I wrote this article to have a place to vent, but also in the hopes that someone could learn from my experiences and protect themselves from future harm.
It's sad that today some churches are doing
things that are harmful to their members. I imagine that
most churches are not doing these things, but some are. I
believe most church members and church leaders genuinely want to
help their communities. But there are those few out there
who try to justify bad decisions and actions with the good they
convince themselves they are doing. I believe Christians
should still find a church and be active in it.
So I'm writing this to help others.
This is my experience with bad churches throughout my
life. I am going to go into strong detail here, but I'll
keep names and churches out of this. My intent is not to
libel or slander. But if you feel convicted or embarrassed
when reading this, that's probably because this describes your
church, and I make no apologies for your emotional state.
This is not out of malice. I simply
intend to protect the public and church goers from harm.
The names of the churches have been changed to prevent libel and
slander lawsuits. Yes, I have been threatened with legal
action by a church, as have some people I know. Sort of
sad though: 1 Corinthians 6 tells us not to do that.
A Church In Japan
This church in Japan had something brewing underneath everything. The pastor left because he claimed he wanted to be closer to his Japanese in-laws (he was an American but his wife was Japanese).
It is my opinion that this is not the whole truth. A year before, the Japanese government had told the denominational association they needed to renew their lease or contract for the building this church was in. The pastor was supposed to be working on it. However, a year passed without progress. He just happened to leave right before things came crashing down.
The claim that his mother in law was in poor
health doesn't seem to add up, in my opinion. He would
regularly go down there to visit with her. His wife
could've stayed there. Japan has a very good railroad
system: transportation wasn't the problem. I doubt time
was the problem because with time management, I am fairly
confident he could have adjusted his schedule. The church
he was at in Japan didn't have so many members that ministering
to all of them was going to be very difficult.
I confronted the pastor on social media about it, and he never sounded even remotely sorry for what he failed to get done. He had nothing but excuses.
That poor church had to rent out places to meet and move things around all over the place, which put lots of stress and strain on the church for maybe two years, and probably made the church look very dumb to the local populace. Romans 13 says we obey the law.
So if your pastor suddenly announces that he
is leaving, check to see if he neglected to ensure something
important got done. If he neglected something major that
affects the church's health and/or finances, deny him his
severance if your constitution allows. If your church
constitution does not allow this, it might be time to make
changes to it.
Old Despair Baptist Church
Old Despair's problem was that, in my opinion, it had a pastor who was inept at leadership and whose interest was only himself, apparently.
When I first got there, they had hardly any musicians, and Old Despair was dying. But the pastor seemed to preach good sermons that were trendy sounding, so sure, I joined because I wanted to help.
Then for a year I wasn't even allowed to be on the worship team. I ran sound briefly and fixed some sound issues. But they would never tell me why I could not help.
Then I decided to volunteer for Royal Ambassadors. I gave my first lesson to the boys that was more or less me trying to use military resilience but from a biblical perspective (sort of like Dr. Bob Dees). The PowerPoint had random photos of popular television stars on it at some point, just as an example. Nothing profane or vile, nothing unfit for young eyes. One of them had a gun in the photo.
Then I was immediately told I can't teach
RAs any more because of the gun content. This is ironic
considering the child they were concerned about, who had a
police record, was already not supposed to even be on their
property due to an injunction or something. But of course
this is because the pastor and half the staff were avowed
political liberals: guns are bad, they claim. Not like
this kid wouldn't be able to see tons of gun stuff on YouTube or
TV at home, but I digress. They looked past the injunction
they legally created because they claimed the kid needed the
gospel, ignoring their own reasons to do this (his violence,
police record, and corrupting influence to other kids).
But then I was suddenly allowed to be on the
worship team. Mainly because I complained that they let
someone who had not even joined the church play violin (LOL)
while I was not allowed to help in a more logical, tangible way
like singing. (I'm not disrespecting violin, just saying
they needed a lot more than violin.) I approached the
pastor about it, and he said he allowed it because of a
miscommunication. (This implies he was unwilling or unable
to just correct the misunderstanding.)
This violin person was a Calvinist, the type you usually hear about (i.e. hyper-calvinist). Eventually he got upset at something the church didn't believe like he did and he left. I recall eating a meal with this person at a restaurant on the day he decided to tell me he wasn't coming back, while I was trying to be an apologist for the church that still didn't let me get on the worship team. (I joined after he left).
The pastor that day was blaming himself that they left. But this was ironic because no changes were made to how he did business.
Then I was on the praise team for a while,
but not allowed to lead, even though I had qualifications to
lead. They even said at one point they didn't need a
leader, which was sort of a joke because they were highly
unorganized. But I began to suspect they really did have a
While this happened, the drummer said his family needed money for bills, and so the church helped them out. (This is a church that could not keep its doors open hardly.) Next week, he wasn't at church: they were tight on money because they had bought tickets to Disney Land.
Then the pastor briefly started men's meetings at our church. But I can recall the day he taught that discipleship is important. All the men thought it would be a great idea and someone pitched the idea that the pastor do it. I clearly remember the pastor saying under his breath (but still not quietly enough) that he wished he had started doing his PhD in Theology. Immediately, the men's group was terminated. Classy.
Then the problem deacon (see next paragraph)
one Wednesday was saying that everyone from Texas is
stupid. I was sort of taken aback (I had my sons with me,
who are from Texas) and asked him if he is serious. He
repeated what he said and said he's completely serious.
This is the deacon the pastor once told me that a lot of people
stopped attending church when he was ordained. So again,
another thing that revealed (in my opinion) the pastor lacked a
Then I was not allowed to be on the praise
team any more, and they said it was because I concealed carried
in church. (This is legal in the state I was living in,
and they only found out because the problem deacon began to
pry.) This was a Vietnam vet. So they suddenly met
with me after church and said I was not allowed to conceal carry
in church. I told them they had no authority.
(Ironically, the problem deacon who had the problem with it was
not present: he voiced his complaint and left, and I was alone
with the pastor and two other deacons.) They said this is
why I can't sing with them. Then they basically suggested
that either I stop doing this or never come back. I told
them I would obey, and kept attending. I regret that now.
When we got home, my wife burst into tears and asked me why we're still going to this church. At the time, I sheepishly said God hasn't told me to move on. But God began to move.
Finally, the pastor was teaching Wednesday Night "Bible Study" and said something about how we will know if we are where God wants us to be because we will be doing what He wants, or something like this. I don't recall what he said, but it stimulated the thought: I am not where God wants me to be.
So I left. I emailed him and said I'm not coming back. The pastor sheepishly said he wanted to know why, but then changed his mind and didn't want to meet with me. So here's what I learned:
- A praise team that is 50% blood-related to the pastor is
probably going to end badly due to the lack of people to be
- If a pastor's wife cannot at least be civil with him in church, that's a huge red flag. 1 Timothy 3 says the qualification for a pastor is that his wife be respectful (which means that it falls on the pastor or would-be pastor to either mend the relationship or step down). Sure, we all have bad days, but I watched her basically blow past everything he said and start leading the praise band. And this was after previously they all said there's no leader. Yeah, right.
- If a pastor's son is on the praise team but that son's wife
isn't attending because someone at that church hurt her
feelings, that indicates the pastor may be guilting his son
into being on the team, or he's on the team because of
guilt. This is a huge red flag.
- If many church members leave (Old Despair's history, given
to me by the pastor) because of the behavior of a deacon, this
is a huge red flag. Again, 1 Timothy 3 qualifications of
deacons is that they not be double tongued, and that they be
respectful. Insist the deacon be dealt with. If
they are not, leave. Any corrupt person in church
leadership eventually corrupts all of church leadership, and
ultimately all of the church, in my opinion.
- If a lead pastor has no accountability (in that he has
ultimate, unrivaled authority and can ignore his "advisors"),
you need to advocate for a
plurality of elders concept.
- If a church has almost as many deacons than it almost has
church members (i.e. more than half the congregation), this is
a huge red flag.
- If the church makes a man with long hair (1 Cor. 11:14) who
sees no problem displaying a Confederate Flag in his home a
deacon, this is a huge red flag. A deacon should be
unimpeachable (1 Timothy 3:2).
- If the church is chronically taken advantage of by those
needing assistance, this is a huge red flag. They need
to at least vet their requests. If they cannot, they
should partner with a ministry that can and donate to this
ministry, not continue to do a bad job on their own.
- If a church has a bad reputation with its neighborhood, due
to recent events, don't join: that's a huge red flag. I
would recommend, in my opinion, discovering whether this
reputation is deserved or not, and whether it is recent or
not, whether changes have been made in the church to fix its
problems, etc. But it's a huge red flag, especially if
left unrepaired. I think God has called us to reconcile
when we are wrong, if possible.
- If the pastor thinks changing the church name will fool
people into believing the church itself has changed, this is a
huge red flag. Don't join it.
- If the praise team doesn't have a leader (usually untrue),
they don't need one, and/or don't want one, insist that one be
appointed. If they won't do it, don't join. This
is a huge red flag because ultimately human beings tend to
create leadership positions because that's how they are.
I've never seen a worship team that didn't have at least a de
Smooth Creek Baptist Church
Smooth Creek wasn't as harmful, but it may as well have been.
This is the church at which I experienced all the unpleasant things I discovered about the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).
However, because this church had a good elder who mentored me and explained to me many of the issues I noticed, and because this church had a plurality of elders concept that repaired the breaches, a lot of potential bad was mitigated. If you're taking notes, the way to fix problems in the church is to be more transparent, first. Second, the way to fix problems is to disciple those you see as having leadership potential. I am not saying this to brag about myself, but just to point it out.
While I do not like the strangle-hold that
ACBC ultimately exerted on that church, and I would caution
people about ACBC because they like to do this type of thing in
my opinion, I miss being at that church.
South Haze Baptist Church
South Haze sort of came as a surprise to me, and is the most recent, so this might be long and drawn out.
I had just relocated to the area. I had sent out a blanket email to music ministers in that area (yes, this was a more cat-like aspect of my personality) asking if someone needed a multi-instrumentalist. I got a reply, then a week before I moved, I emailed the music minister asking if he could help me move in. Honestly I was scared to even ask, because I felt like I might be considered to be a moocher. But I'm glad I asked because we had so much furniture! He and the lead guitarist came out and helped me move in.
Then I joined South Haze and became part of
their worship band. Over the course of time, I developed a
relationship with the music minister, because I was doing a
master's degree to become a music minister on the side, even
though my current degree plan is to become a therapist. We
got to talk a lot over the course of the next year. I got
to know his heart, how he thought, and what his future plans
were, plans he didn't even share with his church's
leadership. We learned a lot from each other, and we had
lots in common. The music minister's plan that he shared
with me and the lead guitarist was to step down to part time and
have me and the lead guitarist share duties among us in terms of
leading, because he wanted to finish his doctorate degree.
He was going to share this with South Haze's pastor leaders when
it was time.
A year into being at South Haze, I suddenly
got a text saying I needed to be at the church on a Thursday to
discuss the music minister. When I arrived, the executive
and senior pastor claimed he suddenly packed up and left.
They also did not read his resignation letter (a huge red
flag). They were vague on the details as well.
People didn't have a lot of questions, either,
surprisingly. But the way they worded everything was a bit
vague, and very much unlike this music minister. The music
minister lived in the local area: how did he sell his house fast
enough? Was he coming back? Why did the executive
and lead pastor tell us not to text him, that he's "too
busy"? Why is the music minister still driving for an
internet-based taxi company? Surely the members see that
he hasn't left, right?
So what I knew about the worship pastor at
South Haze was that he was not planning to leave. He had a
house and car payment. He could do his college stuff he
had intended to do online. He had let me borrow one of his
music textbooks. He had made a pass at another church in
terms of applying for a position there, but was in our local
area because he had family that was old that he wanted to take
care of. His plans and behaviors didn't agree with their
version of events. So many signs pointed to a huge
discrepancy. I began to believe that the only two options
that made sense were psychotic break or leadership deception.
I started praying to God Thursday asking what really happened, because this was completely unlike the music minister I had come to know. Well, Sunday, as I laid down for my nap, God revealed to me that the leadership had deceived us.
What really happened is they suddenly told
him he was fired because they "didn't like the way things were
going" and they helped him clean out his desk. They
threatened him with legal action and denial of severance pay
(ironic, considering 1 Cor. 6-7 forbids this) if he said
anything about it to anyone. That is why South Haze's
leadership was very vague about the details. And they did
this because they wanted to "spin" the events. So South
Haze's leadership lied and deceived. If they were lying
about, and could muster the legal threat enough to fire a
worship pastor for nothing, what else were they lying about?
Ironically, that Sunday the executive pastor
had asked South Haze's praise band to show up at the church
again that Sunday to discuss what we were going to do. So
I showed up. I handed him my building key and, with grief
and sorrow written on my face, I told him God had told me that I
need to leave now, and that I'll miss him. He just looked
up at me and said "pfft, ok." No one from South Haze has
asked me why I left. I received no phone calls.
Some things I learned from this:
- If there's someone on the praise team that has been a thorn
in the flesh for years and the current worship pastor isn't
handling it, it might be because he's not allowed to, not
because he isn't willing. This is a red flag.
- Always beware the pastor's wife who is
on the praise team. This is the second
church where this has caused major issues: not just because
she's on the team, but because often this means that she can
get away with mistreating and/or disrespecting a worship
pastor (assuming it's not her husband). What would they
do if the worship pastor was right to ask them not to do
something but they didn't want to obey? If a pastor or
elder's family member can "tattle tale" and get their way,
that is a huge red flag. I am not saying that a
pastor's wife can never be on a praise team: this worship
pastor's wife filled in on piano from time to time. But
it can quickly become a conflict of interest.
- Always beware any clique that is forming. Worship
teams are about we, not clique A versus clique B. A
clique could indicate bad things on the horizon. Try to
help fix it, and/or bring it to the worship pastor's
attention. But if it's chronic and cancerous, it's a red
flag, and you should start looking to leave.
- Always beware a worship team member that is chronically late
and does not obey requests from the worship leader or worship
pastor. Especially if they get away with it. They
might have powerful allies. This is a huge red
flag. This person would claim they are a "jazz musician"
which is another red flag: no, in church, you are a worship
musician, and you should behave like one. Finally, this
person was former military (short service, like maybe 5 years)
but this behavior of always showing up late is not typical of
military types. This is another huge red flag: did he
only serve this short term because his supervision didn't like
him? I don't know, so I'm not speculating. I could
write a whole article about this person, like how he would use
a honkey-tonk sounding keyboard patch despite the worship
leader repeatedly asking him not to. And the fact that
on one band outing, he didn't sit with us at an event we went
to (a team building exercise), but away from us, and with the
pastor's wife. Not only does that have the appearance of
a clique, but it has the appearance of adultery.
- Always beware any worship pastor or worship leader employment contract that has a very liberal meaning of "fitness" or "good fit." It can be used against you. If there's only one authority on hiring (example: senior pastor) and the senior pastor has broad authority to just fire you for anything, they might do that. Demand that contracts be worded in such a way that they protect both you and the church that is hiring you, not just the church that is hiring you. And especially if the church has a plurality of elders, demand that it instead say that there must be a majority vote by this elder board before you are fired. It prevents a single leader from going rogue and firing you. More elders means more likelihood that at least one of them will stick up for you in the elder's meeting when one of them tries to put you on the chopping block.
- Always beware when leadership has no accountability.
This sort of ties into the plurality of elders concept, but
it's bigger than that. At South Haze, there is nothing
stopping the senior pastor from doing what he wants. In
my opinion, this probably springs from a poorly written church
- Always beware any time someone leaves your church
suddenly. I have been in churches 40+ years now and
without an exception, every single time this happened,
something was up that no one wanted to talk about because it
would make them look bad. When pastors or elders or
leaders leave your church in a proper fashion, there's a going
away that's usually held for them. When there isn't,
it's highly likely that something shady happened. Also,
that's important because if, heaven forbid, someone in your
church is accused of sexual immorality, especially with minors
or children, it needs to be made public and taken to the
police immediately if a crime is even suspected. This is
also why background checks need to be done on potential church
leaders and volunteers, but I digress.
- If they don't read the resignation letter of someone who
they claim suddenly resigned in front of the whole church, and
especially if they won't give you a copy, be suspicious.
- Always beware when church leaders claim someone left the local area when they did not. In fact, be suspicious any time one church leader seems to disappear but the other church leaders won't be honest and open about it (i.e. they're being vague or even lying). This is a giant red flag. Any time I have seen church leaders depart a church that's not suspicious, the church had a going away fellowship for them. If there is none of that, be suspicious.
- Develop a close relationship with at least one person on the church leadership team, like worship pastor or elder or deacon. That way if someone claims they did something they didn't, you'll know better.
- This is going to sound messed up, but here goes anyway. Develop an email distribution list of everyone in your church. Church directories are handy. Know every member's email and phone number. Why? Because if you are terminated for no reason, or something very bad happens in the church and you can't trust the leadership, you need to be able to defend yourself. I hope and pray that you never end up at a church where you become the only leader not engaging in some illegal activity, but if you do, you may need these contacts because you may need to perform a divine takeover.
Say you are in an unfortunate place where,
for example, the lead pastor admits in a meeting to having sex
with someone other than his wife, especially if it's a minor,
and no one bats an eye. You try to bring it up and/or you
demand that it get reported (if illegal) and no one supports
you, you may need to point out that this is unacceptable and
requires the guilty person to be fired. If no one supports
you in this moment, you may need to "go rogue" and tell the
church publicly (email and/or phone) what happened and that you
need them to convene Sunday to decide this leader's fate.
I imagine this is very rare, but if you're the only person left
who qualifies as a leader at a church (per 1 Timothy 3) then you
may need to step up and lead that church through a time of
mourning and decision. This would be preferable to a
church split, though one may end up happening anyway.
The Ground Baptist Church
This one came from a church that I applied to as a music minister. I sent my resume, and then they asked for examples of me singing, of which I obliged. One was recent: I was in the back of the band with my synthesizers but I was leading a song. The other was of me singing the national anthem in front of a gathered body of military members (which are off camera).
They replied saying they didn't see any examples of me leading up front in the videos, and that they wanted something "more like this", a link to a YouTube video. I clicked and noticed that, although the worship leader in the video had moderately good stage presence, he was singing off pitch. So the church's reply was sort of like a slap in the face.
I thought about this one long and hard, and so I am listing a few ways churches can fix this type of broken hiring process:
- Hold auditions. The United States Air Force Band holds auditions. This is because no amount of videos or sound recordings can tell you whether a singer is truly able to do their job. Indeed, you need to see if they can handle the stress of an audition in front of people they don't know, because that's exactly what they'll be doing in your church if you hire them: leading worship in front of strangers.
- Call contacts on people's resumes. This is a very
important part of the "human element." Whether or not
someone can lead on a video, you need to know how they behave
and how they treat other people. They might have a
serious shortcoming that you would only find out about if you
called their references.
- Have interviews. Ask the difficult questions. You need to know how they truly believe. No matter how good they do at musicianship, if they do not have a heart for God, what's the point?
- Read books on worship pastors and/or music ministers should be, like Bob Kauflin's book, Worship Matters. If you don't know what goes into being a good worship leader, how can you know what type of person you should hire?
This description could fit any number of churches, but I noticed this trend and so I am writing about it. More than once, I have been contacted by the pastor of a church and even interviewed by the pastor and current worship leader. They would talk to me about the position, and the conversation would go very well. I guess what I should've learned is that the conversation was going "too good to be true."
Because inevitably I would get another phone call, in which the pastor would confess that his church is not ready to hire yet. So this often became a Proverbs 13:12 "Hope deferred makes the heart sick" situation. Because of who I am, I would already be imagining and researching how to fix certain things, how to propel the church into the new contemporary worship, etc.
Which then makes me strongly question whether or not I want to even be a part of that church. If the pastor is impulsive, I can look past that to a point, for no one is perfect. But it's hard to ignore the thought that follows: "If the pastor is impulsive here, how else is he impulsive? Will serving at this church be good or bad?"
So my advice here: do not even make phone calls or place advertisements until you know for sure that you want a worship leader and that you are ready for one. At the time of writing this, I was in limbo waiting for two churches to get themselves ready to hire, despite both wanting me but then both having to back-pedal and confess their lack of preparation. If not for the conviction that God wants me to be a worship leader and/or worship pastor, I would've given up and gotten hired at a different job, because most other jobs have their act together.
Louisville Dimness Church
So I got to work my first bona fide job as a Worship Leader. I was so excited! But the honeymoon ended and I was fired.
When I got there, they basically had no one on their worship team. Most had left the church. So I began to reach out to the electric guitarist and drummer to get them to come back. They went from having a worship leading team of just me and one or two others to a full band. I even got new people into the team. I revamped the music catalog, got them on Planning Center and Multitracks and many other useful things.
But I was fired. While I do not view myself as completely without fault, I noticed there was a pattern in the pastor's behavior in our last meeting.
First, he got on my case for never doing
what he said, which was to get more singers in the band and have
them sing songs. I did this, but pastor didn't research
whether I had, he just said I didn't. I respectfully asked
him to talk to the 3 different people I had tried to incorporate
or was in the process of incorporating into the team. So
he just assumed I didn't and didn't seem interested in doing any
research on whether I had: he just moved forward on claiming I
didn't do it. This is in an environment where singers were
in and out for many reasons beyond my control in a church that
is lucky to have even 50 people in attendance on any given
Second, he claimed I wasn't listening on a situation involving having my sister, a missionary, speak. We had a conversation about 2 months ago where he said she could speak in service if I sacrificed one of my songs. I told him I wasn't ready to do this yet, but wanted us to have a conversation about it with her. On a video conference, she said she would be willing to do a Q&A afterwards, so we made our decision. The conversation I had previously with pastor, though, sparked a thought that I could give her 5 minutes of "my" time to speak, so I texted pastor asking if it would be ok if I did sacrifice one of my songs with the possibility of giving her 5 minutes in service, not just a Q&A. At the time, pastor didn't express any unhappiness with this, he just said it's not a possibility. But now pastor was bringing it up as an example of me not listening, when it was actually more of an example of brainstorming (like I explained in text).
Third, he got onto my case for a situation
with an 80 yr old member of ours. This member, months
prior, had quit the worship team, citing both being too old
(their words) and not liking the direction the music is
going. The meeting was amicable. Then months later
when I had COVID, and pastor called around to find a substitute
for Sunday, he quickly volunteered. I felt like this was a
bit strange because they had said they were too old, so I was
confused. I was tempted to think someone was trying to
take my job away, and I told pastor it was suspicious given
their reason. But after about an hour of talking to my
wife, I texted pastor that it was my misunderstanding.
Pastor was not happy because he felt I was ungrateful and had
the wrong attitude. But the issue seemed resolved.
Between then and the next Sunday, I met with the individual and
confessed my weakness to them and apologized for having a wrong
attitude to them. The meeting seemed to go well. But
then it got brought up in my final meeting with pastor as a
reason, saying I wasn't listening. I politely asked
whether I was not allowed to simply meet with people and be
transparent and apologize for having the wrong attitude.
Pastor didn't listen and didn't seem to care. Pastor never
took into account that he had already had issues with this
member understanding what's going on. Pastor forgot that
James 5:16 tells us to confess our faults to each other, which
is what I did.
Fourth, the issue of a transgendered
university friend of mine. I had invited them months prior
to my church to tell me, from their perspective, how our church
was doing in terms of being welcoming. I realized I had
made a bad decision, but it was too late. Still, I was
honest and transparent with my pastor about it. This
angered him, but in the conversation, it seemed to center around
him thinking the LGBTQIA+ were out there to burn churches down
or "cancel culture" churches. I apologized to pastor,
admitting my mistake, but he told me not to tell the person not
to show up. They came, attended, and had no problems with
my church. (I already knew my church was welcoming, so it
was not a test of my church so much as seeing how we are
perceived.) Nothing bad came of it, and we did
great. My reasoning was that if I was going to go door to
door this summer and invite people to my church, I wanted to
make sure my church was correctly perceived, because I invite
everyone, and I don't pick and choose. But through all
that, and my apology to pastor months prior, to which he said he
wasn't upset with me any more, this got brought up in my final
meeting with pastor. But sadly enough, what I learned was
that I should not be open and transparent with anyone: if I had
not said anything and they attended my church, this would not
have been an issue. I should've never said anything,
ironically. And Ephesians 4:25 says we're supposed to tell
each other the truth.
Fifth, they accused me of not utilizing (on vocals) one of our non-members who filled in for the church before I came. But I politely told pastor that I had this person's microphone set up for them when they arrived. Due to short notice, I didn't have time to change the song lineup and "give" them their own song. I had set up another meeting as well with someone who was not on our worship team any more due to things in her personal life, so the week I had my final meeting was going to be the week I met with them to try to convince them to come back.
Sixth, they claimed I was wrong to try to
set up standards for the worship team. It was in the
meeting with that 80 yr old gentleman from our church that he
said we need standards, to which I agreed. Months before,
I had tried to set up standards for the worship team that was
not draconian, as we didn't have any standards written
down. Pastor had convinced me not to. Pastor didn't
like that I had circled back to ask about having
standards. Pastor also criticized having standards,
because he asked how we would check to make sure members of the
worship team did not violate those standards. I explained
that we would not spy on or interrogate anyone, but just have
standards so they know what we expect. This is helpful to
avoid church conflicts when worship team members have to be
asked to leave, and is an "industry" standard.
The pastor basically said all of this was
because I didn't listen, but all of his "evidence" appeared to
be trumped up because he ultimately didn't want me on the
leadership team. Given the many historical interactions we
have had and other factors I can't discuss in details, it
appears he did not want to introduce someone who would have a
contrary opinion to his. I had voted against the new
constitution and bylaws because it contained the Oklahoma
"attack clause" against the LGBTQIA+. I wanted it to be
worded less harshly. Pastor's statement on not wanting me
on the leadership team is intriguing because he would often say
that I knew more about the Bible and church leadership than he
does. This makes me wonder if something is going on with
the leadership of this church.
As well, one of the members of the church, when I had them buy a Roland RD-2000 to replace their piano, was going to make a wooden enclosure for it. He did not talk to me before ordering the supplies, he just went out with the money donated for the RD-2000 and decided to buy the materials to make one. I encouraged him to do so but tried to discuss with him how the enclosure probably needs to work. Pastor admitted that, based on the keyboard, this individual shouldn't have ordered the supplies anyways because what he wanted to build would not have worked with the piano and stand. But he still brought this interaction up as a factor in my termination. I was never rude to the person in question, and made sure to apologize for how he interpreted our discussion (i.e. I was brainstorming on ideas, after telling him it wouldn't work, encouraging him to build something else). This is how I know these are trumped up charges: pastor said it wouldn't work anyways, but still judged me on having the conversation. Pastor said this was an example of not listening, but I did listen and was rightfully suggesting they make this enclosure slightly differently.
Not to mention that the church received donations to get rid of their grand piano with the intent to donate it to a couple in the church. He withheld this information from the congregation in fear people would complain, essentially, "where's my piano?" But anyways, they were going to let the couple pay for it over time, and I recommended they not do this. But at the end of all of this, the couple admitted it wouldn't fit in their apartment anyways, so they would need to move. It's odd that a pastor who doesn't do their due diligence accuses me of not listening. I was against this in the first place, recommending the grand piano be sold because it would be counterproductive to buy a new pickup for it due to how reflective the auditorium is, etc.
He then criticized my decision to say, at a
testimony in Celebrate Recovery, that South Haze (see above) had
lied about why they fired their worship pastor. He said
that not everyone agrees with how I characterized it. He
didn't take into account that I was there at that church when it
happened while he was not. He did not take into account
that it was the truth. He didn't take into account that
the lead pastor of South Haze refuses to talk to anyone about
it, including our non-church temporary worship leader. He
did not take into account that he himself had said he had no
respect for their executive pastor, the main person who lied to
bring his son in law to that church to lead worship. This
probably happened because two people at our CR were from that
church. Ironically, that church keeps trying to start its
own CR, or so they said 2 years ago. But regardless, I can
own that maybe it was bad for me to bring it up, even though it
was very brief. However, I find that this is ironic
because the pastor himself had many negative things to say about
them in our first meeting. Was the pastor just trying to
scrape the bottom of the barrel to find any reason he can add to
his list in order to terminate me?
Finally, when I got here, they had no standards for what a worship leader should be. I wrote some standards and submitted them, based on books on worship leading by Zach Hicks and Bob Kauflin. I also offered to do a book study with pastor and/or the leadership team so that they went into this decision to hire me with their eyes wide open. (So few churches even know what a worship leader should be these days anyways.) He said it wouldn't be necessary at that time. Then in our final meeting, he said that was his mistake of not having standards. But does he even know what a worship leader is supposed to be? I don't think he does, by his own admission.
I note that 1 Timothy 3 and Matthew 18:15
were not followed. The pastor brought all accusations, and
no one else. The majority of things pastor had against me
were only between me and him, or if they involved someone else,
no attempt at any resolution was done. But in only one
case was any accusation even levied by anyone else.
So some take-aways:
- Refuse to work at a church that does not have clear
standards for a worship leader, but offer to help them write
some by (for example) walking through a book on the topic like
Worship Matters by Bob Kauflin or The Worship
Pastor by Zach Hicks, or even 1 Timothy 3 (partially
applies to worship leaders but applies completely for worship
pastors). 1 Timothy 3 would help defend you against
those who invent reasons to fire you, as it requires
accusations to have 2-3 witnesses.
- Refuse to work at a church that does not have standards for
its worship team unless they promise to let you write them
- Don't use email or text: always talk to someone face to
face. These days, people are far too quick to
- Consider documenting everything in your personal log book,
day and time and what people say. People these days tend
to go by how they felt about a meeting with you, not by what
you actually said.
- Unfortunately, these days, politicking is vital for a worship leader or pastor. People decide more by how they feel than about what is right or wrong. And that's especially sad given what Jesus had to say about our behavior. But it's just a reality. It shouldn't be that way. People should be fired or hired based on Scriptural principles, but often that doesn't happen. This is sort of a side rant, but all leadership in a church should conform to 1 Timothy 3.
Closed Door Church
This one was a recent problem. While I was healing from South Haze, above, I attended this church, even going through their new member program and shadowing on their worship team. At first, their worship leader was there for me when I was hurting from South Haze. He invited me and the wife out to bowling with the worship team. I was attending their men's Bible study meetings. The worship leader and I would hang out and even work with songs. I thought everything was going well.
Then one day while at Louisville Dimness, I reached out to their worship leader and asked if any of their musicians would be willing to hep me temporarily. You see, they had more than enough musicians, and they had to rotate because they had so many. I didn't know my question would be offensive. Their worship leader responded with basically "no," pointing out that they prefer to do things organically in terms of church members serving at their church. I apologized and thought everything was kosher. We were friends on Facebook.
Then he straight up stopped responding to texts and Facebook messenger. I was careful not to text more than twice on either, because any more than that would be harassment. No response for months, and still no response.
So one day I thought I would go over to the church to apologize, assuming it was something I did that upset him. I saw their vehicles at the church while I happened to be driving past one day, so I drove up. All their doors were locked all the way around.
So here are some useful critiques to learn from:
- Don't ghost people. Tell them directly if you have a problem with them. This is not to say you can't cut people off, especially if they're being problematic. Just that you should sit them down and explain it.
- Don't make your church inaccessible. I realize that
some churches in some areas can't keep their doors open all
day, for example in a high crime area. (This church,
Closed Door, was actually in a good area and
neighborhood.) But be open and approachable.
Parenthetical: Terminology and Church Governance
I would like to bring up a few points here about church governance.
I have already said that the plurality of elders concept is a good way to prevent some tragedies. So I'll not say this again.
One thing to note: the terms worship leader, worship pastor, and music minister still tend to be a bit blurry. I would like to outline here my opinion on how they ought to be used so as to avoid confusion:
- Worship leader: someone who leads worship, usually someone
who does not consider themselves a worship pastor. Does
not require training. Mainly leads worship. Can be
anyone, and indeed some of the best worship pastors train up
worship leaders on their team and put them forward to lead
maybe a song each service. This is well and good.
Worship leaders would deserve the pay of a musician at least,
in my opinion. Usually part time. However, this
term can also be used as the "large umbrella" that covers all
three positions in these bullet points.
- Worship pastor: someone who leads worship often, but takes it seriously and considers themselves a pastor, i.e. able to teach and preach. In my opinion, this position, by virtue of it containing the word "pastor," should come with being on the elder board (in churches with a plurality of elders) or deacon board (in old-school churches where the leaders are deacons). Worship pastors can preach, and especially on the topic of worship. It's not that worship leaders cannot, or do not, take their job seriously. It's that a worship pastor takes it much more seriously. This position is usually full time.
- Music Minister: old-school term for a worship pastor. Still usually a full time position on the basis of the word "minister", i.e. synonymous for "pastor" in my opinion. This term, to me, reflected a more narrow focus on music, and less on pastoral and ministerial duties, while worship pastor seems to reflect someone who is almost an associate pastor but in charge of music. Indeed, some churches "back in the day" made their worship pastors into associate pastors, a full time job just like worship pastor is usually a full time job.
So if your church is advertising such a position, my advice would be to try to use the above terminology. But I am not in any position of authority.
As far as church governance, I would strongly recommend that worship leaders and worship pastors be at elder/deacon meetings. Worship leaders might not have a vote in such meetings, but their opinions and advice should be at least heard. Worship pastors should be full members of the church governance, whether making them a deacon or an elder.
Finally, one sore spot comes from the many worship leaders and even worship pastors who end up getting told what songs to do on Sunday, or not do, etc. It seems rather strange, even from a secular business standpoint, that you would hire someone to do something only to then micromanage them. If they are a worship leader, worship pastor, or music minister by title, you are essentially giving them a title that implies that they are the expert on musical matters. Why would you then use them like the human equivalent of a karaoke machine or jukebox?
It would be one thing if a worship leader
started going down a bad path, theologically. Someone
should step in if this happens. But it's another thing to
listen to what some worship leaders have dealt with in terms of
other church leaders forcing their hand. Worship is NOT
about us getting to sing our favorite songs, though it helps if
your congregation likes the songs. Worship is about the
adoration of a holy God. I had that problem at a church:
they gauged worship by audience activity rather than spiritual
If you are such a church leader who is constantly forcing your hand in song selection, ask yourself, are you saying your worship leader is incompetent? If they are, why are they still leading? Otherwise, is it because you are trying to get your favorite songs on the lineup? Do you have a theological reason, or are you just abusing your authority?
Another valid point is that the church constitution and bylaws need to be up to date. If you want to hire a worship leader or worship pastor, is the contract he or she will sign still valid? Is it properly formatted? Have you taken your church constitution and/or hiring contracts to a Christian lawyer who can scrutinize them? Because due to the nature of US laws, churches more or less function like a type of business, which means they can be responsible to the courts, depending on the circumstance.
Your church constitution and hiring
contracts should protect both parties, not just your
church. Your church should be protected just as much from
a staff member who goes rogue as it should be constrained so
that your church cannot harm staff members or people in general.