When the Lord first called me into resident ministry, I’d always thought of myself as the “young buck” of a minister. You know that feeling? Wide-eyed, unmarried, eager, limited responsibilities, and ready to take on the world for the sake of the Gospel. We’re distinct from the older worship leaders, the godly men, and women who’ve been in your shoes. In my context, these older worship leaders were typically married, parents, slower to speak, had a few years of life experience over us, and carried just a bit more wisdom under their belts. However, for us as younger worship leaders, I feel as though we receive a different type of development compared to them. In this post, I’d like to provide some helpful points from what I’ve learned as a young worship leader. Here we go:
Friends, just because you lead worship doesn’t mean you are the worship pastor, there’s a difference between leading an integral part of a Sunday liturgy versus being charged as a pastor to a local congregation. A pastor shouldn’t be a mere title, but rather it should be the lifestyle at which you shepherd people.
I learned this the hard way while serving at my old church as a brand new youth worship leader. I remember having an explicit conversation with the youth pastor regarding my leadership expectations. This pastor went on to define my role and told me that I was not a pastor. My pride was shattered at that moment, but he was absolutely right. I was not a pastor, nor was it my responsibility to be a shepherd for that church body. Here’s why:
Consider the words of Paul to the Church in Ephesus, “I, therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” (Ephesians 4:1).
At the time, I was around 19 years old but wasn’t equipped in my theology, doctrine, and struggled with my personal holiness in order to shepherd students. It was important for me to recognize that I was not a pastor and submit to my ministry leadership. In turn, this spurred my desire for pastoral growth later on. To be pastoral means to take on the roles of a shepherd. Shepherding means guarding, caring, feeding, and leading the flock of God. Furthermore, we cannot appoint ourselves as shepherds to the flock of God; only the Chief Shepherd can.
One phrase that’s familiar for any past or present worship resident from our team is to “crave constant feedback.”
You may be thinking of the people who have already given you feedback on your worship leading. Yes, those people, but I’m not talking about your worship feats or musical capacity. Instead, ask more experienced people in your immediate ministry to assess your character. Going back to Ephesians 4, Paul continues from verse 1, “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love.” These are qualities of character that every follower of Christ should be striving toward.
The last thing the Church needs is a skilled musician who has unqualified character to lead their local church. You may be a great worship leader, but is your character completely terrible off stage? Do you back out on your word constantly? Are you thought of as a person of humility? Do you genuinely care about your people? Ask a friend to assess your character and examine yourself daily with Galatians 5:22, are you bearing the fruits of the Spirit? (1 Timothy 4:15-16).
Secondly, grow in your knowledge of the Scriptures. Another thing the Church doesn’t need is a musical prodigy that’s completely untrained in sound doctrine and theology. Worship leaders ought to be heralds of the Gospel story and the personhood of Christ, therefore it’s important to know how to handle the Word of God correctly. Isn’t it convenient that whenever Paul is outlining leadership qualifications for the Church, he always seems to mention the importance of sound doctrine? (Titus 1:9, 2:1. 1 Timothy 1:3-4, 1:7, 4:6, 4:13, 2 Timothy 3:15-17, 4:2-4).
Third, respond to feedback with humility. In my residency, I’ve received harsh feedback regarding the way I carry out my ministry tasks. It’s not easy for a 23-year-old to hear the areas of ministry he’s been unfaithful in. However, this feedback was always done in love to best equip me as a minister (Proverbs 27:6). If you receive feedback and know you need to grow in a specific area- what is your first inclination? To justify yourself? Or to accept where you’re at and strive for development?
For many young ministers of the faith, we may be prone to serving our pride rather than the Lord of the harvest. I often wondered what it would be like if God used me to spearhead a successful ministry or simply to “be the best.” If you can discern what’s wrong with that, you’ll notice it’s a “me-centered theology” rather than a God-centered theology.
I’ve even wondered what it took to be one of the best residents in our residency program. Most of these thought processes came by placing my identity in musical ability and knowledge of the Word for selfish ambition. Maybe if I knew more theology, read more books and studied Koine Greek, I would appear more godly. Maybe if I devoted more practice to my musical ability, I would find approval there. If I had more followers on Instagram, I would find my worth there. The Lord shares His glory with nothing and no one (Isaiah 42:8). Ministers, God will ultimately destroy our pride one way or another, it’s better to extinguish it quickly (Proverbs 16:18-19). Our gifts exist to serve the Church, not the Church to serve our gifts.
Lastly, confess your sin regularly to someone that you trust to speak into your life. For example, my roommate, the person that walked me through a season of discipleship for a year, is someone that I can absolutely trust to confess my sin toward. This person knows the rhythms of my heart and will be able to discern what sins I struggle with most. This starts with him addressing where my holiness falls short, identify my sin, steer me to the Gospel, and present me with a Biblical solution. Christian confession that isn’t a regular routine isn’t just laziness, it can be dangerous to the well-being of your soul.
The Lord doesn’t call us to merely sing songs. He calls us to be faithful servants of His Church and to further magnify the work of Christ. The Church is a collection of needy people purchased at the highest price. When we submit to saying yes in serving the Church, we’re serving the people of God. In my context as a worship resident, I’ve found myself stacking chairs and setting up environments more often than actually leading others on a stage. Even in high school as an intern in my youth group, I set up chairs before and after service. Now here I am years later doing the same thing. God-willing, if He calls me to oversee a congregation as a minister several years from now, I can only imagine what color of chairs I’ll be stacking.
These smaller tasks are routine and tedious. There are times when these tasks become so routine that I dread stacking chairs, clearing a stage, picking up groceries, or going on other errands to serve our people. However, the greatest disciples of Christ that I’ve ever known are the ones who dove head first into serving no matter what. Submission by servitude should be inconvenient to us. The Scriptures give you permission to serve on your welcome team, your coffee team, your set up team; serve the Church (Galatians 6:10).
This goes back to my second point because I believe so much in its importance. So far in my residency, I’ve learned how to acclimate in playing with click tracks, shepherd a full band, lead corporate worship on Sundays, build transitions between songs, sharpen my dynamics in guitar playing, and increased in my vocal abilities.
However, if by the end of residency that’s all I’ve learned, then maybe I’ll have missed out on vital development opportunities. The true desire for my residency is to not only grow in my worship leading capabilities but also in my ability to master the Word of God; first to myself, then to others. We have to delight in hearing the Shepherd’s voice, so much so that we champion from it.
Study theology, learn the doctrines, dive into Greek and Hebrew word studies, ask your teaching pastor how he prepares his sermons. But above all, be a daily student of the Bible, even if some mornings are just reading it plainly. Memorize it and store it up in your heart (Psalm 119:11).
Finally, unless your title is the King of kings and you’ve conquered the power of hell, you can expect failure lurking around the corner. You will undoubtedly let people down, you’ll fall short in your duties, and there will be Sundays where you think your ministry is sure to end. However, know this, your identity is found not as a worship leader, musician, or even as a minister, but as a child of God. Use your failure as an opportunity for grace to come through.
If there is ever a place to fail in my own ability, I’d do it in the Church over any Christless faction. Yet grace does not give a minister the permission to remain on the ground. The minister looks to the Cross for his confidence before he is raised to his feet, then he presses onward (Philippians 3:12-15). Many times have I let my failures rule my identity, but I’m confident in what Jesus has accomplished for me.
To the young worship leaders reading, my prayer is that you would grow into a devoted and matured pastor. A pastor forged by the fires of godly development and rigors of ministry by His grace alone.