Clarity Is Kindness: Talking with your Lead Pastor about Worship

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I was recently in a series of meetings with a church that I admire about whether or not I'd be a good fit for their staff in the worship pastor role. In these sessions, we spoke about the church's culture and the conclusions they had come to about their identity. I gave what I thought was my best to answers their questions while being sensitive to the nuances about the ways my faith has changed in the last couple of years. 

I love the nuances. 

I loved these interviews because I respected the men I was speaking with, and I could genuinely tell that they liked me and respected me too. The conversations had a great mix of passion, vulnerability, and insight but the purpose of these talks was to reach clarity about whether we agreed on essential definitions that were central to their culture. It took us about six hours, in three meetings to reach this conclusion. I don't mean to suggest there is anything wrong with taking this long to talk about such matters, but I wondered if it needed to take hours? Was there a way to reach clarity sooner? And what could be the obstacles in my approach to clarity?

One of the biggest challenges worship leaders face is getting on the same page with the other leaders of a church. Usually, this means the lead pastor but often includes the executive pastor or another teaching pastor.

 There are many reasons this relationship is fraught with tension, and there seems like thousands of theories on managing it. I believe that this is mostly because worship leaders and artists truly think differently in a neurological way. What feels like a "win" to a worship leader and a lead-pastor may be very different. At the risk of over-generalizing, Lead pastors are often visionaries. They obsess about the future, and they are passionate about bringing everyone they can into that hopeful and rewarding future. Worship leaders share some of this because they also chase the future but for much more emotional reasons. They want to experience more of the mystery and wonder and beauty of God's reality. Bring in the Executive pastor who is typically obsessed with the current realities and steps it will take to get from here to there. They often rely on historical data and patterns as a predictor of what the future will look like. 

Each one of these roles and perspectives is vital to the health of a church. There needs to be a good push and pull among these different roles, but if they don't understand their own biases, they can create unnecessary friction and confusion on staff. 

Here are some other reasons I've discovered that get in the way of reaching clarity with a pastor:

    • I don't know what I want.

    • Since I love new ideas, my convictions can be swayed by another idea's gravitational pull.

    • I don't want to be wrong or look stupid.

    • I want to be humble and not perceived as arrogant.

    • Pure 'ol self-preservation ( ie, I'm afraid telling the truth will mean losing a job.)

Most of these reasons, I would say come from a distortion of my own identity. So when I don't have internal clarity and acceptance, finding it externally and relationally is almost impossible. 

The good news and the bad news here is wrapped up in a cute little "holys**t sandwich." You can't self-produce clarity on your identity internally, but you can put yourself in spaces where clarity is most likely to happen. I believe identity is revealed to you by the mysterious indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The only way to respond to this in-dwelling is (in some form) stillness, attentive listening, and surrender. It's as simple and as complicated as this. It will probably take your whole life to get used it. Still, real transformation is possible, and as the distortions in your identity fall away, here are a few helpful reminders about getting clarity with your Lead pastor.

There doesn't need to be (nor should there be) 100% agreement for there to be unity among you.

You might be familiar with the Apostle Paul's 2nd letter to the Corinthian church in chapter 12 when he uses the metaphor of the human body to describe the importance of differences in the church. He stresses that the unique design of each part is essential to the whole, but no piece is identical. In this passage, I believe he is saying that uniformity is one of the greatest existential threats to unity that the church can face. Uniformity of ideology and methodology and even theology creates a brittle and precarious monoculture in the church and leaves no room for unity. 

In a healthy body, you will find a balance of chaos and order. You will find diversity. You will find conflict and tension. In short, you will find love. A great deal of confusion comes from the avoidance of conflict, but conflict is a gift from God that reveals identity faster than anything else! 

However, conflict is like electricity; when it is channeled and given a conduit, it can power city blocks. When it is loose and unmanaged, it is dangerous and can kill. Therefore having a shared belief about conflict is essential to a relationship with your pastor. That energy is going to go somewhere, and the only question is where and when. 

You must understand and love your differences.

Oh boy. There is so much to unpack here. For now, let's put aside the ways we need to make peace with the differences in ourselves, let's focus on the gift of "otherness" in our relationship to our lead pastor. 

One of the universal myths the artist is tempted by is what I call the "liberation myth." It goes like this, "Everything would be better/ I could be more creative if I could get free of the person who keeps holding me back." For those poor souls who end up tragically getting what they want, they discover that they are far more miserable of a master than anyone else could be to them. They are held hostage to the victim story and will not be free until they are tied to a community. 

The same story plays out in the relationship with Lead pastor and artist. When the chemistry is right, they provide the right amount of tension to each other. This brings each of them to a better version of themselves. They hold the keys to each others transformation! I believe it was designed like this as a way for God to reveal more God in the world! 

When your posture towards difference changes and you get curious about gifts in store for you that are hidden in the one who thinks differently from you, then gratitude takes root. Gratitude, once activated, has a compounding effect. The more Grateful you are, the more open and responsive both of you become, which allows for more clarity and gratitude!

Over time you begin to love and depend upon their differences to support your weaknesses and visa Versa. 

I think the first step in this direction is curiosity. When does this person push your buttons? Does it happen in the same place? Are there any patterns you can notice about when it happens? What part of the week? 

What time of day?

 What kind of reaction does this cause in you? 

What fear does it bring up? 

Does this fear show up in other places without this person? 

As you ask yourself these questions, avoid the temptation to rush to a conclusion, or make a plan, observe without judgment. If you're the journaling type, keep a very brief record of your observations.

Clarity is Kindness

In my conversation with the church I mentioned earlier, we came to a point in our talk where I sensed that what they wanted from me was not "nuance." I was operating with the assumption that everyone loved nuance as much as I did. In my head, I was adding to the value of our conversation by waxing eloquent about all my ideas, feelings, and personal stories. It wasn't that they didn't entirely want this, but they had already done the hard work of forming their identity as a church, and now they wanted clarity about who I was.

I have to admit I'm often too willing to let someone else's convictions sway my own because I want to be humble and helpful (I'm an enneagram "9" after all!) but this is, ultimately, neither humble or helpful! It's rather self-righteous and dishonest (I know that sounds harsh, but it's true!) If I'm not aiming for clarity from the start, then I'm either not being attentive, or I'm politely aiming to manipulate somehow the person with whom I am speaking. 98% of the time I'm not trying to manipulate I'm just not paying attention, or I'm trying to avoid a confrontation.  

Now, some conversations are exploratory; this is true. I often need to verbally process ideas out loud before I know what I want; there is nothing wrong with this. If, however, the point of the conversation is to reach a decision, articulating the nuance of each idea is not appropriate. 

The truth I discovered about myself in this six-hour conversation was that I do, indeed, have limits. Ignoring, apologizing for, or even trying to muscle my way through changing them, is unkind to the people I want to love. I will end up outside of my design and destructive to myself and others. 

The sooner you can reach clarity about what is being asked of you and what you can and cannot do to meet that, the more kind and loving ( and happy ) you will be.