The Tension of Autopilot

I met with a worship leader this week. He said that he felt like he was on autopilot as a worship leader.


He said it like he was mentioning he’d like a refill on his coffee.


I heard it like he said he was the captain of the Titanic on April 11, 1912...about 3 days before sinking.


Why is autopilot so deadly?


And the twist, why do you need it?


The original definition is: An autopilot is a system used to control the trajectory of an aircraft without constant 'hands-on' control by a human operator being required.


Wow, that actually sounds useful. BUT, there’s the way we usually use it:


Autopilot: A state of mind where one no longer thinks about doing one's actions, but acts mechanically.


Ah, well let’s first get into that one to see how it can sabotage you, then we’ll see the ways you can maximize your effectiveness by systems.


So how does autopilot set in?

  • It’s every week.
  • We do the same kinds of things on repeat.
  • We compartmentalize it.
  • It’s too personal.
  • We’re unaware of our spots.
  • We don’t reach out for help.
  • We only know our church.


What’s the antidote to autopilot?


It’s every week.

Like clockwork, Sundays just keep coming. And if we are in the rut of planning weekly instead of monthly, it will crush us. “I Will Multiply time by giving myself the emotional permission to spend time on things today that create more time tomorrow.” -Rory Vaden If we plan in batches, we plan better.


We do the same kinds of things on repeat.

It’s redundant, monotonous even. Song lists, chord charts, schedules. If you’re not wired to manage, it can feel like a s low death. Childlike wonder birthed in simple love and pure devotion to Jesus will save you. Cynicism and sarcasm won’t. What a true honor it is to serve! 


We compartmentalize it.

We keep “ministry” and “life” in different rooms. It is meant to be completely integrated. Not in the “you’re never present when you’re home” kind of way, but in the “I live close to Jesus and that’s where ministry flows from” way. I recently heard “Don’t pour out and then get refilled. Be filled to overflowing, and minister from what splashes out of your cup.”


It’s too personal.

We wrap our identity around what we do in worship ministry. Total killer. “Don’t shop horizontally for what must come vertically.” - a great statement on identity from Paul Tripp. There’s no need to make anything of yourself in worship. “Promotion comes from the Lord” - Asaph the songwriter. Don’t try to control everything, just do your best.


We’re unaware of our spots.

That’s why we call them blind. Awareness is so important to avoid death by autopilot. We’ll fly ourselves right into a mountain if we aren’t aware. The Five Faders is a great place to start!


We don’t reach out for help.

Sure there’s something to proving yourself when you’re getting started. There’s also an unhelpful stubbornness to those who choose to make all their own mistakes. Please, learn from some of ours. Become a student, find a guide, let others help you.


We only know our church

I’m always amazed when worship leaders don’t regularly experience other streams. We get locked into “this is the best/only way of doing church” or “I’m always up front, so I can’t visit other churches.” Building real relationships across the body of Christ is so important. Experiencing how other churches do it is so refreshing. Worship leader groups, training events, conferences, and genuinely partnering with other churches will de-rut you.


We’ll finish up with 3 ways to maximize the positive concept of autopilot.

  1. Planning Center Online. If you use this FULLY, you know. If you don’t, go to the store and buy a block of cheese. Quit keeping a cow in your backyard just because it’s the way you’ve always done it. (Unless you’re these guys.)
  2. Clear, written, communicated expectations. I was stunned recently when a church asked for samples of worship philosophy. They’ve had worship staff for 20 years without ever writing down what they expect and what the culture is to be on the team. Here are some questions to get you started in creating one.
  3. Unconscious Competent. Work to get your musicianship to a place where you’re not using all your bandwidth to just play or sing. Memorize lyrics so that you’re not glued to the words.

So, what’s one way that you feel stuck on autopilot and one way that you’re using autopilot to help you?