How Involved Should the Lead Pastor Be in the Selection of Worship Songs?

September 23, 2020

A church with one service a week will likely sing over two hundred songs in a year. Our church has five services in two languages at two sites on Sunday. We also have Wednesday night programming. Throw in the student service and children’s ministry, and we probably sing close to two thousand songs in a year (obviously some are sung more than once).

Songs elicit emotion. That’s how the art form works. Worship is no exception. Most have a favorite worship song. Most will have a few worship songs they don’t like. One song can mean something different to two people standing next to each other in the same service. A worship pastor can craft an excellent plan of two thousand songs in a year and still receive complaints about “that one song.” In my pastoral experience, people care more about song selection than they do church doctrine.

Given the acute attention to worship songs, I asked a question of the Church Answers community and posted the same question on Twitter. The poll was done more for fun than science, but over three hundred people responded. 

How involved should the lead pastor be in the selection of worship songs? 

The Church Answers community provided a lot of clarification around these percentages in Church Answers Central, our coaching and consulting forum.

The level of involvement should be higher with a less experienced worship pastor. A long-tenured lead pastor will have more oversight with a new, inexperienced worship pastor. An inexperienced and young lead pastor should lean into the recommendations of a long-tenured worship pastor. 

Lead pastors should provide plenty of lead time with themes and directions of sermon series. The worship ministry is often the largest ministry in the church (in close competition with the children’s ministry). Coordinating large amounts of volunteers takes time. When the lead pastor makes changes right before weekend worship services, it can cause a lot of chaos in the worship ministry. 

Sole pastors of smaller churches with volunteers tend to do more song selection than lead pastors of larger churches with staff. This one makes sense. I did most everything at my first church, which had all of six people. I not only selected the songs, but I led worship. On a karaoke machine. Yes, it was as bad as you are thinking.

There is a distinction between “picking” and “approving” songs. Some churches have a predetermined bucket of songs from which to choose. The lead pastor works with the worship ministry on selecting these songs ahead of time. Then the worship pastor can choose from them for any given service. 

A weekly standing meeting between the lead pastor and worship pastor is beneficial and will help with tensions that can exist with song selection. When the worship pastor and lead pastor meet regularly, a bond of trust is formed. A standing meeting can build unity and friendship that the church will feel during worship.

The goal of song selection is more complex and deeper than simply reinforcing the sermon. The worship experience should do more than simply build up to the sermon. Worship pastors selecting songs desire to complement the sermon, but there is more to the process. Churches are full of people with a complexity of emotions and experiences. Worship pastors should select songs according to the mood and experience of the church, in addition to the text and topic of the sermon.

Equip or hire the right people and you will not need to be as concerned about song selection. When lead pastors micromanage song selection, it can become a source of frustration for competent worship pastors. 

Song selection is one of the most visible parts of a worship experience—something felt by most everyone in the church. Lead pastors should be in tune with what songs the church sings. High-level guidance is what most believe is the best degree of involvement.

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  • I will always work with the Pastor with the set list.

    1. The pastor will determine the theme of the service, which I will try to match with the songs.
    2. If the pastor has a particular song he wants to sing, I will make an earnest effort to work it in.
    3. If the pastor vetos a particular song, I’m fine with that.

    But if I am the worship leader, he will not make out the set lists. If he is persistent in trying, then there are more problems than just the set list, and we probably are not a good match.