Worship Management: The Industrial Revolution and Worship Culture

For the past 18 months, my partner at Torn Curtain Arts and I have been involved with a community of business owners and entrepreneurs through Crankset Group. Lead by Chuck Blakeman, Crankset is at the forefront of “participation age” work dynamics by helping businesses succeed through championing their employees’ strengths and passions and creating innovative, collaborative organizations.

I was first introduced to Chuck’s writing by a friend of mine who formerly worked in ministry and has since moved on to build an extremely successful strengths-based coaching business of his own. A couple of years ago, we were discussing some of my frustrations in paid professional ministry, many of which he shared and were the main reason for his departure from church work. He was quick to point out that the struggles we had as employees in ministry are the same struggles that have been taking place in the corporate world since the Industrial Revolution. 

In a column for inc.com in 2015, Blakeman explains the history of the manager. Before the Industrial Revolution, “80 to 90 percent of adults in the world owned their own business. Managers were invented for the Industrial Age factory system.” Factories needed employees in order to crank out massive amounts of product far faster and more efficiently than small, personal or family-owned business. However, from the outset these employees were assumed to be, in Fredrick Winslow Taylor’s words, “Lazy and stupid.” Taylor was a pioneer of management consulting and a leader in the Efficiency Movement of the early 20th century. 

How do you fix this supposed “problem” of lazy and stupid workers? According to Blakeman, “Taylor made it easy. You simply find the very few smart and motivated people and place them ‘over’ the stupid and lazy ones to make them productive. In this way management was born.” He goes on:

Modern business structures are built on a fundamental system of mistrust, division, and antagonism I call LCD management—managing to the lowest common denominator. Taylor's definition required that companies ask, "What's the stupidest and laziest thing a person could do here, and how do I create a system where they can't act that stupid and lazy?"

Parallels to modern church ministry abound. Anyone who has spent any amount of time in ministry knows how similar their church’s org chart is to nearly every other business on the planet—in fact, many of them are just copied and pasted from successful organizations with names and titles replaced. A case could be made that these structures are based on titles and positions described in Scripture. But if we’re honest, Industrial Revolution-style management has been as influential in the church as it has been in the professional world, as we try to crank out as many Christ-followers as possible in the time we have on this earth. 

I’ve lost count of how many books, blogs, and articles I’ve read bemoaning consumer Christianity, diminishing evangelical values, lack of involvement in the local church, and on and on.  These, I believe are all symptoms of churches “managing” their communities. But for now I want to focus on how this affects us as worship leaders and our overall worship culture. Many of us are no longer worship leaders but worship managers. What’s the difference?

Blakeman says, “Managers exist because they are assumed to somehow be smarter and more motivated—better at creating solutions, leading, motivating, monitoring processes, communicating, etc.” Remember, mangers were created on the premise that people are stupid and lazy. Managers start from a place of assumed weakness or deficiency in others and a presupposition that they have all the answers. They only give the people under them enough to complete their task. After all, they probably couldn’t handle more than that. 

Leaders, on the other hand, exist to “serve, champion, guide, train and connect others with the resources they need to be successful.” Leaders recognize and encourage strengths in others, empowering them to take ownership of their skills and allow them to utilize them for the betterment of the entire team or community. 

When it comes to our worship cultures, the rise of the Worship Manager is one of the more difficult issues the Church is dealing with. Here’s a short list that describes a Worship Manger:

  • “This is what I was hired to do” attitude: essentially, this person sees themselves as the expert on the subject of worship. Otherwise he/she wouldn’t have been hired.

  • Criticism is addressed aggressively and defensively as a challenge to their expertise.

  • Volunteers and the congregation are underlings who need to be taught how to worship, typically based on a past experience or an expectation that is seldom voiced and exists solely in the manager’s mind.

Let me be the first to raise my hand and say, “Guilty!” I still get my dander up from time to time when someone questions a decision I made or I receive a critical email or comment card. How dare they? Don’t they know I went to school for this?! If the list above describes you, as well, take heart. We stand in a long line of managers before us and probably even work for pastors who know nothing other than management ministry. But we can break this cycle.

We need to embrace the role of Worship Leader, and work to champion our communities in worship. Sure, maybe you went to school for this, but you stand on a stage with and in front of a group of people who were, after all, created to worship. Our job is not to brow-beat them into worshiping our way, but empower them and encourage them to worship God with the gifts they’ve been given, from the heart that beats inside their chest, and from the mind that rattles around inside their skull. A Worship Leader:

  • Understand their place on that stage is a privilege, not a right. You may have worked hard for your education and spent a lot of money on books and conferences, but you stand where you stand and do what you do because, ultimately, you were called.

  • Graciously accepts and even invites constructive criticism, welcoming the opportunity to grow and understand their community better.

  • Knows volunteers and the congregation are to be empowered to express their worship in musical and non-musical ways. They enable and exemplify a holistic approach to worship and provide opportunities and resources that will encourage others to do the same.

Overcoming mere management and growing into leadership is a discipline that takes time to master, if we ever do. Like I said, we have centuries of history and bad examples. But if we can start stepping up as leaders and stop managing worship in our churches, our communities will grow deeper in relationship—with God and each other—and our worship will be richer. 

More from Chuck Blakeman:

Why You Need To Eliminate All Of Your Company’s Managers

Leaders and Managers Have Nothing In Common