To Have (And To Be) A Normal Mentor

1When I was a young lad, an early teenager who was sensing a call to pursue worship leading as a career, I was blessed to have a healthy supply of normal mentors in my life. These were guys who were the worship leaders or youth pastors at my church, and who were fantastic at what they did, but (and this is not a bad thing) were just plain-out normal.

They wore normal clothes. They drove normal cars. They did normal things. They didn’t present themselves as being any better than anyone else, they were accessible, and they were people I could see myself emulating someday.

Even the “celebrity” worship leaders (who were putting out albums, speaking at conferences, and doing worship leading seminars around the country) were pretty normal too. They wore dorky sweaters on their album covers, they had a job at their local church with fake plants covering up the floor monitors, and when you met one of these guys at a conference or seminar, they surprised with you their… normal-ness.

A lot of the guys and gals in my generation of worship leaders were deeply impacted by a collection of normal trailblazers, that we either knew personally, or came to know through their broader influence, and to this day (whether we’re conscious of it or not) are still emulating what we saw.

I’m grateful to still know a lot of those guys who helped shape me from an early stage. And they’re still pretty normal. And I still need (and will always need) their continued mentoring.

But I’m not as young a lad anymore, and now I’m the same age that MY mentors were when I first met them. There are middle schoolers, high schoolers, and even college students who are discerning a call to worship leading, or worship team involvement, and I’m not so much a peer to them – I’m actually more of a mentor.

And I want to be just as “normal” as my mentors growing up were. The worship leading world is bigger than it was 15-25 years ago, and it has become a wee bit more difficult for up-and-coming  worship leaders to find older/more-seasoned worship leaders in their own church or in the music/conference/seminar world who are normal. The celebrity factor is a bit more of an issue than it was in the 90s, or even the early 2000s.

Those of us who benefitted from normal mentors need to make sure we become that kind of normal mentor ourselves. We owe it to a crop of young musicians, who will one day be shaping the worship of the church, to provide a model of accessible, genuine, down-to-earth, humble local-church servanthood. If all that’s being offered is a glossy picture of cool church celebrity-ism, or performancism, then we’re setting up the future generation (and their churches) for a drift away from the ancient paths.

The more we pursue (and seek to be) normal, faithful, accessible, and Christ-centered mentors, the more the aura of celebrity will fall away from the role of worship leading: and that can’t happen soon enough.

 

Responding To Mud-Throwers with Spirit-Empowered Restraint

1Several years ago I had just finished leading worship for a big event that had taken a huge amount of my emotional and physical emotional energy, the better part of six months to plan and execute, and a significant amount of ministry capital, when a letter arrived in my mailbox (an actual letter, in my actual mailbox) addressed to (you guessed it…) me.

As any humble worship leader would do, I hoped that this letter would contain high praise for my incomparable musical and spiritual prowess, list specific ways I was awesome, tell me particularly impressive things I had done, and possibly contain a financial blessing (i.e. “cash”).

I opened it up, ready to receive the flattering praise of an adoring fan congregation member, and instead read the following (I’ll summarize for time’s sake):

  1. That was the worst thing ever
  2. You are the worst worship leader ever
  3. You have ruined everything
  4. Did I mention you are the worst worship leader ever?
  5. Grace and peace to you from God our Father

Let’s just say it wasn’t the glowing letter I was hoping for.

I immediately wrote this person a response that said:

  1. That was actually the best thing ever
  2. I’m actually the best worship leader ever
  3. You’re an idiot
  4. Did I mention that I’m the best worship leader ever?
  5. May God’s richest blessings be showered upon you

Then I felt better. And then I crumpled that letter up and threw it away. Then shredded it. Then threw it away again. Then I wiped the servers. Even though the letter was handwritten. It’s never a big deal to wipe servers, apparently, as we all know.

Then I wrote another letter that basically said:

  1. Thanks for taking the time to write
  2. I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy the event
  3. Here’s what I was praying for in the months leading up to the event, and now in the days following
  4. I hope you’re able to enjoy Jesus even more the next time you come to church
  5. May God refresh you with joy in him (and I mean it)

There was no good reason at all to start a war with this person. There was nothing I could say to convince them I wasn’t the worst worship leader ever. For whatever reasons (unbeknownst to me, even to this day), I had pushed a hot button for that person, which resulted in an inappropriately harsh letter sent to me, giving me the choice to either respond in kind, or as the theologian Queen Elsa says, to “let it go”.

I would have loved to send that first letter. It would have felt SO GOOD to throw some mud back into that person’s face.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23)

The Holy Spirit gets in the way (thank God) of our desire to throw mud back at people, even people who tell us we’re the worst person ever. He allows us to respond with the kind of strength and tenderness that resembles – and glorifies – Jesus Himself.

The Point Of A Worship Leader Is To Point

1This week my church is hosting “Genesis Arts Camp” for 200+ sweaty K-6th grade students in the morning and about 50 middle/high school students in the afternoon. I’ve had a blast leading worship in the morning, and sharing a quick teaching about some aspect of the gospel (this camp draws a good number of kids from outside of our church and from families who don’t go to church at all).

In between the songs and the teaching we’re also goofing around a good bit. We’ve thrown in some David Letterman-inspired bits (complete with their own theme songs) like:

Mr. Gil Tells a Joke
In which Mr. Gil comes up and tells a joke. The theme song would get stuck in your head if I shared it, so I’ll spare you. Unless you click on this link, in which case prepare yourself for getting the theme song stuck in your head. You don’t want to click on this link. Really. Don’t click on it.

Kalisthenics with Kirsten
In which Kirsten comes up (to the band rocking out to Van Halen’s “Jump”) in her 80’s head band and leads a couple hundred kids in doing crazy exercises. We’re doing some pretty aggressively contemporary stuff at this camp for sure 🙂

Superhero Art Tryouts
In which two superheroes (Flash and the Green Lantern) attempt to get a job as teachers at Genesis Arts Camp by demonstrating their different “gifts”. They could use some work. Their interpretive dance to “Let it Go” was particularly moving.

Teaching
At the end of each session I’m sharing a quick teaching with the kids, in an attempt to communicate the gospel to them in a clear, understandable way. On Thursday or Friday I hope to invite kids to put their trust in Jesus for the first time if they haven’t ever done so. I’m excited!

On Monday I held up a bull horn and told them I had some really good news. “God loves you!” “God will always love you!” And how did God show us he loves us? By sending Jesus to die for us on the cross. We looked at a bunch of different logos. The kids knew all of them! I asked them what would God’s logo be? God’s logo would be a cross. He didn’t didn’t tell us he loved us. He showed us!

On Tuesday we looked at a bunch of pictures of cute babies. We oohed and ahed at the cute babies. But I told the kids that even the cutest babies are still born sinful. No one teaches a baby how to grow up and steal a cookie! No one teaches a little boy how to grow up and hit his sister on purpose. We sin naturally. It’s like I was born with a red choir robe on me (and I donned a lovely red choir robe for this example). And no matter what I do (give money to my friends, give food to the poor), I can’t get my red robe off. Then I walked up to the cross on stage, which had a white robe on it to show that Jesus died on the cross, but he was perfect. He took my sinful robe off of me! But… it didn’t stick to him.

Jesus defeated my sin! He stomped on it (so I stomped on the robe). He beat it (so I beat the robe). And he threw it far, far away (so I threw the robe far, far away). And he gives me his white robe (I put a white robe on). He makes me clean. He makes us new.

Today (Wednesday) I shared how Jesus wants to be our best friend. He wants to be by our side for our whole life (and after). He wants to be with us when we’re happy, when we’re sad, when we want to sin, and when we’re scared. Who would say “no” to having this kind of friend? I did a bunch of silly shenanigans like riding my daughter’s pink bike, and a pretend horse, and pretending to be scared of thunder… All to show that Jesus is with me all the time.

And the week will wrap up with me reminding the kids of what we’ve learned… and that Jesus is knocking on the doors of their hearts (and they should let him in!)

We’re singing mostly upbeat, action, call-and-response type songs. There’s a large number of little kids who can’t read, much less handle wordy songs. It’s been a lot of work but it’s been a lot of fun. And it’s reminded me of one major worship leading lesson.

I do the pointing. Jesus does the work.

 

Not everyone will sing along. Not everyone will get it. Some people (i.e. the super cool 5th grade boys) will sit there with their arms folded. Some people just won’t like it.

But if I use my microphone/guitar/pink bike/pretend (or real) horse/superhero skits to point people to God’s great love for them in Jesus Christ, then I don’t have to worry. My job is simple. Whether it’s a summer camp or a Sunday morning. Whether I’m leading 3rd-graders or 70 year-olds. My job description always has the same basic instruction: use your platform to point to Jesus. Then let him do the work.

The point of a worship leader is to point. Every context, every age group, every time you stand on stage.

May God increase our desire to see his name, and his name alone, exalted in the lives of those who sit in our churches. Even the sweaty ones.

The Gospel Works

1A worship leader can never go wrong having his congregation proclaim the gospel in song. In our weekly quest to find something that “works”, we quite simply don’t have to look any further than to Jesus, to what he accomplished for us, and to what he has secured for us. Regardless of your church’s setting, demographics, traditions, worship style, successes, failures, attendance numbers, and whatever buzzword is floating around at the moment, singing songs grounded in the gospel of Jesus Christ always – always – “works”.

The gospel works on the slow summer Sundays. It works on Easter. And it works when a snowstorm cuts your attendance by 80%.

The gospel works when your church votes to leave a denomination. It works when your church wins a lawsuit. And it works when your church loses a lawsuit.

The gospel works when you welcome a new pastor. It works when you lose a pastor. And it works when you’re in between pastors.

The gospel works with organs. It works with electric guitars. And it works with a iPod plugged into a sound system when that’s the best you can do.

The gospel works when your church is growing. It works when your church is stagnant. And it works when your church is dying.

The gospel works when the sermon is bad. It works when the music is bad. It works when the sound system is bad.

The gospel works when you have a lot to celebrate. It works when you’re full of sorrow. And it works when you aren’t sure what in the world to sing.

The gospel works when people are singing with gusto. It works when they look bored to tears. And it works on the high school boys who are too cool to sing.

The gospel works in a packed mega church. It works in a half-full 7:30am service. And it works in a small group of 8 in a living room.

The gospel works when a nation celebrates a holiday. The gospel works when a nation is approaching election day. And the gospel works when a nation is grieving yet another tragedy.

We are not called to be more and more creative each Sunday – finding a new spin or incorporating the newest song or writing a new liturgy or saying a new thing. We are called to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. We are called to help people sing the good news of Jesus Christ.

We are called to be doggedly persistent and consistent, in the face of whatever ups and downs our church and/or our culture is riding, and point people to the unchanging and uncompromising gospel. It always – yes always – works.

A Sample Job Description for a Worship Leader

1I’ve never had to search for a worship leader. Because I am a worship leader. 🙂

But, hypothetically, if I was looking for a worship leader, how would I phrase a job description for him or her?

There are a lot of bad/vague/overly ambitious job descriptions out there. I’ve seen some that are as vague as “lead music at our church”. And that’s it. I’ve seen others that are so detailed, down to how the worship leader should spend every day of his/her week, that all creativity seems to have been intentionally choked out.

If I were to write a simple, meat-and-potatoes job description for a worship leader, with the basic bare-bones responsibilities, here’s how I would phrase it:

SUMMARY
The worship leader (or whatever title you want to insert here) will work closely with our pastor in cultivating worship services and worship teams that help lead our congregation to see and savor the greatness of God in Jesus Christ, in the power of the Spirit. Fostering dynamic congregational worship, singing the best of the old and the best of the new, is a key priority for our church and we are seeking an individual who’s called and gifted by God in the following areas:

SPECIFIC RESPONSIBILITIES
1. Planning our weekly Sunday 10:00am worship service. Choosing congregational hymns and songs that engage the congregation and support the reading and preaching of God’s Word.

2. Modeling and leading heartfelt worship in an invitational style – that draws people in, encourages participation, and points people to Jesus.

3. Recruiting, auditioning, teaching, and training musicians in the church to serve the congregation as a team with musical skill and humility.

4. Leading weekly rehearsals that serve a dual purpose: (A) preparation for Sunday and (B) cultivation of Christ-centered community.

5. Building on our traditions and having a vision for where God might be calling our congregation and our musicians to grow in new expressions of worship.

6. Serving as a member of the ministry team at (insert church name here), demonstrating a commitment to this congregation and its mission.

This individual is expected to: (A) be gifted in leading congregational worship (B) possess leadership and organizational skills, and (C) be a team player.

At this point, if this is a part-time position, the description should stop.

But if it’s full time, then 3 or 4 more bullet points could be added. For example, the worship leader could be expected to:

– Oversee the AV/Production team and volunteers.
– Lead additional services (mid-week, evening, etc.)
– Oversee other groups within your church (acolytes, readers, ushers, choirs, etc.)
– Do something in that individual’s particular area of strength, like media, communications, video, training, preaching, youth, etc.
– Move beyond a mainly musical role with the team to a more pastoral role with the team, cultivating a worship community of singers and instrumentalists within your church.
– Oversee staff
– You get the idea

Over four years ago I posted a very similar article, which went into more specifics than this, and even gave my ballpark attempts at what a worship leader should be paid, according to a slew of different variables. It’s been one of the most-viewed articles in this blog’s history, which makes me think that a lot of churches and pastors are wondering how to break down appropriate expectations for a worship leader’s responsibilities.

What I offer above is my best attempt at articulating the essentials, while leaving room to add in specifics that will help the person meet the needs for a particular church with its own particular needs.