The Tension Between Artists and Leaders

NeuePic “He just doesn’t get it!” Pastor Calvin Gentry exclaimed as I left his office.

I’d just wrapped up an hour-long conversation with Calvin about his worship leader, Jeff. I hadn’t intended on doing a counseling session during my visit to Northside Church—I was just passing through town. But following the Sunday service as I was talking with both Calvin and Jeff in the offices, the tension was so thick you could cut it with a knife. I knew I needed to stay for a couple days.

I had long-standing relationships with both Calvin and Jeff for many years; Calvin and I went to school together, and Jeff was an intern with me about ten years prior. So I’d kept up with both of them, and when Calvin was looking for an arts leader two years ago…I had no hesitation in recommending Jeff without reservation.

Now I wasn’t sure. I’d spent the prior evening with Jeff and heard him unload a truck-full of complaints and frustration about working under Pastor Gentry. I’ll have to admit that some of the stuff he said made me think the problem might be with Calvin.

But now that I’d spent some time with Calvin, I could see things from a different perspective. In fact, the whole conflict existed because each one was only seeing through their eyes. They were speaking, reacting, interpreting—and then over-reacting because of their wiring. Calvin had no idea how to work with creatives, and Jeff was at a loss as how to work under a “charge-up-the-hill” type of leader.

After more than two decades in ministry, I’ve seen this scenario repeated over and over. The names change. The locations are different. But the bottom-line remains: There is a dynamic tension between those wired as artists and those wired as leaders .

I felt this as a teenager singing and playing instruments and running the audio console at my high school. I experienced this as a leader of a team of artists, singing and presenting media productions across the country during the late 80’s. I saw this in the early 90’s as I was responsible for annually recruiting scores of both leaders and artists for a parachurch organization. I’ve witnessed it as I’ve consulted with hundreds of church leaders in recent years. And I’ve been in the middle of it over the past fourteen years in a local church, working through the ups and downs of leadership and ministry, hiring and firing, and designing weekend experiences with a team of leaders and artists.

It’s just a fact: The tension exists. You can wish it wasn’t there. You can hope it will go away. But the tension is real. And the tension must be managed. If it isn’t, it will drive a wedge in your ministry and will cause many teams to divide. Or worse yet, you will just put up with each other and begin to exist...


What you just read was the introduction to an article I wrote for Neue Quarterly earlier this year. Read the entire article here.

After you do, come back and tell me your experience as an artist working with a senior leader...or vice versa.

Tim Stevens4 Comments