How Do You Manage Membership on a Worship Team?

Recently I was talking to Jon Payne, the worship pastor in the Sovereign Grace church in Gilbert, Arizona. He brought up a question he had been asked about how to handle membership on a team. The particular issue was managing how long people should be on the team, given changing church size, addition of new members, seasons of life, and other factors. I thought his answer was worth sharing here at Worship Matters, so I’ve adopted it here.

Each fall we have a meeting where I “fire” everyone. I want them to know I don’t assume they should automatically continue serving on the team. I give them several weeks to pray about their decision, discuss it with their small group leader, and then get back to me.

I’ve seen a number of benefits to this approach.

  • It forces people to seek faith to serve on the team—rather than assuming they should. Those that respond positively come back with more zeal and enthusiasm for the next year.
  • It creates a natural time to add new people to the team, although people can still join mid year.
  • It creates a natural time to remove people from the team. As everyone is evaluating, it’s a great time to approach someone and encourage them to take time off.
  • It’s a regular reminder that no one on the team is irreplaceable. I joked with them this year that if no one responded I would be up there alone on my piano. A joke in the moment…but true. I don’t want people serving without faith. I don’t want people assuming that I would do “whatever it takes” to get a band on stage.
  • It reminds everyone that there are other legitimate places to serve in the church that the worship team should be excited about and interested in.
  • It reminds people that we won’t be here forever…sooner or later we will step down…
  • It’s a great time to remind the team that we are just warming the seat for the next guy.

Those are Jon’s thoughts. Here are some of mine. Since Scripture doesn’t give us any specific guidelines for the tenure of the music team member, it’s wise to plan for the inevitable changes that come in you, your church, and the lives of your team members. Musicians can often carry the unspoken assumption that they have a lifetime membership card to the team, and are shocked/dismayed/disappointed/angry when they’re asked to step down or are moved to another ministry.

In the church we want to cultivate the model of the servant musician – those who develop their musical skills to the utmost so they can serve the church more effectively for the glory of Jesus Christ. But we also want people to understand that being a servant comes before being a musician. If there’s a better way for them to serve that isn’t musical, they should pursue it with joy and gratefulness.

It’s really helpful if these values are communicated before someone joins the team. You might hand out a team philosophy or even communicate these values at an audition. But if that’s not possible, it’s good to regularly remind team members that serving is a privilege, not a right. Stepping down from the music team to serve in another ministry doesn’t mean that an individual doesn’t want to worship God. It may communicate exactly the opposite. Worshiping God means obeying his will for our lives and seeking to serve others for the Savior’s glory. That’s something we can do in any ministry in the church.

“Firing” the people on your team and asking them to pray about their continued involvement is one way of keeping us humble and making us aware that none of us are indispensable. If you’ve thought of other ways, let us know.

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23 Responses to How Do You Manage Membership on a Worship Team?

  1. west breedlove November 30, 2007 at 10:35 PM #

    Great post Bob/Jon. Very helpful.

  2. Stephen Altrogge December 1, 2007 at 11:00 AM #

    Bob,

    To help our team think through these issues I recently gave every one a message you gave entitled “Heart Attitudes For The Worship Team”. It’s a great message that really addresses the issue of serving on the worship team. After listening to it, one singer humbly came up to me and told me I could “fire” her any time I needed to.

    The message is free to download at the following link:

    http://www.sovereigngracestore.com/ProductInfo.aspx?productid=A1195-02-51

    Thanks for giving such a great message!

  3. Gary December 1, 2007 at 11:45 AM #

    Why would you spend so much time sowing into team members only to fire them or encourage them to go do something else?

    I have been on worship teams of both types. The first I auditioned once and as long as I served with gladness and humility and continued to pursue my calling, my gift and my craft we went along fine. however if there was an issue with any of those things it was addressed head on. It was clear that while I was my responsible for my gift and craft my heart was the most valued part of the team and if I needed to work on this part there was no problem asking me to step down either for a season or permanently. this was an amazing team.

    The other I have to audition every year and every year the team is disrupted, disjointed, and unnerved. We get over it and the team functions well but I just don’t see the point of operating that way. The pastor isn’t treated that way. It does cause me to re-evaluate each year but there are other, I think better, ways to accomplish this.

    If we want team members that are called “those who develop their musical skills to the utmost so they can serve the church more effectively for the glory of Jesus Christ” and it takes time to build skill, and team unity why don’t we want people part of it for the long haul.

    sorry if I missed your point, I love this blog. Just my thoughts.
    Thanks for allowing comments. :-)

  4. Bob Kauflin December 1, 2007 at 1:44 PM #

    Gary,

    Thanks for the question and the opportunity to clarify what I wrote in my post.

    The intention of “firing” everyone on your team each year isn’t to create disruption or unnerve people. And you don’t have to call it “firing.” The same effect can also be achieved through regular reminders of these points. But having an annual time to consider your commitment to the team helps insure that everyone is still called to serve as a musician. It also helps me as a leader realize that I don’t have the right to hold on to people whose priorities are changing, such as with a new baby, a new schedule, or growing responsibilities in other areas. Of course, I can also address those issues as they arise.

    Our team actually functions in a similar way to the first team you described. Ken Boer, who oversees our music ministry now, has just started having the vocal ensemble members commit to a year. But part of the reasoning behind that was to encourage a greater sense of commitment.

    As always, the most important part of leading a team isn’t the particular methods you use, but the motives and purposes behind them.

    Let me know if that helps or if you have any other thoughts.

  5. Gary December 1, 2007 at 2:56 PM #

    “the most important part of leading a team isn’t the particular methods you use, but the motives and purposes behind them”

    Absolutely right. I don’t think there is necessarily any “right” or “wrong” in methods. Every context is different. I tend to think commitment is a function of vision and leadership. Many times as leaders we try to introduce artificial controls rather than teaching, casting vision, and leading the team.

    Thank’s for your reply.

  6. Shayla December 2, 2007 at 12:09 AM #

    I wish this could be implemented within our Ministry. I’m not sure if I or my fellow co-laborers want to continue serving. Sometimes I don’t, but I press my way through how I feel. We have 6 vocalists and one keyboard player, and during our rehearsals, two of the members, both having served as the Praise and Worship Ministry leaders in the past, grunt or make negative remarks about how the current leader teaches a particular part in a song.They constantly interrupt rehearsals with questions that seem as if they are trying to show that they know more and the leader does not. The keyboard player is a member of the Church and tends to also start arguments with the leader. For example, the leader provides the songs and scriptures of meditation one month in advance to all of us, so we know what we are ministering. But the keyboard player is involved in another group outside of the church and is unable to rehearse, so the keyboard player just comes in and gets away with whatever he plays and if he does not learn a song, he won’t play and if something is said or requested of him, he makes rude comments. I don’t say much, in order to keep the peace for myself. I told the leader that I had seriously considered stepping down, because some of my co-laborers display some ugliness that should not even be present in the Ministry. Do you have any advice on how can I help? Would I be helping by stepping down until something happens?

  7. Bob Kauflin December 2, 2007 at 7:12 AM #

    Shayla,

    Thanks for stopping by.

    I’m afraid that there are more foundational problems on your team than my post addresses. I don’t think establishing a yearly commitment process is going to address them.

    Your leader needs to decide what the standards for the music team are. Do they have to be members of the church? I’d suggest that they should be. Also, if members of the team can continue to rudely express disagreement, not come to rehearsals, and try to “one-up” the leader, their presence will hinder the goal of leading others to exalt Christ. Ps. 133 says, “Behold how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity…for there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life forevermore.” (vv. 1, 3)

    I’d pray that God would bring unity to the team and that people would become freshly aware of the mercy they’ve received in Jesus Christ. I’d also do what I can to encourage humility and faithfulness among the members of the team and talk to the leader about the disconnect between what they’re trying to do publicly as a team and what goes on privately. You could also talk privately to different members, asking them for their perspective, and helping them see how their behavior is affecting the team. You might suggest to your leader that the team read Humility, by C.J. Mahaney, together. If no one seemed to be responding after a time, I’d probably step down from the team and try to find another place to use my gifts.

    Hope that’s helpful.

  8. Shayla December 3, 2007 at 11:23 PM #

    Very helpful. Thank you.

  9. Sean Steeves December 4, 2007 at 12:38 PM #

    Hi Bob,
    I like the idea that serving is a privilege, not a right. I lead at a small church and I find myself thinking that I have every right to do what I am doing but the bottom is is that I am dispensable and so are the other people that lead with me. It is rather humbling to think and it motivates me to see what I am doing as a service to God and to my fellow believers and not myself. I also like the idea of “firing” but I don’t know if this would work in a small church with limited volunteer. Do you think that this is model for smaller churches?

  10. Phil DeLoriea December 4, 2007 at 6:40 PM #

    Some people think being on the worship team is just something we do for fun. They don’t see the practice at home, the practice with the group, the set up and tear down, being at church for 12 hours on every weekend.

    Qualifications, believer, member, trusted, someone you would go into battle with. It is a battle, a spiritual battle every time.

    In the old testament thee are instructions for who to bring to battle. I forget where, and I don’t want to be legalistic, but as good advice from the best counselor…
    Just get married? take the year off.
    Just Plant a vineyard? same. Who plants a vineyard? lets modernize that, busy? got things on your mind? take time off.
    Fearful? definitely take time off.
    Having just got married, I am in the ninth month off from being on the worship team.

    The leader has to know that every member on the team loves the every member on the entire team. This is a big one, and it shows up.

    I have since moved from the team and relocated to a different state, and I miss them all, we laughed, cried, shared our lives. Our leader knew us well enough to say something privately, and get into a discussion one on one about anything. We also had a group of talented people who would sit in at times, so that one or two could take a weekend off and the team would still be full.

    That is something I would encourage. Bring in new people to practice, burn CD’s of the worship and pass them around to the musicians and singers in the local church. Do not be afraid of unorthodox musicians or instruments. I have seen flute, sax, trumpet, harmonica, harp, percussion, all used in church.

    Thank you.

  11. Kai December 7, 2007 at 1:15 PM #

    I wonder if – as worship leaders – our goal is for musicians in the band to be servants before they are musicians, you plan a service project one night that everybody can participate in instead of practice? I can’t think of a better way to encourage a servant-first attitude than to go out and actually serve.

  12. glenn December 7, 2007 at 1:42 PM #

    i appreciated this article and the questions posed by it. for me though, its not always how you manage a team, its just how well you work with people and how well the specific people in your tea m work with you and each other. So at some point in my opinion its almost out of our hands as worship leaders (to some degree you can help be an organizer, but at some point if people dont work well together you cant control it) to make sure that we do the best we can without becoming dictatorial.
    -glenn

  13. Peter Park December 7, 2007 at 11:54 PM #

    With the major changes we are going through our worship team, one of our worship leaders may choose to go to another ministry in this next year. We have an abundance of worship leaders right now, so it may be a good time to transition to that.

  14. Nate Heavilin December 8, 2007 at 4:49 PM #

    I think “firing” is a great idea. I know in my youth group’s worship ministry, if not for graduating and moving off to college, I have not doubt I’d still be leading this Sunday. It’s so easy to get burned out, week after week.. And it’s so easy to assume that you’re the only one who can, and that if you step down, you’re not opening a door, but you’re letting everyone else down. I think we all need that reality check, we’re not the only ones. Thanks dude.

  15. Emily Davis December 8, 2007 at 10:17 PM #

    I like the idea of having everyone take time to think and pray about their involvement. I think that it can be easy to forget who you are praising when you are on the stage. I used to be a part of one of the worship teams at my school when I realized that I had become to focused on me and my involvement in worship rather than worshiping with those who were around me. I then decided to take some time off of being in the worship team and have spent that time in other ministries. I could have continued to have been on the worship team and would have continued to praise God but I believe that God called me to focus on other areas instead.

  16. Jenny Hejka December 10, 2007 at 11:17 AM #

    Wow! This is something that i wish i would have read prior to this. I have been involved in ministry at my home church and while it was not necessarily music ministry, it did deal with managing a team. I like the thoughts on having people take time to reevaluate their purpose on the team and decide if that is the place where they should still be serving. I guess when most people think about serving, they see it more as an obligation. I like what you said about serving being a privilege. We need to remember that as we serve and as we manage. Thank you.

  17. jon December 10, 2007 at 11:49 AM #

    I appreciate Gary’s appoint above..though the team understands “firing” to be a humorous way of introducing the opportunity to take a break. Any such “management tool” should be much lower on the priority list than a regular and exuberant gratefulness for their service and example. They also understand my affection and respect for all of them and my desire that they would continue serving on the team. Hopefully, this yearly commitment idea can be communicated in a way that honors their service and guards their faith rather than downgrading the value of servant musicians giving their gifts for the good of the church and the glory of the Lord.

  18. Joel Keck December 14, 2007 at 2:47 PM #

    I really like this approach to how things are done. I sometimes feel that the worship band members have a tendency to hold themselves up higher than the rest of the congregation or others merely because they are on stage leading or being a part what goes on. Maybe it is just me being too critical, but it is also a result of me seeing the same people on stage and the same people doing the special songs. I have also had numerous conversations with people who were new to the worship band but that they were not enjoying it because certain members of the group would not allow for changes or for others opinions. I may be too critical of this because I have been witness to how it can be without a process like this. I do like what he has to say though.

  19. Nathan Irby December 19, 2007 at 1:01 PM #

    First I would like to say Wow! on the idea of “firing” people of the worship team. I really never saw it like that. I can say from a recent experience where I was kicked off a worship team. I felt betrayed by my own brother in Christ, I was very angry at the church. But I never thought it would happen to me. I’m majoring in Worship Leading at a bible college. But maybe God wanted me to serve differently at that church. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to play at the church. I played almost every sunday, I was starting to get sick of playing….I should have step down when I started feeling that way…..

  20. cavman December 19, 2007 at 10:34 PM #

    Tried the “firing” one year. Some people got the concept, but a few didn’t. They felt a neurotic need to continue for the good of the church even though they really weren’t enjoying it.
    It’s a great idea, but the gospel has to be appropriated, not just preached, for it to work well. Some people accept it intellectually, but the coin really hasn’t dropped in their experience. And that hinders the whole ministry.

  21. valerie August 19, 2009 at 11:11 AM #

    Thanx for this topic, I search Google for this very topic and your website came up.
    I am the pastor’s wife and leader of our small church’s worship team, 4 yrs old. We have 9 members 5 are teenagers including the keyboardist and drummer who play well, by the way. We have an adult member that was put on by a previous leader 2 years ago who left. This person cannot sing very well and is sometimes tone deaf. We spend more time on her in rehearsals and by Sunday she still doesn’t get it… we have to turn her mic way down. She is excellent on the soul winning team and has 5-10 invited guests every week and most times want to sing her “lead” song so as to impress her guest. This is delicate because she has threatened to leave the church several times and while we can’t afford for anyone to leave we also can’t afford the worship service to be hindered with the many complaints that our singing is off. She is also new convert but, still has other issues like smoking that she is admittedly working on. My husband thinks that once we grow these people will eventually be moved into other areas but, I don’t know if it can wait that long. I may be difficult to fire everyone since out team is so small. I feel stuck. Are there any other suggestion you have?

  22. Dee March 1, 2011 at 12:21 AM #

    I loved this article. Between it and the comments, I have received a lot of insight. Humility seems to be key and it’s no wonder that God has been speaking to me on the same. I am an instrumentalist on our worship team and what has been helpful for me is to take regular time off. That means, monthly. I have a schedule that I stick to, leaving me free to minister in worship 3 weeks out of a month and have time to be ministered to and for family the other times. It keeps me humble to sit and be ministered to by the other musicians and is refreshing at the same time. God bless you and your work.

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