I know how you feel…part 1

by vernsanders on May 6, 2009

Been there.    Done that.    Got the Tshirt.

Ever heard that? Of course you have…generally associated with a knowing nod, and, perhaps a rueful smile.

When you serve in music and worship ministry, it is often a wild ride. The joys of everything going right on a particular Sunday are often deflated by a conversation in the hallway on the way to the fellowship hall after the service. By the time you get to a certain age (look to the right for the picture…I’ll let you guess…), there is not much that you haven’t seen or heard about.

But to experience it is another thing indeed.

Let’s start with Sunday morning. As Margaret Marcusson says in her book Leaders Who Last: Sustaining Yourself and Your Ministry, one of the key components of successful leadership is the ability to remain (relatively) calm and consistent in the face of unexpected circumstances. Leaders who keep their eyes on the long term goal are less likely to “lose it” when something goes wrong. (Now losing it for motivational purposes is somewhat of a different thing…but that’s not what we’re here for today…)

It is easy, in those moments directly after a worship experience, for the “editor” in us to think “oh…that didn’t go well” about one specific thing, and ignore all the good things that happened. Human beings are wired to react more strongly to “bad news.” If that were not the case, most of the tabloids and gossip websites would be history, instead of a growing market segment.

Think back to the last big event you had a significant role in mounting. In my case, I know that after a concert, I can hear, process, and smile through 100 “thank yous” in the green room almost on auto pilot. But in my head there is a running dialogue that might go something like this: “Didn’t you hear how out of tune that one chord was in measure 25 of the third piece? If I told the sopranos once I told them a hundred times that the vowel there was critical to the intonation. If the tenors hadn’t been extra bright on the next chord, we would have lost half a step there, and then the basses would have been grovelling when they got to the low D at measure 76.” Or something like that…

I know how you feel. Your self-critical system has kicked into full on mode, and, no matter what comes out of your mouth, you are thinking that it just wasn’t good enough.

Stop it. I know…easier said than done…but one of the best pieces of advice I ever got was from one of my singers when I was a young conductor: “Vern…just say thank you. Save your self-criticism for later.”

And so…I now operate under the “never on Sunday” rule. The pastor and I don’t dissect the service on Sunday…not between services, not after the final service…not on Sunday.

This accomplishes two things. First, it takes away the need to be the first to point out what went wrong. Second, it takes away the urgency to fix it. If we begin to obsess about these things on Sunday, especially between services, we can lose sight of the big picture…and the fact that it is not about us in worship. Yes, there are things that may need to be fixed, and in multiple service situations we do that. But it is one thing to fix a logistical or other small problem…it is quite something else to be doing editorial work.

On the table? “I’ll get the choir up earlier before the anthem so that we don’t have ‘dead air’ after your scripture reading. If they stand through the reading it won’t be a burden, because it is not a long passage, and we can go right away.”

Off the table? “I think your sermon was much too long given all the things that we tried to cram into today’s service.”

On Monday, or Tuesday, some of the “big” things that happened on Sunday are not so big…and using your “big picture” filter often means that what happened on Sunday stays on Sunday.

more tomorrow…

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I know how you feel…part 2 « dotdotdotblog
May 7, 2009 at 10:13 am

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

James Koerts May 7, 2009 at 9:23 am


Thanks for your insight. I am fortunate to serve in a ministry where our senior pastor has tremendous leadership skills; I’m privileged to learn more about leadership on a regular basis from him. He’s a great ministry mentor. I didn’t realize it until reading this post, but he is very good about the “never on Sunday” rule. We always have a time of “service evaluation” in our staff meeting, and that’s when I’m geared up, prepared and focused for the “what worked/what didn’t work” conversation. I don’t like to “talk shop” on Sunday—now I know a little better why.

Thanks for all you do for us!

vernsanders May 7, 2009 at 10:21 am


Thanks for your comment, and your kind words. I’ll give one of my pastors the most credit for this…and it was one of those “aha!” moments…of course!…

Scott May 8, 2009 at 3:34 am

Something to add to the “never on Sunday” rule: Don’t start any conversations among staff like this – “I’ve been meaning to talk to you about something.”

There’s just nothing like getting sandbagged about 30 minutes before the service starts with some odd issue that can wait until Monday, or some generalized complaint that Sister Ethel called in last week, or … Whatever it is, seriously consider “Can it wait? Really?”

vernsanders May 9, 2009 at 1:57 pm

couldn’t agree more…

Brian Rice August 26, 2009 at 9:20 am


I enjoyed your article. The “never on Sunday” rule makes sense and is consistant with keeping your eye on the real goal…worship. Perhaps you could also address the growing trend toward perfectionism and its cost.

What is “good enough”? When is good enough acceptable?

vernsanders August 27, 2009 at 12:30 am

Thanks for the comment. I’ll put your request into the hopper for a future blog post, but for now I’ll just tell you what I tell my musicians: Sunday comes every week…and whether we are completely ready or not, worship happens. That’s why we are intentional about our preparation, and it being the best we can be, but when Sunday comes, we lay what we’ve got before the throne…


Nancy Doughty June 4, 2010 at 12:44 pm

Very insightful Vern. True leadership skills are hard to come by and you and those in our worship service are doing a great job. I’m one of those self-critics and I shall take this advice and leave my doubts until later in the week. Often they will disappear or a really good idea for ‘fixing’ will pop up. Being “in the moment” during the Sunday worship service is the best and most important part. Thanks for the interesting and informative thoughts that you always share.

Dennis Cook January 28, 2011 at 9:25 pm

Superb writing and I couldn’t agree more with the principle. I have dealt with this many times. In this age of “Anerican Idol”, everyone is a critic…even in worship. We should always strive to give God our best and after that, not much else matters. Thank you for sharing this with us!

vernsanders January 29, 2011 at 11:12 am

glad to be a help Dennis, and thanks for the kind words.



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