rock star

The Strange, Short Life Cycle of a Rock Star Worship Leader

This WorshipIdea will give you another peek into the sometimes bizarre world of the megachurch. I have several friends who are working, have worked or volunteer at megachurches and I’m hearing the same Rock Star Worship Leader (RSWL) stories over and over. Here’s my original post about RSWLs.

One church staff member bemoaned to me his plight of dealing with his RSWL (bad attitude, laziness and general dishonesty.) I told him to hang on as the guy will be fired within two years (the RSWL is always male, for reasons I’ll discuss in a future article.) At the two year point my friend called. “_____ has just been fired!” he gasped, incredulously. “How. On. Earth. Did you know?”

“It’s simple” I replied. “This trend has been happening all over the country.”

The RSWL lasts roughly two years, give or take a few months. Of course there are outliers – one RSWL I know was fired, hired, fired and hired again within a 13 month span. Another RSWL has been wrecking havoc at his church for fifteen years – the pastor simply doesn’t have the guts to get rid of him. This two year cycle has four distinct stages:

STAGE 1: Hasty hire. The pastor has most likely just fired a RSWL and needs to hire another one ASAP (hiring/firing usually occurs immediately after big attendance seasons like Easter and Christmas.) Smaller megachurches may go through the formality of a search committee, but even then the pastor has the final say. I completely understand and sympathize – pastors dream of the perfect musical ministry partner, and highly successful churches often have that dynamic pastor/worship leadership duo where the two are not only friends but have the same vision and goals. Unfortunately pastors sometimes are a surprisingly bad judge of character, especially when it comes to the sneaky RSWL who smiles and quotes Bible verses during the interview, then is a complete terror when the pastor isn’t looking.

One RSWL told me he was interviewed and instantly hired during a twenty minute car commute with the pastor. Another megachurch pastor hired a young RSWL on the spot after seeing him lead worship at a seminar (both of these hasty hires lasted a little over two years.)

STAGE 2: Buyer’s Remorse. After only a few weeks of the new RSWL’s shenanigans the pastor realizes he has made a drastic mistake. One pastor confided he knew he had chosen the wrong guy a mere two weeks after the hire. Oddly enough, the new RSWL is never fired – why? Money and pride (and maybe legalities?) The church may have spent thousands moving the RSWL and his family to town, gone through the rigmarole of getting the family housed and settled and then acclimating him to the staff. “Oh, he’ll settle down in a few months” thinks the pastor who is now on his third RSWL.

After one church staff began complaining about their new, inept RSWL the pastor ordered them to “make it work.” He had just fired a RSWL and wasn’t about ready to fire another one (and make himself look bad.)

STAGE 3: Reign of a Psychopath. Yes, I realize “psychopath” is a strong word but that’s the exact description one staff member gave for a RSWL. Since a RSWL has discovered he can do virtually anything except commit murder and still have a job, he’s emboldened and the descent into madness begins. For the next two years he’ll chase off volunteers, soliloquize on social media, lollygag around while the staff does all his work for him and generally be a nuisance to the entire church.

Some megachurches in this situation drastically drop in attendance during the reign of their RSWL. When I asked a staff member how many people he believed left his church because of the RSWL he replied without missing a beat “two thousand.” Does that not blow your mind? Evidently that number had been acknowledged in clandestine meetings and nothing was done about the RSWL until thousands left the church.

Seriously, though, how is a number like 2,000 lost attendees even possible due to one person? Remember, the megachurch has many parts. A music staff and volunteer roster of such a church is huge. If a RSWL chases off a favorite, much-loved volunteer worship leader, that might anger, say, 100 people in the congregation. And if the RSWL systematically chases off ten such vocalists and/or band members (which this RSWL did) then you might have up to 1,000 disgruntled people… who complain loudly… and paint the picture that the RSWL is a jerk… and leave the church… etc. Add to that snowballing number the staff members who quit in frustration and over a two year period numbers can compound quickly. Show me a church where half the congregation shows up halfway through the service (after the music and before the sermon) and I’ll show you a church with a RSWL problem.

STAGE 4: Epic Meltdown. Around the two year point the RSWL has basically lost his mind and pulls a stunt so horrific that the pastor MUST take action. One RSWL was having an affair with both his secretary and his assistant. Two others I know of were both caught cussing out a staff member – this was overheard by the wrong person (elder/deacon/etc.) at the wrong time. Another was having a flirty fling with a cute young praise team singer. Yet another was simply such a narcissistic boor that the church couldn’t tolerate another minute of him.

And in four out of the five cases I’ve just mentioned, the RSWL immediately finds another worship leading job at another megachurch (the fifth guy, the one who had two affairs, got a regular job but continued to lead worship as a volunteer in another church.) Like CEOs who hop from Fortune 500 company to Fortune 500 company, it’s almost as if there’s some elite network that allows RSWLs to go from one megachurch to another.

Studies show a large percentage of churchgoers in the USA attend a megachurch. It’s no secret that the country is in moral decay, and it makes one wonder if the godlessness in such an important, vital and spiritual worship role that affects such a large swathe of people is at least partly to blame.

Bottom Line for the megachurch Pastor: Perhaps it’s time after several failed RSWLs to take a deep breath and admit you shouldn’t be the final say in the hiring of your worship leader. Practically, a search committee made up of a hodgepodge of your congregation won’t help much, either. Instead, gather trusted colleagues, staff and/or congregation members – people with wisdom, who walk with the Lord and aren’t afraid to tell you like it is. Pray with them and listen to their counsel – they want the best for you and their/your congregation.

Bottom Line for the Rock Star Worship Leader: You truly have an immense talent and potential for the Kingdom. If you find yourself in your third church in four years I urge you to find a respected, Godly counselor. They’ll help you work through and Biblically repair your behaviors before you find yourself looking for yet another job and starting the Strange, Short Life Cycle of a Rock Star Worship Leader… all over again.


Essential reading for worship leaders since 2002.


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