by Don Chapman
Unpacking a worship trend.
Some megachurches have been hiring rock star worship leaders (henceforth referred to in this article as RSWLs) and are finding out they’re not all they’re cracked up to be.
A megachurch is a unique breeding ground for a RSWL—he probably couldn’t survive in a smaller ministry. A typical church music director is a busy guy or girl who schedules volunteers, conducts rehearsals, writes charts, arranges music, and plans Christmas and Easter events. Some megachurch RSWLs surprisingly can’t even read music, let alone create a chord chart.
So why are they hired?
They often don’t have musical training or organization skills, but they look and sound good on stage. This will blow some of your minds—I know of one RSWL who makes about 100K a year by going to a weekly staff meeting and picking out six songs for the praise set.
He has a full staff who does his work for him—making charts and tracks, scheduling volunteers, and even leading rehearsals. This type of RSWL could only exist at a megachurch—he’d be helpless if he had to do everything himself in a smaller ministry.
The RSWL unfortunately tends to inherit bad habits from his secular counterparts.
A famous rock star making millions from his music can afford to be self-absorbed and narcissistic—it even enhances his mystique. Narcissism doesn’t go over so well in a church, and people start resenting the guy. A Google search on the subject showed me it’s a growing topic among fed-up churchgoers.
Here are some thoughts I found on a blog by a disgusted person about their RSWL that sum up what congregations are thinking:
Worship leaders are like reality TV stars: They’re regular people with a disproportionate sense of self because people are looking at them. They’re rock stars without the fame or talent … or money (all things that redeem rock star behavior). But ultimately, it’s the disparity that kills me. So many of them are spiritually/emotionally/socially immature, but just because they can sing, they’re placed on this ridiculous pedestal.
One megachurch claims their narcissistic RSWL is to blame for an attendance drop of almost one-third (at least until they fired the guy—attendance is on the way up again).
One RSWL candidly told me he approaches ministry much like a CEO runs a company—you never fraternize with your employees (i.e., hang out with your praise band members after rehearsal when they all go out for pizza).
I could go on and on with RSWL horror stories (I know a lot of churches), so it was no surprise that over the past few months I’ve started noticing a rash of RSWL firings in the megachurch world (In polite company, this is referred to as, “We’ve decided to part ways due to philosophical differences.”)
In most cases, it looks like the RSWL’s shenanigans have come to a head and the church has said “enough.”
My suspicions of this firing trend were recently confirmed.
A friend of mine is using a church job-placement agency to find a worship leader position for himself. The representative mentioned they’ve never had so many worship leader job openings. When asked why, the representative explained that churches are finding the performance worship leader thing isn’t working out so well. It seems congregations are tired of being performed to, instead of led in worship.
The job my friend found is with a megachurch who just fired their own RSWL. This guy hopped around stage during worship, trying to drum up enthusiasm like any good rock star would in concert.
As my friend looked at the RSWL’s set list from the past six weeks, he noticed not a single song was repeated. Typical RSWL behavior—they’re performing worship songs, not leading them.
One big reason my friend’s church fired their RSWL was that they were concerned their congregation wasn’t worshipping during the music. Of course they weren’t—they didn’t know any of the songs!
Bottom Line: If you’re interested in a full-time worship leading job at a megachurch, now may be a great time to start looking. If a church was willing to pay 100K a year for someone who simply smiled, sang and strummed on Sundays, just think of what they’d pay a down-to-earth and skilled worship leader who knows how to work for a living.