Worship Leading Strategies for the Long Haul

Robb Redman helps worship leaders avoid ministry burnout:

Not long ago I attended a workshop taught by a veteran contemporary worship leader, in his current position for twelve years. At one point he mentioned that several other worship leaders began their ministries at about the same time as he did. Painfully he recounted how one after another dropped out of ministry due to extra-marital affairs, divorces, burnout, or an inability to lead and manage effectively. Of the several he began with, only two were still in their positions.

Few worship leaders think their current job will be a short-term ministry or that their careers will be a series of brief stints marked by crisis, conflict and burnout. Yet this pattern is increasingly common. Why is this happening?

The chief reason for the alarming burnout rate among worship leaders has to do with the lack of adequate training. They are simply not prepared to lead effectively in the complex and demanding environment of the evolving 21st century church. The lack of training, support and networking among worship leaders is taking its toll. For every successful worship leader there are several others with stories of pain, heartache and disappointment. Many of the best and most talented are collapsing under the load of unfulfilled expectations from their churches, pastors, teams, families, and most of all, from themselves. The sad truth is that many worship leaders are having to learn on the job, and the lessons aren’t being learned fast enough. As a result the average tenure of contemporary worship leaders is alarmingly brief.

In the space available here we can only hope to scratch the surface of how worship leaders can be better equipped for effective ministry for the long haul. I believe they will need to become intentional life-long learners, that is, men and women who seek actively to grow in four main areas: spiritual formation, musicianship, theological depth and ministry leadership.

1. Spiritual Formation
“The secret of being an effective worship leader,” says veteran worship leader Monty Kelso, “begins with having the heart of a worshiper.” Worship leaders are “lead worshipers,” as pastor and author John Piper calls them, who lead while worshiping, not instead of worshiping. Yet the difficulties and demands of ministry often leave worship leaders with little or no extra time for personal worship and the care of their own souls. Are worship leaders too busy to worship? Eugene Peterson observes that the term “busy pastor” is an oxymoron. Busyness is not an indication of effectiveness, but rather a product of our own vanity and laziness (The Contemplative Pastor). On the one hand,we keep ourselves busy because we want to believe we are important. “The incredible hours, the crowded schedule, and the heavy demands on my time are proof to myself – and to all who will notice – that I am important.”

On the other hand, our busyness is often the result of allowing others to dictate our agendas. “It was a favorite theme of C.S. Lewis that only lazy people work hard,” continues Peterson. “By lazily abdicating the essential work of deciding and directing, establishing values and setting goals, other people do it for us; then we find ourselves frantically, at the last minute, trying to satisfy a half dozen different demands on our time, none of which is essential to our vocation, to stave off the disaster of disappointing someone.”

Bruce Larson (qualify him as source) calls worship “wasting time in God’s presence.” From a human point of view worship doesn’t accomplish anything. A cartoon I saw recently in Leadership sums it up nicely. The church secretary motions for a parishioner to enter the pastor’s office saying, “Pastor isn’t doing anything, he’s just praying.” From God’s perspective, however, worship is the highest form of ministry. Worship and prayer are the work of ministry, not distractions from it. It is true that ministry activities can be worship, but they are not automatically so any more than sitting around doing nothing is meditation.

So how can we prepare for the long haul of ministry? Here are some basic steps to learning the care of your soul:

* Set aside a regular time for personal worship. Find a place where you can be alone without distractions or interruptions. Listen to worship music and sing along. Or take a walk and be silent. Meditate on scripture, such as the Psalms, and let the words and images of the Bible become the content of your praise and prayer. Many evangelicals are discovering the richness of the “liturgical” traditions, such as the Episcopalian Book of Common Prayer, which is agold mine for personal worship.

* Be accountable to someone else for your spiritual growth. We need to be in a small group or have a spiritual director. This may rub many of us Protestants the wrong way, but I believe we have misunderstood Luther’s insight about the priesthood of all believers. He did not mean that there are no longer any priests, he meant we are all priests to one another. We do not need the mediation of any priest other than the High Priest Jesus Christ in order to have an authentic encounter with God, but our brothers and sisters may minister to us powerfully by keeping us accountable and focused as we grow deeper in our life with God.

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