September 14, 2015

Why Hire A Worship Pastor?

The two edges of church life that must always remain sharp are the worship gathering and the mission program. This is not to discount student ministries, adult ed, women ministries, or even children's ministries, but it is to say that the common denominator to all of the other programs - to the Mission God gave His Church - are the two things that God commanded us to do as a gathered body: to be a sent people (mission) and to respond to His mercy together (gathered/sacramental worship). The way you GATHER and the way that you SEND will posture your church to thrive. You can't have one without the other, for both are worship. And you can’t have healthy children’s or youth or adult ministries unless you have healthy gathering and sending practices. 

Regarding the gathering, there's a BIG difference between hiring gigging musicians and hiring a worship pastor. Most churches are (sometimes grudgingly) willing to pay for good music, but not good leadership. That's not to say you shouldn’t ever hire a band or an organist or an accompanist (there are many circumstances in which it’s a good idea), but it IS to say that it's important to have a person who understands WHY she’s on stage and is willing to do what helps the congregation respond to God (which includes during the week, not just the few hours on sunday). This this is VASTLY different than someone who is simply there for a paycheck or there to maintain the nostalgia of what we’ve always done. Worship pastors care for their congregations in very different ways than a lead pastor or youth pastor or children's pastor, and those who are good at their job do several things that the gigging musicians or the 5-hour-a-week-underpaid-college-kid-who-picks-the-songs can’t do:
Holistic Thinking 
A worship pastor plans the whole service, instead of simply picking some music to play with the band that sounds good. This gives the planning a new dimension; it means the music s/he does pick can tell a broader story that fits in with the sermon, the liturgy (also picked by the worship pastor), the offering, and even the announcements. Every piece of the service can have its place when it’s being cared for on a big-picture level. The worship pastor likewise brings a big-picture focus to planning services over the course of the liturgical year, rather than working from week-to-week (not that this doesn’t happen occasionally). Christmas? Easter? Festival bands? Five hours a week doesn’t cut it for this sort of planning. 
Additionally, the “pastor” part of “worship pastor” means that there’s somebody thinking through what we ought to do when something big happens that impacts our congregations. We recently had a tragedy in our community when a well-known pastor and his wife were killed suddenly. Many people in our church knew them well, and the shock was noticeable. Instead of going with “plan A” (which would have been easiest), we were able to modify the service to include a time of lament and grieving that ended up being a place the Spirit moved noticeably that weekend. Our services/gatherings cannot be planned in a vacuum, but must take our culture, our congregation, and our teams in mind.
Tech ministries, worship teams, choirs, stage design teams … all of these need oversight, but will work better if they have someone who can help translate between them. When a person has the big picture (see point 1), a church can spend its time and resources more efficiently. Case in point, many churches have a properties team who makes decisions about facilities, and yet most of the time, their bandwidth for worship technology is fairly small. A worship pastor can guide decisions made by that team with the long-term picture in mind (for example, “this sound board is going to die sometime in the next five years, we should start saving now”). 
The musical/artistic and theological training that a good worship pastor brings to the table helps bring vision to the multiple ministries under her charge. It means there’s somebody looking, not just at the state of what we have now, but the future of what is to come. Where are we going? What are we going to do when it gets here? What processes and mechanisms need to be put in place right now so that when “then” becomes “now”, the road might be a little less bumpy? In my context, I often ask the question, how can our modern people learn from our traditional people, and how can our traditional people learn from our modern people? In what ways can each encourage the other to grow, and in what ways can each encourage the other to remain faithful? Vision is about understanding the WHY of what we do (the PURPOSE behind gathering together) and then applying that truth to the ministries under our responsibility.
A worship pastor is meant to curate environments where a congregation can respond to God’s mercy together. I use the word “curate” here intentionally, adapted from Mark Pierson’s book “The Art of Curating Worship.” Museum curators don’t create exhibits to force change on people, but rather, to invite them to engage and experience the ideas. Curating is an ongoing art form - it does not cease when the glue on the exhibit dries, but is active, subject to change as new minds seek to better experience what the exhibit has to offer. Likewise, worship pastors do not worship FOR the people, and they cannot FORCE the people to worship (if it is coerced, it’s not worship). Instead, we create a space where we can invite people to engage God together and to become the sorts of people that He’s made them to be. The art, the music, the liturgy, the scripture, the message … all are crafted together as part of creating and curating a time in which people can choose to listen and respond to the Spirit in their midst.

Worship is so much bigger than an event, and a good worship pastor will know this. But this does not change the fact that we must still gather together. If worship is simply the act of responding to God’s mercy (Romans 12:1), then a well-curated worship gathering will be a place where God’s diverse, messy, multigenerational, weird-and-wonderful people can respond to that mercy together.