Give the DJ a Break, or: What Worship Leaders Wish You Knew

By Erika Hewitt, Erica Baron

My friend Jeff is a wicked good wedding DJ. He loves his work, but sometimes encounters a struggle that (I’m guessing) will resonate with many worship leaders: guests who assume that it's his job to make them happy.

Robin and Jack’s wedding reception was especially frustrating for Jeff. I officiated their ceremony—which went off without a hitch (sorry! I can’t resist a good pun)—but left before the music started. A week later, Jeff told me how hard the night had been for him.

“As the DJ, it’s my job to get as many people on the dance floor as possible,” Jeff explained. “That’s what couples hire me to do. I know how to read the crowd. Which songs will get them smiling and moving? What should I play to help everyone have a fun night? I know how to figure that out in just a few songs."

So what went wrong at Robin and Jack’s wedding?

“People kept coming up to make requests,” Jeff groaned. “I knew those songs would empty the dance floor, so I turned down their requests—and some of the guests got angry with me. They didn’t understand that my goal was to make the entire crowd happy, not just them.”

Say no more, I told him. I get it—and so do most worship leaders. In our congregations, how often do we assume that preachers, music directors, and other worship leaders are there to fulfill our personal preferences?

I don’t like singing that hymn. Why do we have to use readings with ‘God’ in them? I want to hear more poetry in our services. I didn’t like the minister’s sermon today....

It's great to know what moves you, and what touches you, in worship. What’s problematic is when individual congregation members forget that their preferences are part of a larger whole: the overlapping but disparate needs of an entire congregation. We also tend to forget that worship leaders have their a clear sense of purpose—or should. (Worship Committees, do you have your mission statement ready to share with the congregation? That statement naming boldly what you're trying to create and offer on Sunday mornings—can be a helpful North Star to guide your decisions, and a transparent way to share that purpose with the congregation.)

One of the most important ways that church members can support their worship leaders is to allow those leaders to serve the whole. Here are some constructive ways to do that:

  • If there’s an element of worship that’s just not your thing, use that time to look around you at the other people in worship. Can you find someone who is deeply moved by what is happening? What would you lose by giving yourself to the moment?
  • Before you tell a worship leader that you don't like something they do, express curiosity about why they do it. What love, energy, or intention goes into that worship component? The answer might surprise you.
  • It's often easier (and more fun) to respond to ideas about what to include in worship rather than things you want to remove. Tell your worship leaders the things that are meaningful to you, and that you'd love more of.
  • If you approach a wedding DJ with a single suggestion and they know that it won’t work, you’ll both be frustrated. But if you have a list of possible songs, it might be easier to find the right fit. Can you approach the worship leaders with a few different ideas, and trust them to choose which one might spark a creative way to serve you and the whole?
  • Remember that our congregations are crucibles for right relationship. We extend trust to one another that we're all doing our best, all the time; that healthy leadership (including worship committees) speaks with one voice; and that courage, creativity, and vulnerability are all contagious.

About the Authors

Erika Hewitt

Rev. Erika Hewitt (she/her) serves as the Minister of Worship Arts for the Unitarian Universalist Association. She also spends time on the road as a guest preacher, worship consultant, and wedding officiant....

Erica Baron

Rev. Erica Baron joined the New England region staff in 2019, focusing on helping congregations live into their missions and develop their gifts for spiritual leadership. Before joining the Congregational Life staff, she served as parish minister for the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the...

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In the foreground, a vinyl record on a high-tech DJ board; in the background, a DJ turning dials on the board, headphones around his neck.