Over the years as a worship leader I’ve had all kinds of relationships with the pastors I worked for and the teams I led. Almost always those relationships have been fantastic and have been the fertile ground where God was able to grow His work in the lives of people in our church.

One of the key relational dynamics between senior pastor and worship leader is figuring out how songs are chosen for the church to sing in worship services.

Is song choice up to the senior pastor? Does the worship leader get to choose the songs? Who gets to make the final call when there’s a disagreement or lack of clarity around what songs should be sung?

I’ll preface this by saying that in some churches there is very little decision-making to be done. Either because of liturgical requirements or sometimes depending on the philosophy in a multi-site church the worship leader of that congregation really has no input at all in song choice.

But in the majority of modern evangelical churches the responsibility for song choice in a worship service is going to fall somewhere on a spectrum between the worship leader/pastor and the senior pastor.

Let me illustrate with a fine little diagram ?

Let’s go to the extremes first and think about some of the pros and cons of each of the ends of the spectrum:

Senior Pastor Decides

This is certainly one way to do it and probably in smaller churches, church plants or churches where the senior pastor has built the ministry out of their history as a worship leader this is a more likely scenario. This allows the senior pastor to keep the vision of the church fully integrated within all expressions of the church including the worship ministry and is probably a scenario that works well when there is a new relationship between a seasoned senior pastor and a younger worship leader.

The flip side of this scenario is that over time you will end up with a worship leader who is simply implementing the will of the senior pastor. Without an equipping relationship where the worship leader understands very clearly the purpose of the songs and even some of the theological reality underneath song choice when it comes to the order of the service this will, over time, result in a worship leader who loses interest. The pastoral responsibility when it comes to equipping requires that we build into worship leaders an understanding of why certain songs are good choices outside of the fact that they’re our favourites, the church loves to sing these ones, these songs go together really well in a set list.

Senior pastors – how can you help equip your worship leaders to choose great songs for your church to sing?

Worship Leader Decides

The other end of the spectrum is that the worship leader/director/pastor decides the song selection with no input from the senior pastor. This obviously will work best where there is a healthy, trust-filled relationship between the two, where the worship leader has proven not only their musical ability but also their theological thinking in choosing songs for worship. Pastorally the worship leader is also able to lead the congregation in worship and help them grow as disciples, not just play some songs that the people like to sing.

The shadow side in this kind of relationship is that one day the senior pastor may wake up and realize that their vision for the worship services at their church hasn’t really come to fruition and the worship leader has taken the sound/feel/vibe in a different direction than was intended. Obviously this requires lots of communication within the senior pastor/worship leader relationship and also a very high level of clarity in communication from the senior pastor as far as what is expected, what is required and where they’d like the church to go.

Worship leaders – how can you choose songs that help to implement the vision your senior pastor has for your church?

The Middle Road

The truth is that most churches are going to find themselves somewhere between these two extremes along the spectrum. At the end of the day there really isn’t a proven right way of making song choice work for every church in every place so this is one of those relational realities that senior pastors and worship leaders need to work through.

The conversation around this should start as early as a job interview if the worship leader is a paid position or in some kind of talk around expectations if it’s a volunteer role. So many of the relational pitfalls happen simply because there hasn’t been clarity and the expectations are misunderstood on both sides.

Senior pastor – have you been clear with your worship leaders on the kinds of songs you’d like them to choose? Have you been clear about the sound you’d like to hear from your worship teams in your weekend services? Are you equipping your worship leader to understand a theological framework of the worship service and how songs help to tell the grand story of God’s redemptive purpose for the world?

Worship leader – are you submitting to the authority of your senior pastor even in your song selection? Are you communicating clearly with your senior pastor around why you are choosing or introducing certain songs for the congregation to sing? Are you pastoring and discipling the congregation not just to sing songs but to grow in their following of Jesus through their worship?

What about at your church? Where does the responsibility lie for choosing songs? Does the senior pastor or the worship leader have more influence when it comes to the songs your church is singing in the worship service?