Pastor Dance: Leading Worship In Our Emotionally Reactive World

What a strange and wonderful time to be a worship leader.

The work of pastoring includes calling us toward spiritual maturity. This means calling us up to a better way of life, becoming salt and light. Pastors are
commissioned to point out what needs changing in ourselves and in society around us, including calling out injustice and the ways we participate in the unjust systems in our world. Think about it….we invite pastors to help us identify what’s wrong with ourselves and the world (sin), followed by challenging us to change. All the while, they would like to stay employed, trusting their congregation with their family’s financial well-being (among so many other trust-actions). This is the pastor dance: loving us, while also challenging us, while also remaining employed.

Serving in this dual role of pastor and prophet is not new for pastors. Remember this old colloquial piece of wisdom, “Pastors are called to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” So, challenging us to become different in the context of a loving relationship is not new, yet it is different… The congregational environment is on emotional steroids, overly-reactive like our culture at large.

In our clergy cohorts, training events and coaching with pastors, we are hearing that the context is different now. Those in worship seem to have different ears than before, filtering sermons and prayers through an overlay of charged –up emotion. Pastors describe how
• Brief, non-essential phrases which are tangential to the sermon or prayer are magnified, generating excessive reactions
• Small mistakes in wording unintentionally trigger hot-button issues
• Even carefully crafted wording, intended to avoid politically charged issues, can ignite a fire-storm of response when they are heard as political statements
• Hearers generalize quickly about the nature of this church, based on only a few words or phrases heard in worship
• Worshippers choose to leave their church, without any conversation with their church, based on something heard in worship which may or may not be accurate
• Projection of intentions onto worship leaders is rampant

So, where does this leave worship leaders? What are we to do as we serve in the role of pastors and priests whose calling includes loving and affirming while also disturbing the reality of those in worship? We are called to step on toes, yet the toes in question are hyper-sensitive now. The following are insights harvested from pastors over the last six-months or so as they apply themselves to faithfully living out their callings. These dance moves come from pastors who are out on the floor, interacting with their people as pastors and prophets.

• Lay aside pretending these are normal times. This means acknowledging the heightened emotional reactivity in our culture and (unfortunately) in worship. Worshippers appreciate hearing what they already know to be true, along with the particular dilemmas inherent in worship leadership.
• Reflect on what it means to be a worship leader in this emotionally charged and reactive culture, inviting your staff, lay leaders, and perhaps even the congregation into this conversation. Design an event which elicits conversation about what it means to be church together when divisive issues are raised. Where we find ourselves regarding this discussion directly influences how we approach worship leadership.
• Use a sermon to describe the emotionally reactivity in our larger culture, along with various responses to the emotionally charged environment (denial, avoidance, conflict, healthy dialogue, covenant relationship enhancement, heightened discourse, etc.). Describe the dilemmas of worship leadership at this particular time. With the support of your lay leaders, claim the prerogative and responsibility of calling the church to a better way of life than what our culture is promoting.
• Invite your lay leaders to take the lead on describing what we need as a church from worship leaders….affirmation AND challenge. When the lay leaders inform the congregation there will be times when they are uncomfortable in worship due to challenging content, it sends a powerful message. Lay leaders can step up and clearly give their blessing to the calling of worship leaders to comfort and challenge us.
• Remember…the Church has danced this dance before, and survived. We are not the first to live in culturally shifting times, and we won’t be the last. So, look to God and remember our history. We know, deep in our spiritual DNA, how to do this dance.

May we live our callings, fully and faithfully in these days. Our world needs the invigorated courageous Church we are called to be.

Mark Tidsworth,
Pinnacle Leadership Associates