Dear Senior Pastor of Any Church

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Dear Senior Pastor of Any Church,

I’ve been blessed to spend twelve years of my life as a Worship Pastor, serving the church in this focused area of ministry. Somewhere along the line of recent church history, the hiring of specialized personnel became normative: Youth Pastors, Children’s Pastors, Discipleship Pastors, etc.  There’s little doubt that the emergence of the large, even mega church, made this development prominent in the American ecclesia, where multiple staff are needed to shepherd and care for large congregations.  Add that to the rise of specialized educational training within American higher education institutions, and you find that much of the pastoral workforce within our country today functions in specialized roles.

So as a Worship Pastor, it’s my primary responsibility to plan and lead my church’s corporate worship services while also teaching our congregation about worship and helping to equip those involved in worship leadership at our church for their roles in leading our services.  I have numerous friends who have similar positions in their churches.  A number of years ago, one such friend asked me to assess his congregation in worship.  He was working hard to plan and lead biblically, theologically, and artistically rich services, but simply wasn’t feeling that his congregation was engaging well.

I obliged his request, attending his church on a Sunday morning. The service was designed well, following a biblically and historically rich and informed structure of revelation and response and modeling the four-fold order (Gathering, Word, Table, and Sending).  It included a diverse array of musical and artistic styles, all which seemed accessible to the congregation and easy for even me, a guest, to engage.

But there was a definite problem: the congregation was, at best, minimally engaged, just as my friend had reported. In fact, the only time the congregation truly seemed involved in the service was during the sermon, where many around me diligently took notes and others offered verbal responses of affirmation to the preacher’s words.

I returned to the church for a second week, perplexed by what might be causing the lack of participation.  This time, I noticed something:  the Senior Pastor (the preacher in this setting) didn’t arrive to the service until just before she was to begin her sermon.  As the congregation stood for a time of prayer, the pastor slipped in the sanctuary, then sat down on the front pew and began a final review of her notes, seemingly oblivious to what was going on around her.  Following the singing of the sermon hymn, the preacher leapt from her seat to the platform and the room came alive with her energy, attentively listening to her message.

After the sermon, the pastor returned to her seat as the Worship Pastor began leading the congregation into the service of the Table, but again, the preacher seemed disengaged from what was happening around her. Interestingly, the lackluster participation of the congregation also re-emerged.

In the end, the assessment provided to my friend went something like this:  while you’re the Worship Pastor here, the leadership and participation of the Senior Pastor in worship is essential.  This person is the appointed shepherd of the church and her engagement with God in worship plays an enormous role in modeling what the congregation’s involvement should be.

Thankfully, my friend had a good relationship with his Senior Pastor and was able to convey this assessment to her.  The Senior Pastor took this to heart and my friend reported her very heart-felt participation in the entire worship service following their conversation.  In a matter of just weeks, my friend reported a notable difference in the level of engagement of the congregation in worship.

Since sharing this story with my other Worship Pastor friends, many have spoken with their Senior Pastors and, in the cases where these Senior leaders have taken the challenge to heart, the congregations have also noticed changes in terms of their congregations’ engagement in worship.

It’s just a hunch, but my guess is this would be true in any specialized area of ministry.  If the Senior leader drops in occasionally to Youth or Children’s Ministry activities, the church, as a whole, might become more engaged with the next generation.  If a Senior Leader occasionally participates in and supports the team assembled by the Discipleship Pastor to map the plan for spiritual formation in their church, I wonder if the priority of spiritual formation wouldn’t be elevated within that community.

It’s not to say that the Senior Pastor is the end-all-be-all in every church, but you are the appointed shepherd and your congregation is likely to value what you value.  Your role is a high calling and I’m sure you are thankful for those specialized pastors who serve alongside you.

May you be blessed as you continue in your good work.

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Emily Vermilya is the Executive Pastor at College Wesleyan Church in Marion, Indiana. Having previously served as a Worship Pastor in multiple churches, one of Emily’s passions is empowering and inspiring other worship leaders to lead worship that is biblically, historically, and theologically rooted in the Story of God. Emily also serves as an Adjunct Professor of Worship at Indiana Wesleyan University and as a Regular Faculty member at the Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies. Emily resides in Marion, with her husband Jim and her children, Silas and Aynsley.

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