires.

How do you tangibly value your volunteers?