“I did it my way”: authority in music ministry

I heard recently of a small village church where one man served, for many years, as both Verger and Director of Music. Or perhaps ‘served’ is the wrong word to use in his case. He held the keys to the building, the keys to the organ, and the keys to the hearts of the choir; and he used them very successfully to veto anything in the church’s life of which he didn’t approve. Nothing was going to get past him, thank you very much, as a succession of hapless vicars discovered.

This man had power, certainly; but he didn’t know very much about authority!

Contrast that with a Roman centurion who meets Jesus (as reported in Matthew 8:5-13). He dearly loves his poor paralysed servant; he knows his own unworthiness; he trusts Jesus. And, as a military man, he understands what authority is all about. He says to Jesus:

“Just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me.”

This centurion knew what it meant to play one’s part in the chain of command. Yes, he was in charge of a troop of soldiers and had immense local power and influence. Yet he was himself under authority.

I imagine everyone involved in music ministry has experienced struggles and frustrations relating to questions of authority – even if they haven’t been as extreme as the megalomaniac music director I’ve just mentioned! For example:

• a drummer who will only play the groove ‘his way’
• a music group with an undercurrent of gossip against the church leadership
• a choir or band who dig in their heels to protect their ‘patch’ from other musicians
• irritation with a leader with seems to be unclear in what he wants, or unsupportive
• musicians who’ve threatened to leave the church over the way music is planned or led

Why can authority cause us such problems in Music Ministry? Here are four reasons, and I’m sure you can think of more:

1. We live in an individualistic culture, and we bring that into the church. We tend to think of rights rather than responsibilities, and are motivated more by desire than by duty.
2. The dreaded artistic temperament! It’s not universal, of course; but just by virtue of personality many musicians and technicians struggle with the twin temptations of pride and insecurity. We want people to admire our abilities; and at the same time we’re too insecure to take constructive criticism. So we dig in our heels and play it our way (and yes, just a little bit louder, as if to prove the point). We mix the sound the way we want it, just to prove that we have ultimate power. And in conversation afterwards, we subtly pull others down, to give ourselves a boost.
3. Freedom over secondary doctrinal issues becomes distorted into a ‘don’t you dare tell me I’m wrong’ attitude. It’s so good when church families can peacefully accommodate different views on secondary matters where good Christians may sincerely disagree: issues such as the mode of baptism, the use of spiritual gifts, the right use of Sunday, and so on. This is one sign of a mature church. But whereas the bible urges a control of these freedoms so that we don’t cause our weaker brothers to stumble (eg Romans 14:15), we like to insist on our freedoms so that we can get our own way.
4. We are a prime target for the devil to attack. The partnership of musicians and pastors (especially in Sunday meetings) is there for all to see, in the ‘shop window’ of the church. If we start to work against each other, so much damage is done. Hence we are a prime target for the devil.

However, getting these authority/submission questions sorted out is absolutely key to a fruitful music ministry. Why? Because Christ leads his church through a structure of authority, and he is the head. That is God’s will and God’s way. Hebrews 13:17 says: “Obey your leaders, and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.”

Think back a moment to that Roman centurion, who knew his own place in the chain of command. He also appreciated Jesus’s situation, too. He could see that Jesus was himself living on earth under his Father’s authority, with authority from the Father to conquer evil and sickness.

Matthew tells us that when Jesus encountered this man, “he was astonished and said to those following him, ‘I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.’” (Matthew 8:10) And just as this soldier’s situation is a parable of Jesus’s relationship with his Father, his attitude is one that Jesus would like to see developing in us. He’d like each of us in music ministry to be subconsciously thinking every week: “I am a person under authority, with people under me.”

What do you see as the key aim of the music ministry in your church? Rick Muchow, the Worship Pastor at Saddleback Church, once expressed it in these terms (I’m paraphrasing): “My aim is to use music to serve the vision of my senior pastor.” That simple statement struck me powerfully. Rick Muchow was heading up a flourishing worship team with hundreds of volunteers, supported by over 20 paid staff. Some of us might have coveted his position and his influence. But he said he was serving not his own vision, but his senior pastor’s vision. Otherwise the whole church would be pulling in slightly different directions, and a church that does that will eventually pull itself apart.



We need to be serious about mirroring Christ’s own attitude to authority and submission in our churches, and in music ministry. And, at the risk of being simplistic, that involves two challenges: the ‘upward’ challenge (relating to those ‘above’ you) and the ‘downward’ challenge (relating to those for whom you are responsible).

You may be thinking that the ‘downward’ thing is not relevant to you: you’re not a church leader, just a regular team member doing your bit. But wait a moment! You are responsible for leading your congregation in praise; and responsible for teaching them, through music, the truths of the faith. And, for example, when someone comes to you after the service with a compliment, or perhaps a negative comment on a song, they are doing that because you have a role in an authority structure in Christ’s church. How you handle that situation will be determined by how you see your own role as both a leader and a servant.

So let’s take a look at those two challenges.



Proverbs 25:13 says: “Like the coolness of snow at harvest time, is a trustworthy messenger to those who send him; he refreshes the spirit of his masters.” Whatever our precise ‘level’ in the organisation of God’s church, our job is to be ‘trustworthy messengers’ to our ‘masters’, and to refresh their spirits.

There are some particular people that I love to have around me in a crisis.  They typically solve problems rather than create them; and when as leader you have to make a close call, they give you sound advice and then cheerfully accept your decision. (And they don’t say “I told you so” when hindsight proves they were right!) As people like that obey me, my work (even in a crisis) becomes “a joy, not a burden”. And when that happens, it makes me resolve to try and be more like that towards my leaders. Because when we’re not, then the leader wastes time and becomes discouraged. And that is “of no advantage to [us]”.

What can you do to make it more of a joy for your music leader or pastor to have you on the team? Bob Kauflin says, “I can [joyfully and humbly serve my pastor] much better by knowing his priorities”.  So be proactive about finding out what really matters to your pastor, and what he thinks you should be doing (see Kauflin, Worship Matters, p242). Rather than waiting defensively in case the dreaded criticism should come, how about approaching him to ask for some honest feedback about last Sunday’s service? Being asked will make it so much easier for him to give it. And you might be surprised to hear what he says. Or how about asking him to recommend some reading for you?

Submission to authority is counter-cultural for us, but because it’s God’s way it brings enormous blessings to ministry. For some of us, it might be the missing link that is keeping us from greater fruitfulness. Because as we submit to our leaders, we share in their power.

Sharing in a leader’s power

A policeman has great power because he is vested with the authority of the state. But he must himself submit to the laws of the land, or else he is nothing more than just a big man with a truncheon!

In the same way, we’ve seen how Jesus’s power on earth came from his humble, total submission to his Father’s will. We too become powerful for the building of God’s church when we submit to those in authority over us, and share in the power that God has delegated to them.

In Numbers chapter 12, we read of how Aaron and Miriam began to talk against Moses. ‘Is Moses really that special?’ is the gist of what they were saying. They soon found out what God thought! In his grace he had great work for both Aaron and Miriam to do; but he had placed them under the authority of Moses. For them, submission to God included submission to Moses. That is a parable of how we should regard our leaders. Submission should never be blind, and is not unconditional – for example, where a leader clearly goes outside his scriptural mandate – but it should be one of our guiding principles. And from the heart, not just the lips or the legs.

Neither does godly, mature submission to authority mean simply being a ‘yes man’. That’s disastrous for everyone. In his management guide The 360-Degree Leader, John C Maxwell talks about how vital it is for any senior leaders to hear the advice and opinions of those they lead. The tragedy is that dysfunctional relationships so easily prevent that honest flow of information.



A few years ago, a South African church leader was telling me about how they planned their Sunday services. He said, “Our Music Director has grown to the point where I can effectively trust her completely with the choice of music. I rarely suggest any changes. But I always insist that she runs the outline past me, so that she’s protected in case there’s a problem.” What’s he doing there? He’s saying that if somebody should complain about an item of music, then he wants to be in the position to put up his hand and share responsibility for any misjudgements. What a great man to work for.

If you’re responsible for others in a team, then try to be like that! Bob Kauflin drily comments that “the easiest pastors to work with are those who want to work as a team, but take full responsibility for the final outcome.” (Worship Matters, p241). Invest whatever you can in developing your team and becoming a diligent, loving, effective leader: more Christ-like, and more servant-hearted. And remember your most crucial role: to teach and maintain sound doctrine, even when that’s unpopular. (See, for example, 2 Timothy 4: 1-5.)

And for all church musicians who have a responsibility for leading a congregation: don’t underestimate your potential influence! It’s an influence which can either do people good or do people harm. Don’t forget to think of your congregation when you rehearse, and to pray for them. As you lead their public praises and as you interact with them privately, do it as ‘responsible people’ who are also responsible to others. Work together to build up Christ’s church.



So, finally, here are some practical suggestions on three areas which we might consider for growth:

1. Submit well. Where do I need to work on my submission to authority? Do I know what my pastor thinks is important? Am I prepared to lay down some of my dreams to serve his? Am I making my leaders’ work as joyful as it can be? Am I refusing to gossip about them or criticise people behind their backs?
2. Lead well. How can I be a better leader to those for whom I am responsible? Am I developing teamwork, giving people credit for their successes, and not trying to duck responsibility when things go wrong? Am I committed to helping my team succeed for God? Am I setting a clear vision, and one that’s in line with the vision of the senior pastor? Am I keeping my team on a straight moral and doctrinal path, even when that involves challenging people?
3. Build relationships. Whatever our place in the chain of command, we can do so much good by building healthy, Christ-centred relationships with those around us. Bob Kauflin’s Worship Matters has an excellent section on this (pp213-259), from which I’ve already quoted a couple of times.
We saw earlier that good leadership and good submission are often big challenges for us musicians. They’re frequently a sticking point, but they beautifully honour the Lord Jesus and they really are key to future fruitfulness.

“I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me.” Let’s pray that the centurion’s mind-set, as well as his faith, love and humility, characterise our lives and ministries more and more, for God’s glory.

Chris Edwards – All Saints, Crowborough




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