On Worship Team Conflict and Congregational Worship Surveys

Q. We have conflict on our worship team that is very frustrating to our congregation. What have other churches done to work with this?
—Ontario

A. To my surprise, this is the most frequently asked question we receive here at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Perhaps this is the inevitable result of having many more people involved in worship leadership than a generation ago. Three primary strategies appear to be the most common and helpful.

First, choose worship leaders who are spiritually mature and gifted for the task. Worship is not the place in the church’s life to try to involve people who don’t seem to fit anywhere else. Worship is about the holy task of leading people in prayer and faithfully presenting the full range of scriptural truth. The early church requirements for ordained church leaders (see, for example, 1 Tim. 3) may have been designed as much for those who would lead in worship as for those who would attend policy-making meetings.

Second, set up an ongoing review process to foster healthy communication among worship leaders and between worship leaders and the congregation. Several churches that added a pastor’s support committee a decade ago are now adding a worship support committee to review and support the work of lay worship teams. Such a group might meet only twice a year to provide pastoral care to their regular worship leaders, to review any problem areas, and to encourage and support worship leaders in prayer.

Third, provide training for your worship leaders. Leading worship requires more than good intentions. Many of the problems that especially new worship leaders run into could have been avoided with some basic training about the meaning and purpose of Christian worship, as well as in basic worship-planning skills. This education might range from something as simple as attending a worship conference or regularly reading Reformed Worship to something as advanced as taking a seminary course on the history, theology, and practice of worship.

Q. Our church council is considering issuing a survey about worship preferences. Do you have any advice about this?
—California

A. Yes. Surveys can be dangerous. They can quickly imply that worship is simply a matter of taste, a matter where everyone’s opinion counts the same, no matter how much they have thought about it. As such, a survey is a strategy for leadership that is typically North American and utterly democratic. At no other time in history and in no other culture would leaders use surveys as much as they do today in North America. The problem is that the church is not a democracy. In contrast, the New Testament calls for church leaders to be chosen from among the wisest and most mature in the congregation. It calls for them to make decisions on the basis of their Scripture-tested pastoral perceptions about how to proclaim and celebrate the gospel of Christ.

Another problem is that surveys often reduce difficult and complex issues to a limited set of variables. Suppose a survey revealed that 65 percent of the people in your church like drama in worship and 45 percent don’t. Then what? It’s very difficult to design a survey to figure out why that 65 percent might like something, or what they have in mind when giving their answer. Some may have voiced approval thinking of Scripture dramas, while others might be thinking of Willow Creek-like daily-life dramas. The church that adapted dramas on the basis of the survey, but then used only one kind or another, might end up consistently frustrating many of the people who supported drama in the survey. Further, among the 65 percent some would likely be enthusiastic, others merely supportive. And even when surveys are well-designed to tease apart this information, those who interpret the data still need to resist the temptation to read into the responses what they want to find there.

Churches who do conduct surveys should use them to test their own perceptions of the accessibility and integrity of worship in their congregations. Further, leaders should seek expert help to produce a carefully designed survey instrument that will glean precisely the information that church leaders want to know.

Ask questions like, What kind of music enables you to pray most deeply? What kind of music best challenges you to grow in your spiritual life? What kind of music at the Lord’s Supper best enables you to enter into the power and mystery of that celebration?

And one more thing: if the survey includes a component of writing comments, then consider having people sign their names to it. Some congregations have discovered that soliciting anonymous comments has not produced the kind of honest and encouraging comments that are fitting forms of instruction in the body of Christ.

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ANY QUESTION?

We hope you find Q&A stimulating. We also hope that you’ll join in the dialogue. Send your questions about worship to Reformed Worship Q&A by mail (2850 Kalamazoo Ave. SE Grand Rapids, MI 49560), fax (616-224-0803), or e-mail (info@reformedworship.org). You can also email

John D. Witvliet is director of the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and professor of music and worship at Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He also teaches in the religion department at Calvin College.