Is Your Pastor Stunting your Creativity?

Honest talk with worship pastors

“Bring us into the future.”

I remember the line like it was yesterday. It was a plea, of sorts, delivered by the senior pastor at the church where I was about to serve. I believe he meant what he said and that he truly wanted the worship ministry of his church to advance into the 21st century. Unfortunately, that sentiment began to change not long after I had started the advancing process.

A little background:

God had recently brought me into a part-time, then full-time worship position. Prior to that, I’d spent almost two decades in the music industry doing exactly what I wanted both creatively and musically, with nobody daring to stand in my way. This was my A-R-T, after all. The more creative, obscure, excessive and indulgent, the better. The only side effects were critics who accused me of everything I just described.

But worship arts was different, and I understood that. I had no intention of trying to practice as much creative magic as possible on Sunday mornings. I felt I had at least some grasp on context and how to move forward slowly, honoring where people were at and where they’d come from.

When I was told to “bring us in into the future,” I was thinking that maybe we’d move away from Gaither vocal harmonies, relearn some old hymns or play some songs written after “How Great Is Our God.” Subtle, incremental changes.

I quickly discovered that what the pastor really wanted was for me to maintain the direction that the church’s program had been on since the early 2000s, while wearing jeans and Wrangler shirts to give it a more . . . umm . . . “up-to-date” look. Needless to say, frustration set in. Still, I learned a few things as God painfully tore away the idols of creativity that had inflated my heart.

Does any of this sound familiar? After countless conversations with worship leaders around the country, I’m positive it does. So what do you do, worship leader? Is it possible to actually thrive in this type of environment, or should you just grab your guitar and pack it in? Before you get too dramatic (because you are an artist, after all), I’d ask you to humbly consider these four things:

Remember that limitations are good things. Having unlimited creative powers in the area of worship will usually end with the church’s gaze being fixated on the spectacle rather than the Savior. Unlimited anything has never done anyone any good other than Christ, whose limitless attributes are a testimony to His glory. Start seeing limitations as a grace.

Work creatively within your limits. Having some parameters to work within can actually help hone and shape your creativity. If you have a pastor who insists on doing things the same way they’ve always been done, why not come up with ideas that actually emphasize the things he does like? See, you’re already being creative.

Strive for clarity and excellence. Spend an inordinate amount of time praying and practicing to be as clear as possible. Clarity in what you say, clarity in what you play. Godly worship that is clearly executed is like gospel preaching that is clearly heralded: It will stir our affections for Christ and keep the focus of our heart on humble excellence over cleverness and complexity.

Reject perfectionism. Perfectionism is more than a really cute word for pride. It’s deadly, and not only because it kills creativity and spontaneity. One of the greatest temptations for worship leaders is self-exaltation—where we forget the specifics of our role and use the creativity God has given us to reflect our own glory.

Interestingly enough, after years of worship leading, I now find myself in the lead pastor role at Substance Church. And whenever God provides us with a worship pastor, I’ll have to practice what I preach! My prayer is that I will be a help and not a hindrance to the person God calls to lead our church in worship.

So, worship leader, maybe I’m describing your story. Maybe your situation is even worse than what I’ve described. Take heart. Be assured that God is faithful and is growing you in humility, patience, self-control and—if you’re not careful—maybe even a little more creativity.

Adapted from the author’s February 14, 2014, post at Gospel Coalition

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