Senior Pastor: The Primary Worship Leader

on December 14 | in Worship Planning | by | with 1 Comment

We generally look to the staff person called, Minister of Music, Worship Pastor, Worship Leader, or other designation (referred to as “worship pastor” for the remainder of this post”) as being the primary worship leader for our times of corporate worship. This is partly due to the misconception that the music portion of the service is the “worship” and other parts, such as the preaching, is something else. You often here sentences like:

  • “After 30 minutes of worship, the pastor will bring the message.”
  • “We will have 10 minutes of worship followed by prayer, then 15 more minutes of worship before the sermon.”

First of all, we need to understand that all the elements of the time we gather together for corporate worship are vital parts of worship – prayers, sermon, Scripture readings, ministry times, creative ministries, congregational singing, choral/solo presentational music, instrumental music, the Lord’s Supper, baptism, and more. When we equate music with worship, we are very short-sighted of the full range of worship expressions that we employ in our times of corporate worship.

Pastor’s Involvement in Worship Planning

The pastor should give guidance to the planning of the overall service. This may mean providing sermon information and other ideas to the worship pastor (and optionally, the worship planning team) weeks ahead of time and then walking with them through the planning process. Often the senior pastor feels comfortable allowing the worship pastor to do much of the fleshing out of the service, but the senior pastor should stay plugged in and provide guidance as needed. There are various levels of involvement that the senior pastor may have on a continuum of no involvement to complete control of the process. Determine which one best describes your reality:

  1. The senior pastor has no involvement in worship planning. The worship pastor plans all elements of the corporate worship service, allowing a slot for the pastor to preach for x minutes. Here, the senior pastor has completely relegated his role to the worship pastor.
  2. The senior pastor provides some sermon information to the worship pastor days or even hours before the planning has to take place. The worship pastor is completely responsible for the fleshing out of the service, using the sermon information to influence the plan of the service slightly to greatly. Waiting this late in the process will not likely produce as rich a worship experience as could be.
  3. The senior pastor provides the sermon information to the worship pastor weeks or months ahead of time.The worship pastor is completely responsible for the fleshing out of the service, using the sermon information to influence the plan of the service slightly to greatly. Since the worship pastor has more lead time with the sermon information, greater creativity can be used in connecting with the sermon material in the plan of the service. This has great potential, but unfortunately the senior pastor does not weigh in at all in the planning process.
  4. The senior pastor provides the sermon information to the worship pastor weeks or months ahead of time.The worship pastor does most of the planning of the service while bouncing off ideas with the senior pastor, using the sermon information to influence the plan of the service slightly to greatly. In this model, the senior pastor has opportunity to speak into the planning process as little or as much as he desires. This is a healthy process.
  5. The senior pastor provides the sermon information to the worship pastor and worship planning team weeks or months ahead of time.The worship planning team does most of the planning of the service; the senior pastor and worship pastor are integral parts of the planning team. (For more information on utilizing a Worship Leadership Team, check out this post.) This can be the most fulfilling scenario.
  6. The senior pastor plans the entire service, leaving blanks for the congregational and presentational music for the worship pastor to fill in. The worship pastor is not able to shape much of the worship experience.
  7. The senior pastor plans the entire service, including most or all of the music. The worship pastor prepares the musical selections selected by the senior pastor. The worship pastor essentially has no voice in this process.

Of course there are many other nuances of these models. Descriptions #4 and #5 are the best, healthiest plans for worship planning. The senior pastor is involved in the process. In #4, the level of involvement may be related to how much the senior pastor is comfortable with the worship pastor’s fulfilling the senior pastor’s directions. Use of a worship leadership/planning team (#5) can be the most beneficial plan as many gifted, creative people are involved in the planning and leadership of the worship service.

Pastor’s Involvement in Worship Leading

The pastor is the primary worship leader, but that does not mean that he needs to lead all the music, prayers, readings, and preach. The congregation naturally looks to the senior pastor for leadership. He can help bring about worship renewal through teaching on worship in small sound bytes, sermons, and other opportunities. One of the most important things is that the senior pastor speaks volumes as he models worship. Let me explain this further.

I have attended many churches where the senior pastor seems distracted during the portions of the worship service prior to the sermon. Indeed, often during congregational singing, he is seen by the congregation to be reviewing his sermon notes. This speaks volumes to the congregation. It shows them that the pastor does not see the part of worship prior to the sermon as important. They will often adopt a similar complacent attitude towards worship.

In contrast, a pastor who is very involved in worship with vitality and energy will also speak volumes to the congregation. In this case, the pastor’s involvement can become contagious, leading the congregation to become more participative in their worship.

Senior pastor, your congregation is watching you to see what you value. Be sure to let them know that worship is a priority in your life.

Pastor, are you modeling healthy worship for your congregation? Click To Tweet

The Worship Pastor’s Role

Ideally, the senior pastor and worship pastor work together closely as a team in worship planning and leadership. Each will bring a unique set of strengths and skills to the table. Recognizing each person’s strengths and weaknesses will greatly help in the planning and implementation of worship. The worship pastor may indeed oversee the majority of the planning and “orchestration” of the worship service as the pastor is very plugged in along the way and involved in leadership during the service. Unfortunately, senior pastor training often does not have a worship component, whereas the worship pastor’s training may have extensive training in worship. The worship pastor may be better equipped to carry out more of the planning than the senior pastor, but the planning should still be a cooperative effort to some degree. Again, the use of a worship leadership/planning team can bring great blessings to a church’s worship.

What adjustments do you need to make to your worship planning and leadership in the coming months?

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One Response

  1. This article is on point, and I am happy to say that I and my team have the appropriate understanding of the role of our Senior Pastor as the primary worship leader. The vision for our music ministry is:

    Vision
    As committed disciples of Christ and supporting pastoral leadership, we seek to kindle a worship environment that:
    ACKNOWLEDGES Jesus Christ as Lord and King;
    REFLECTS Christ through our witness and testimony;
    INSPIRES others to seek Him and to submit their lives to His will; and,
    NURTURES individuals in full, conscious and active relationship with Him.

    The pastor guides the worship experience of the church. But it is the authentic empowerment of his personal worship that authenticates his abilities to lead worship. H/She is not required to acquire musical skills to accomplish it. Yet he is to ensure that every leader and member of the music team (and everyone else leading out and serving in worship) is abiding by the commitment to the vision given to him by God.

    Thank you again for this article. I look forward to sharing with my team!

    — Michelle Riley Jones
    Minister for Music and Worship
    Capitol Hill Seventh-day Adventist Church
    Washington, DC

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