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An Interview With Mike Pilavachi, Senior Pastor of Soul Survivor Church

  • Updated Feb 01, 2002
An Interview With Mike Pilavachi, Senior Pastor of Soul Survivor Church
Pastors & Musicians: Harmony Between Control & Creativity

By Bruce Adolph, courtesy of {{Christian Musician}} Magazine

I first saw Pastor Mike Pilavachi on stage at the Worship Together Conference. He was supposed to teach after the worship time, but instead asked everyone to hang-out in Gods presence. Then he did a surprising thing: he asked the crowd of about 1,200 worship leaders and Christian musicians if their pastors had ever hurt them. He asked if any had what they thought were God-given dreams to create music stepped on or quenched by their home church. Scores of hands raised in the crowd; Pastor Mike asked them to come to the altar so that the worship team and pastoral leaders of the conference could pray for them. A throng of people streamed toward the front. I counted 120; there were many more. This sparked the initial thought process for the interview. If at least one out of ten in this crowd felt that way, then this issue is worth addressing by a magazine committed to Christian musicians.

Mike Pilavachi is the senior pastor of Soul Survivor Church in England, where {{Matt Redman}} leads worship. I met with him that weekend to discuss the tension between a musicians creativity and a pastors control. Heres what he had to say:

Creativity, in its truest sense, is the activity of the Holy Spirit. So Christian musicians should have a head start on anyone else, because they have the Holy Spirits creativity. And yet, in the church we struggle with giving expression to creativity. The church is possibly the most conservative institution on the face of the earth. Im not speaking politically or socially, but in the sense that we just dont like change.

As for pastors, speaking as a pastor, sometimes creativity threatens us, because were not in control of the creativity. The whole thing about creativity is that were not meant to be in control.

So theres this whole war between the pastors and the musicians. Pastors think of musicians as undisciplined, egocentric, out to do their own thing. And musicians feel as though pastors are controlling, demanding, and that they never encourage them. And in disputes between pastors and musicians, its always the musicians who come out worse. The pastors got the clout.

One of the things that Ive been so sad to see all over the world is musicians on the fringe of the church carrying so much pain. For many musicians, church has become the most uncomfortable place to be.

And then as pastors, we wonder why some musicians get into trouble and end up falling into sin. And we say, Ah, you see? Everything I said about him turned out to be true. Actually, weve driven them to the edge.

Theres something in them that knows that their creativity is given by God, and they cant really worship God unless they use their creative gifts. And yet when they do, we tend to marginalize it.

We also dont allow musicians to make mistakes. Now, I work with Matt Redman, and I was his youth pastor when he was thirteen years old, so weve sort of grown up together. I remember when he started developing his musical gifts and leading worship. I remember that we talked about learning to be spontaneous musically in the worship setting. So he tried it a few times, and it didnt go well in the beginning. He crash-landed. And Id go up to him afterwards and say, Matt, you did this wrong, you did that wrong. Matt, you mustnt do that. What on earth were you thinking when you did that?

He took it for ages, and then one day, he turned to me, and really quietly he said, Mike, I dont thrive under criticism. And it just stopped me. Of course he doesnt thrive under criticism. No one does.

Another time, when hed tried to be spontaneous and it didnt really work, I said to him, Matt, maybe we shouldnt try this spontaneous thing too much.

Matt said, But Mike, you were the one who told me to try it. If Im ever going to get it right, if Im ever going to learn how to do that, weve got to accept that at the beginning Im going to get it wrong. And it was like, Of course.

I wish that as pastors we gave our musicians more freedom to make mistakes. If only we could love them unconditionally, then wed have the right to speak into their lives, because theyd know that were doing it because we love them, and not because we want to control them.

Knowing that your magazine is more for musicians than pastors, I want to encourage musicians and worship leaders:

I know that the church has hurt you. Dont give up on the church. The church needs you. God wants you as a part of His church. For all its faults, its His church, and wed be the poorer without you.

We need musicians to hang in there, and to slowly help pastors and leaders to learn to let go and trust. Perhaps you should actually say to your pastors, I want to be under your authority. I want you to let me know when Ive made a mistake, but tell me kindly, and encourage me, too.

As someone who loves worship, Id love to see more musicians using their gifts in worship in the context of the church. Weve got bands like {{Delirious}} who are using their gifts to bring worship to the streets, as it were. Thats important, but we also need those who bring worship to the temple.

In the Old Testament, they took such great care with the musicians and the instruments and created great worship. And in the history of the church, for the first few centuries, the church was at the forefront of new music. The Gregorian chants, for example, were cutting-edge, chart-topping music in their day. But we just stuck with that.

Luther and Wesley took the tunes from the songs being sung in the bars, and they put Christian words to them. General William Booth, who founded the Salvation Army, was doing very innovative music for his times.

Much of the church has held on to those traditions. And sometimes, those things can become a stumbling block to allowing us to be creative today.

Every move of the Holy Spirit in the history of the church has included fresh creativity in music and in worship.

I want to encourageand its already startingmore and more pastors and leaders to recognize that theres something of God in the creativity of their musicians, and to start to make space for it.