Ageism is alive and well in the Church today, and mid-40+ worship leaders across the country are shaking in their boots.
A friend of mine was at a conference and overheard several middle-aged worship leaders wondering aloud as to how long they’ll have their jobs. They have every right to worry – I know of one megachurch baby boomer pastor who unceremoniously “let go” a mid 40s worship leader because he was “too old.” When the elders got wind of the reason for the “letting go” they charged into action and demanded that the worship leader be rehired – stressing to the pastor that you just don’t treat people this way who’ve helped you build your ministry for many years.
And it gets worse: yet another megachurch has recently put their poor old, out-of-touch, frumpy and downright dated worship leader out to pasture. And the poor guy was only in his mid thirties! Now at the helm is a… 21 year old.
How things have changed – growing up it seemed like all church music directors were old men. In the past few years the trend in our youth-obsessed culture has been for megachurches to hire young guys with guitars – and these guys often have little to no musical training. I can think of one megachurch worship leader who can’t sing that great, can’t play an instrument, can’t write songs or arrange music and makes about 100G a year (but he sure looks good on stage.)
The tables do seem to be turning for those young guitar guys. One talented young guitar slinging worship leader I know just lost out on a lucrative megachurch job to another young guitar slinging worship leader …who had a music degree. I guess in harder economic times it isn’t as easy to explain the hiring of a full time music director who can’t create a chord chart.
So what does the future hold for you? Fifty years ago you’d get a job, work there for your adult career and retire with a pension and gold watch. We all know those days are gone, and a worship leader job is no different. If you’re mid 40+ (or even in your thirties!) you have a few options:
- Authentically reinvent yourself as long as you can by staying current (gold chains probably aren’t a good idea for a hipper image.)
- Try moving into more of a production role as you mentor younger worship leaders (at a church that’s large enough to afford a producer position.)
- Start looking for another line of work (there’s no shame in a career change.)
- Avoid megachurches and look for a healthy ministry that values a range of ages.
If you’re a young guitar slinging worship leader, realize that musical knowledge can only give you an edge in a weak, competitive economy.
Bottom Line: Job security, even in the Church, is a thing of the past for young and old.