Doomsayer or realist, you can decide. But, this year will continue a negative trend for worship leaders set in place by a variety of cultural, economic, and other changes in the Church in America. Basically, the outlook is not good when seen through anecdotal and insider data. I talk to many worship leaders on a regular basis and the stories are heart breaking. I also talk to lead pastors and am disappointed about how decisions are currently being made across our country. This year will be a tough one if you are a worship leader.
For whatever the reasons, the following trends will make it harder on those who feel called to lead worship. Some of these are not new, but perhaps a surprise or two is included. I believe that every negative does not have to brand us all. I applaud the many out there who are not beholden to the popular and look to the effective. What values do you sift your worship leadership decisions through, pastors? I have listed some values under each item.
1. Production value rules the roost. More specialty workers needed who know video, audio, and other communication technology. This means less resources for actual “creative” talent as far as those who write, present, and create music. Yes, a good sound system is now a non-negotiable for a ministry and intelligent lighting is now becoming coveted. One wise man said to me, “if you can’t do it well under cafeteria lighting, a $20,000 lighting system won’t help you.”
Excellence does not require out-of-scale facilities or production gear to achieve.
2. Contractors win over pastors. Worship pastor or Worship Arts Pastor will be seen less and less. The role of being upfront and on a platform is so important, that leading and pastoring a team of artists is just not what we want to pay for any longer. Who will shepherd the team? Who will mentor and raise up younger worship leaders? If the role of being a worship leader is that of a contracted platform performance we have lost the value of discipleship. The trend that most pastors call themselves a “communicator” or “teacher” over that of a shepherd reflects this. Leadership theory trumps grass roots connection. So, why would the guy leading music upfront need to think about anything other than that activity? This is bad news for the worship leader who desires to partner in shepherding his team and the church in worship. Either there is not time for it or it simply is not valued.
If you want spiritual impact, a worship team is far better than a bunch of guys playing a gig.
3. Pay to play. Full time employment as a worship leader will almost disappear. The trend is that volunteer worship leaders are growing in all sizes of churches and that full time church employees who lead worship are shrinking. If you are a volunteer, its like paying to play. The expertise, political pressure, and specialized skills required are bigger than most volunteer positions. There needs to be a lot more training for these new leaders who have less time to get to reach the same high expectations. This is not good news because with the amount of younger people expecting to make any kind of living on leading worship has created a huge gap from what is really available out there.
A worker is worthy of pay, so in the long run you get what you pay for.
4. Cattle call. Tenure will be remain short for worship leaders. You are even more expendable now. Because more and more worship leaders are part time, even larger churches see this contracting as a way to throw ideas on the wall and see what sticks. This means if you are a young worship leader and after a short time your leaders are not just feeling it, you are out. There is a cattle call full of eager talented people to jump up and plug their Fender in and give it a go. The idea of being developed is gone. Worship leaders are now a commodity and that is just not cool when you think of these people as people.
Value and develop people over time instead of stealing and buying talent off the shelf.
5. Cover band. The pressure to “sound like” someone else will continue to grow. Think about it, if you have less time to achieve a good result you won’t be able to innovate. Besides that, most pastors and leaders want you to sound like someone. You essentially are asked to mimic a vibe rather than craft an experience. The worship “industry” feeds this, too. It is so much easier to “cut and paste” than to create something new. When programming, we borrow what we can download. Likely, in a larger church there are many creative people able to be tasked to create content custom to your culture, city, and theology. But, it takes a skill we lack and money we think we should not spend.
Cultivate and empower creative gifts in your church to help you lead worship over cutting and pasting from people you don’t know.
In summary, it is going to be a tough year for worship leaders. But, if we learn to apply higher values in making our decisions it is possible to spiritually impact our church and community in surprising ways. We can do the predictable and borrow what God has done last year in a famous church. Or, we can trust the Holy Spirit’s gifting in our own house of worship to lead us. I know it is not the popular choice these days, but does anyone think we should at least try it?