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Do Your Homework

Written by Nathan Gifford on Friday, 01 April 2016. Posted in Blogs

Advice For Both Finding and Filling a Worship Ministry Position

Do Your Homework

As someone who has been around the block in both full-time and part-time music ministry for almost 20 years, I have a few pieces of advice to share for those that are looking for a position in a church AND for those that are looking to fill a position. I do not have all of the answers, but have learned a little along the way. Much of it boils down to this... DO YOUR HOMEWORK!

First, let's look at the passionate worship leader who is looking for his/her dream position... desiring to plug into a local church and lead them week by week into God's presence through the avenue of praise and worship! As passionate as you may be about what you do and wanting to use your gifts within the church, you have to make sure you are in the right situation. You will not be a good fit in just any open position. Here are some items to consider as you do your homework on that potential position:

  1. Do what God tells you. As a first step, you should of course be praying and seeking God's direction in where to go, when to go, and IF you go at all. If you feel strongly in your spirit that God is calling you to a particular region, church, ministry, etc, then the rest of the points to follow do not mean a whole lot... although you should be mindful of them still. You do not tell God that you will answer His leading as long as it's to a beach location or has the right salary, but you still must exercise wisdom... especially if you are responsible for a spouse and kids. They are your priority over any ministry position!

    Now before you start throwing stones and thinking that I just said to override God's leading if you don't agree with the situation, let me continue. Something I've actually experienced is that just because God tells you to do something doesn't mean that the people involved on the other end of that will do what God tells them to do. So... the situation that God wants you in may not end up being what God intended if others involved go in different directions. Don't force anything. If it is God's Will, it will work out one way or another. However, if the situation starts going a bit sideways, just seek God and you may find that God changes your course a bit.

    At the end of the day, just make sure you are doing your very best to listen and be obedient to the voice of God.

  2. It's a worship leader's market. You always hear in the real estate world how it's either a buyer's market or a seller's market. Well, in the church world, it seems to always be a worship leader's market! There are always more churches looking for someone to fill their position than there are people who are actually qualified and ready to fill it. This means that, as the searching worship leader, you can be picky. Don't jump into the first position that you stumble upon. Even if it's a nice location... even if the pay is good... unless you know for sure that God is in it, give yourself some time to do your homework and make the right decision.

  3. Discuss it with your real boss. Yes, I'm referring to your spouse, although with some sarcasm of course! Second to your relationship with God, your spouse is your priority and you must be on the same page with them as you make any decisions regarding taking a ministry position! This is extremely important because if you are not on the same page, it will not work. Ministry is often times very stressful on the family, so if you and your spouse are not holding down that foundation together, any amount of ministry load will end up being too much for your marriage to handle. It will affect your ministry and it will show. If things aren't good at home, they won't be good in your ministry.

  4. Can you truly sync with the lead pastor? This is huge! No other ministry position / pastor leader within the church works closer with the lead pastor than the worship leader / music pastor does! Behind the scenes, the pastor works with many different people. On Sunday morning, the two people that really make sure effective ministry happens are the lead pastor and the worship leader... and if those two people are not in sync, it can be a disaster.

    You have to be on the same page in every way. You must share the same philosophy and vision regarding worship and the ministry that takes place from week to week. If you want to go in one direction and the lead pastor wants to go in a different direction, it simply is not going to go anywhere. No two people agree on EVERYTHING, but you must realize that the pastor is the head of that church, and it's not your job to change him/her and how they do their job. Your job is to support them, to enhance the overall ministry of the church and to lead people in worship so effectively that they can't help but be ready and receptive to the word that the pastor is bringing forth that day.

    When the pastor and worship leader are on the same page... it can be beautiful. The service can have such a flow, and it only improves over time as you work together and get to know each other better. But you have to at least start on the same page. There will be times that you make adjustments to follow his/her leadership. There may also be times where the pastor makes adjustments as they learn or pick up on things from you and your ministry. But at the end of the day, the final word is not yours. You must be submissive to your pastor's leadership. Always remember one of my favorite quotes... "submission is not submission until we don't agree" (Darlene Zschech "Extravagant Worship"). It's easy to submit when you agree on everything, but that's not even submission. That's just being in agreement. But you must ask yourself... "can I truly submit to this pastor and his/her leadership? Even when I don't completely agree?"

  5. Visit the Church. Before you even go to "candidate" or "try out" at a church for that worship position, if at all possible, take your family and go visit the church! This is not always possible, depending on distance, but it's so helpful if you can! You can go in and get a feel for the church as a whole... from the viewpoint of a regular Sunday morning visitor. It is different when people know who you are and why you are there, so you want to see what it's REALLY like, when everyone isn't pandering to you and trying to win you over. Make sure that the lead pastor is the one preaching when you visit, too. Trust me... in one case for me, the distance didn't allow a pre-visit, so my weekend "try out" was also my visit. Unfortunately, the pastor was not the one preaching that day. I ended up taking that position, but had I experienced the direct ministry of the lead pastor on my visit, I very likely would have passed on the opportunity.

    Remember, besides the ministry you will be doing yourself, you and your family will be there every week and need to also be receiving effective ministry. Make sure you are in a place where you can continue growing spiritually yourself! Yes, a lot of that falls on your self and is your responsibility, but the ministry of the local church is a vital part of that. Make sure you don't end up in a place that sucks you dry... because it will become near impossible to bring any effective ministry to the table yourself.

  6. Ask Questions. LOTS of Questions. Do not be afraid to ask the tons of questions that are running through your head! You need to ask them. They are important. If you are wondering about something now, you better get it on the table and make sure it's addressed before you move your family into something that you have no business moving them to! Here are some important questions to ask:
    • What happened to the previous worship leader? You need to know when he/she left and why they left. Don't accept a short, sugar-coated version either. Get the real story.
    • How long was the previous worship leader in that position? What about the person or two before that? If you see a pattern of short-term positions, that should alarm you. Most likely, they are not just picking the wrong people and waiting for you to save them. There is likely a reason that each previous worship leader experienced that caused them to go elsewhere. Find out what this is... if there seems to be a pattern like this. Better to find out and determine if you can work with whatever it is BEFORE you take the position and learn the hard way.
    • How long do staff pastors tend to stay at this church? Yes, ask this question beyond just the worship leader. I was interviewing at a large church, and after speaking with a handful of staff members, I began to see a pattern. Everyone had only been there for 2 years or less. Finally, I asked. Thankfully, they were honest enough to tell me that there HAD been a good amount of turnaround. There were issues that were known and apparently being addressed to improve staff relations and such.
    • How involved is the pastor in the worship ministry, song selections, events, etc? Will you be able to build and run your ministry under the umbrella of the pastor's leadership? Or will it be more like a puppet ministry where the pastor is actually dictating everything that happens and every song that is sung?
    • What other roles will they expect you to play once you step into the music ministry position? Unfortunately, most churches will put so many other things on your plate that you have to squeeze time in to throw some music together for the weekend services! While you must expect other non-music roles and duties to come with the package, you need to make sure that you are actually going to be able to effectively do what you are going there to do. You are there to do things that no one else there is capable of doing. Do not get saddled down with a bunch of other duties that could realistically be handled by anyone in the building. At the same time, do not be rebellious about it. There is more than singing in any music ministry position.

      SIDE NOTE: If the church is using a recruiting service, be extra cautious! I'm not saying that this is always a negative thing, but I'd say usually it is. I know that my own experience wasn't good. You need to be hearing from the pastor that you'll be working with... hearing his/her heart... hearing things straight from the source. NOT the enhanced version of a recruiter that is basically a salesman that only makes money when they get someone hired. Just be careful and do NOT believe everything the recruiter says. Double-check EVERYTHING when you get to speak with the right people. Ask your questions to the people that can answer you first-hand.

  7. Talk to the previous worship leader(s). This is not always possible, but if you can, reach out to the previous one or two worship leaders from that church. Find out why they left and what their experience was like. Remember, you should've already asked the pastor about this... but there are two sides to every story. Personally, I've done this and it was a life-saver. I spoke with three people that had all previously held this role at the same church. They all had similar experiences... enough that validated things that I was feeling concern towards.

Now, of course, there are other things to consider such as housing, salary, hourly expectations, etc. I didn't address any of those as they are more common sense and really apply to consideration of ANY type of job position.

OKAY... now let's look at the other side of the mix... the side of the lead pastor and church that is seeking the most anointed psalmist, worship leader, master of all instruments, songwriter, effective balancer of contemporary and traditional (better known as "hey, we still want to hear some hymns!"), that also has a passion for youth ministry, evangelism, all things technology, the church website, teaching, drama, choirs, children's choirs, VBS, and of course... the seasonal cantatas.

Now, while there is a healthy dose of sarcasm and humor in the above paragraph, there is unfortunately a healthy dose of reality at the same time. Here are some things the pastor should consider when seeking the person to step into their music ministry role:

  1. Do what God tells you. Yes, just the same way we started from the other perspective, the pastor must do the same. While it may seem obvious or expected that the pastor would default to this, it's not always the case. This position in your church is of massive importance and you do NOT want to put the wrong person there. I don't care how talented they are... how excited your church people are as they are overly impressed by the person's abilities... if they are not the right person for your church and to work alongside of you... then do not hire them! Seek God about this and listen.

  2. Ask Questions. You of course will ask many questions as you interview the candidate, but make sure you really get to the heart of where they come from and how they see worship ministry. Make sure it lines up with where you as the pastor are and where you are going as a church. Also, don't forget the super important question of "why did you leave your previous ministry position?" And "why did you leave the position before that one?" Look for any patterns that may show that this person doesn't stay anwhere because they aren't capable of doing so. Maybe they're not capable of submitting to leadership. You never know... so just ask lots of questions.

    SIDE NOTE: Involve the candidates spouse in everything. You are not hiring two people, BUT it's not going to work out if the spouse isn't fully onboard.

  3. Contact previous churches. As stated above, there are two sides to every story. Contact the previous couple of pastors that the candidate worked with. See what their working experience was with him/her... and maybe find out the real reason why they left that position. Make sure there isn't something that wasn't divulged to you by the candidate. Maybe you'll find out that the person wasn't a good fit for that church, but may be perfect for yours. Or you may find out that they aren't a fit in ANY church! If you put someone in a position without doing this level of homework, you are not being a good steward of the ministry that God has put you in leadership of. This position is too important to the ministry of your church... and the face of the church to your community... to take chances with the wrong person.

  4. Get input from music ministry participants. After you've had someone in to "try out" at your church, you should create an opportunity to get feedback from your church people that are involved in the music ministry... in the band, the vocalists and your sound/tech team people. Your worship leader will interact regularly with all of these people, and if he/she is unable to do so, the ministry will not be effective. See what these people thought as they had the opportunity to experience a rehearsal and live worship service with your candidate leading it.

  5. Get input from other church staff. As your new worship leader will regularly work alongside not only you, but the rest of the church staff, get their feedback as well. What feeling did they get as they interacted with the candidate? How did their conversations go? Considering this, it would be a good idea to create an opportunity for the candidate to interact with the rest of the church staff, beyond a conference room setting... something more relaxed and social so everyone can talk and interact a bit.

Yes, there's more to consider than these handful of points, but the items noted here are very important and are some of the most often neglected considerations in the hiring process. There is a whole lot more than just coming to an agreement on the salary package... or determining how good of a singer someone is.

Well, while this was a long read, I trust this has been helpful and caused you to think of some things that you may have neglected otherwise. Please comment and feel free to ask any questions regarding these topics and anything that may not have been addressed in this article. May God lead you to the exact place that He is lining up for you to minister in... and may God lead the right person to your church to help take your ministry to the next level!

About the Author

Nathan Gifford

Nathan Gifford

Nathan has been a worship leader for about 25 years, serving in multiple churches from a new church plant to a large urban congregation... serving mostly in the state of Indiana. He grew up as a PK in Indiana and was actively involved in worship music from the age of 12. Over the years Nathan was involved as a saxophonist in his church band and also played in many other groups and events. While in college at the Indiana University School of Music, Nathan began moving into worship leading. Then after graduating, he went right into full-time ministry as a music pastor. He began writing new worship songs that have continued to be a part of his ministry as well as many churches across the country. Nathan has recorded 9 projects, which are mostly live worship projects. He is currently a part of the worship ministry at Mill City Church in Fort Collins, CO.