When You're Out of the Picture

September 18, 2015

I’m sure mine is not the only church with a running joke about staff only having to work one day a week. Worship pastors get to take this to the next level when we say, “And all I have to do is play guitar!”

If only this were true.

Worship leaders are passionate about leading. We love to be involved on Sundays. We love creating moments where people can experience the presence of the Lord and passionately express their worship to God. Worship leaders are also human and we have very real, physical limits.

We need times to rest and recharge or else eventually we’ll be dead. Whether we choose to or not, there will be a time for our church when we’re out of the picture. The choice we have to make is how we’re going to prepare our teams and our church for those Sundays when we aren’t there, either because we’re away or because our time at that church is done.

Earlier this year I moved from the church where I had been the Director of Worship for 8 years and came on staff as the Worship Pastor at my new church. Over the last few years at my previous church I had the unique opportunity to prepare my church for the reality of me not being there.

I want to share with you three very specific habits you need to develop if you want to prepare your team for your absence.

Commit to Equipping

A few years ago the pastoral staff at my church decided together that our roles needed to be primarily and explicitly about equipping. Ephesians 4 needed to be more than just a nice idea. The words of that chapter needed to be the hallmark and the standard of how our staff spends our time, energy, and focus.

You can often take the call to equip the saints for the work of the ministry to one of two very negative extremes: first, the perception that staff are trying to offload the work they were hired to do; and second, the perception that staff are simply trying to burden other people with more work.

What does good, healthy, biblical equipping look like? Ephesians 4 tells us that the equipper knows their calling, giftedness, and purpose and the fruit of the equipping is that more work of the ministry gets done.

In their book The Trellis and the Vine, Colin Marshall and Tony Payne develop the image that in church work there is trellis (the supporting structures to see growth happen) and the vines (gospel ministry). Staff, building, programs, events – these are all trellis. Equipping, discipleship, worship, fruit of the Spirit on display and in action – these are the vines.

The goal and ideal relationship between these two in any church is to have as much vine as possible with as little trellis as possible. Have as much gospel ministry taking place with as little official structure required.

What’s the most effective way for this to happen? A small group of equippers developing a larger group of co-laborers who can then, over time, become equippers of equippers and so on. How do we do this as worship leaders within the context of Sunday morning? Three ideas:

  • Have a two-way commitment with a group of leaders who are current or potential Sunday morning worship leaders. Ask them to read specific books and meet with you to discuss them. Ask them to commit to a certain number of Sunday mornings per month or quarter. Prioritize feedback and conversations with them about worship and leadership. Pray for them as you do this together.
  • Include your whole team in discussions on what you are trying to accomplish. Normally, during our Thursday evening rehearsal, I walk through our Sunday service with our team and let them know what kind of experience we are trying to create and if we are going to be calling for a certain response. They begin to see why I’ve chosen certain songs or how I’ve laid the service out to achieve this.
  • Co-lead with them. When I’m developing a new worship leader, I schedule them for a couple Sundays in a row or maybe three Sundays out of four and ask them to co-lead with me. At first it may be to simply introduce one song, speak through one transition, or pray at one spot. The next week it might be to lead a set of songs or do the welcome and call to worship. Each time I work with the person leading up to that weekend to make sure we’re setting them up to succeed.

If there is no culture of equipping at your church, you can forget about your teams being prepared for you to be gone – either in an emergency situation like sickness or in the eventual situation that God calls you away from your church.

Clarify Roles

As a worship leader, I know you do so much more than choose and lead songs for your church. You’re scheduling communion servers, choosing backgrounds for lyric slides, asking people to lead congregational prayers, making sure the thermostat is set to the right temperature, going out of your way to meet new people who show up, making sure the person doing announcements knows where their mic will be… and that’s all before you get up and say “Good morning!” on Sunday.

When a Sunday comes and you aren’t there, it’s important to have clarity for these tasks and know who’s responsible for making sure all of these things happen. In the summer of 2012 I had the great opportunity to be on sabbatical from my church. I was away for 3 months – 13 Sundays.

Before I left, part of my job was to make sure I had people lined up to carry the extra workload brought on by my absence. I wasn’t responsible for planning three months of Sundays, but I was responsible for making sure the right people were in place for that to happen while I was gone.

Obviously this took time and work. We actually began working on my sabbatical plan about 18 months out and putting some of the details in place 12 months out. We had a commitment to quality for Sunday morning and we wouldn’t let something like me not being there be an excuse for poor quality.

Clarify Expectations

When I know I’m going to be away for a Sunday, I now have confidence in my team and the people we have developed that they can carry the majority of the work to make Sunday happen. We’ve committed to equipping and we’ve clarified roles with the right people, but it’s still up to me to clarify expectations. Here’s an example of unclarified expectations:

“Hi Tim. I’m going to be away on Sunday six weeks from now and you are scheduled to lead. Can you plan the service? Mark is preaching on Colossians 3 and there’s a missionary visiting.”

What have I done? I definitely haven’t set Tim up to succeed. I haven’t supported my pastor in making sure we’re going to have a great worship service when I’m gone. And I’m not serving my congregation very well by doing everything I can to make sure they are given the opportunity to worship. What would be better? Here are clarified expectations:

“Hi Tim. I’m going to be away on Sunday six weeks from now and you are scheduled to lead. Can you plan the service?

  • It would be great if we could have a call to worship using Psalm 121, then two upbeat opener songs.
  • During announcements we’ll have a report from one of our missionaries. Julie is taking care of details and I’ve asked her to be in touch with you on how this will happen.
  • Out of the missionary report, let’s do a song that talks about God’s love for the world and move into a time of just singing about and celebrating God’s love.
  • Mark’s preaching on Colossians 3 and you should connect with him about his outline and what he’d like as a response section. I know he’ll be talking about the importance of encouraging one another’s faith when we gather.”

See the difference? I know this is a simplified example and life doesn’t always work out this way, but if you’ve created a culture of equipping and are having conversations like this with worship leaders and people on your team, they will be ready and able to step in during a week when you’re out of the picture.