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Thrive exists to equip and encourage congregations across our denomination. One area of recurring challenge is in the area of what are commonly referred to as “human resources” issues. (e.g. hiring, firing, evaluating, compensation, job descriptions, and routine supervision.)  The following three scenarios represent worship-specific HR themes we have identified over the years. They are not true stories from any one congregation, rather they paint in broad strokes some of the trouble spots we have perceived in our work with churches. 


There’s a running joke amongst worship leaders: Don’t ever let us know you have musical gifts unless you’re ready to jump in and play — maybe even next Sunday! We’ll find a way to use recorders, accordions, and shower-only vocals to bless God’s people during the 10:00 hour until you tell us in no uncertain terms “I’m not available.”

Discovering and utilizing people’s gifts in worship is one of the best parts of most worship leadership jobs. Sometimes this looks like a beginner guitar player who picks up a 6 string in elementary school and never turns back. Sometimes this looks like a seasoned musician whose job relocation lands them in your pews. It’s a gift and an immense joy to put them to work in the “work of the people” (definition of the word liturgy!)

But what happens when the worship coordinator or lead musician steps down or takes a new job? Why would a church go through a lengthy hiring process when there are plenty of talented people already in the building who would love to get paid for their participation each week? It would be way easier to sit this group down and determine in-house who the next leader will be. Whether it’s an ecclesiastical drawing of straws or a council initiated invitation, the next leader could be someone who lays down their volunteer cap and donns their new cloak of leadership. While this might seem like the easiest and simplest route, this shift represents much more than a paycheck. An unclear process for onboarding a new position can quickly lead to confusion and discomfort. 


Worship coordinator. Worship leader. Music Minister. Director of Worship Arts. Worship pastor. Technology and Worship Lead. 

What’s in a name? Several years ago, Thrive did an informal poll to find out people’s written job titles. It was astounding how many different titles there are for job descriptions that look very similar on paper. Maybe it seems irrelevant, given a title is just a title. But if you take a close look at what each of these titles communicates about the role within congregational life, you’ll realize the title holds significance both structurally and theologically. Is this person coordinating volunteers and making sure all roles are covered? Or are they co-pastoring a church with the calling and the weight that that carries? Are they responsible for making sure the slides are proofed and ready to go each week? Or are they responsible for tending to the livestream-only congregation in ways that are pastorally sensitive and aware? Worship titles are often slapped on a position like an ill-fitting band aid and the person who wears it feels the inadequacy of not knowing how to live into their title well. Job descriptions often have far too many “other duties as specified,” without clarity about expectations and underwritten assumptions. Being unclear about expectations sets the church, the volunteers, and the worship director/pastor/coordinator up for unnecessary conflicts and tension.


Nobody likes the new worship leader. We didn’t hire a rock band. We just wanted enough contemporary music to try and attract someone under 40. We don’t like the prayers of lament and the use of visuals in the sanctuary. We just wanted someone to come in and make sure we had a good service with good music. Nothing new. Nothing fancy. Status quo. The pastor should be in charge of all the spoken words in the service. Why is the new leader including so many other people in the service? It’s too complicated and they are too nervous to do a good job up front. 

Worship is on the receiving end of a high amount of criticism in church life. It comes in the form of direct mouth-to-mouth feedback about a new song, a note in your mailbox noting how loud the speakers were, or a complaint to the elders with a plea to do their job “overseeing worship.”

So what happens when the worship leader gets complaints that never seem to end? If each week feels like a liturgical landmine of opportunities to offend and displease? Who do they report to? Who is safe to talk to? What recourse does the church/council have to “go a different route?” How can a pastor or admin team begin to address some of these issues in a way that is both honest and kind? Is there any hope that this position will flourish? Without a system for receiving complaints and suggestions, worship staff risk drowning, unsure how to distinguish between substantial input that warrants action, and a thoughtless, off-the-cuff reaction from one of their 150 "bosses.”


The three scenarios above paint a picture of some of the HR vulnerabilities churches and worship staff face, particularly in the “comings and goings.” Because most of these jobs are non-ordained staff and have a wide variety of responsibilities from full time to very part time, there are not a lot of best practices available for employee or employer. Worship staff might feel unsupported, uncertain, and unaware. Church leadership might feel stuck, fearful to confront, and generally unsure how to treat these people well. This too often leads to communication breakdowns and short-term hires. This scenario is fun for neither party. What, if anything, can be done to promote good and healthy relationships between churches and leaders from interview to exit?

At Thrive, we routinely encounter situations where shortcomings in a local church’s HR competence undermine good ministry, generate conflict, and cause significant pain. Mercifully, we also encounter churches where good practice of human resource helped mitigate challenges, reduce conflict, and encourage more vibrant ministry. As we seek to equip and encourage healthy congregations, we would love to hear some of your experiences. If you have ideas to help us understand the nature of the HR challenge, to point us to excellent resources, or to imagine opportunities to better support churches, you can reach us at [email protected]


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