Mentoring novice worship leaders is a crucial part of our work as experienced worship leaders. As you will see in this series of posts, education alone falls short in providing much-needed direction in the life and ministry of worship leaders. In these six posts, my friend Bobby Craig draws from his extensive research in this field as part of his doctoral project to help us understand the vast need and how we, as more seasoned worship leaders, can best fill the gap. If you missed the previous articles, check them out first.


By Dr. Bobby Craig

In my junior year of college way back in 1996-97, I recall nervously sitting down in a comfy, leather chair across the desk from Dr. Milburn Price, dean of the school of music at Samford University in Birmingham, AL where I was pursuing a Bachelor of Music degree with an emphasis in church music. Admittedly, I had a chip on my shoulder. I didn’t need this degree to do music ministry as I felt called. I certainly didn’t need vocal lessons to sing like an operatic divo. I didn’t see any benefit to memorizing the birth and death dates of composers or being able to determine the differences between Bach and Beethoven simply by a drop of the needle on the record player. I was ready to jump ship and transfer to another school that I felt had a better program for training future church leaders like me. Thankfully, Dr. Price’s wise words clarified my thinking and I stuck with the program at Samford, graduating in 1998.

I will always be thankful for the foundation of music ministry education I received at Samford. Likewise, earning the Master of Music degree in Ministry at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary has been instrumental in shaping my career and trajectory as a worship pastor. Both schools were excellent at what they taught…however, both were significantly short in one crucial area: practical, real-world experience. But they weren’t alone. Very few schools understood the significance or implications of this shortfall in their programs.

(Note: though this article gets deep into some statistics and survey results, stick with me and I hope you’ll understand why colleges and seminaries aren’t filling this role and, quite frankly, can’t meet the need for a valuable mentoring of novice worship leaders.)

There is a trend noted in Hendricks’ Doctor of Ministry dissertation, “A Renewed Approach to Undergraduate Worship Leader Education.” Hendricks studied twelve college institutions that offer some sort of a degree in worship leadership (plus Charleston Southern, where he taught and sought to develop a worship leadership degree through the research of his dissertation). Of those thirteen top institutions in this particular educational market in America, Hendricks noted trends of instruction in three specific areas:

  1. The first is in key basics of music entailing music history, music theory, conducting, orchestration, applied studies, and music technology.
  2. The second is in worship and is generally “taught from a worship leadership perspective by music and worship faculty.”[1] Courses here include worship leadership and administration, biblical foundations of worship, development of a philosophy and theology of worship, and components of congregational song, almost always including hymnology.
  3. The third part is in biblical studies which include Old and New Testament surveys, biblical worldviews, world religions, and doctrinal studies.[2

My two schools, though not included in Hendricks’ survey, would have fit right into this traditional program mold.

Though this provides an excellent foundation for worship leadership in each school’s program, of the thirteen schools that Hendricks studied, four of the thirteen schools had no experiential component in a real-world scenario. Of those that did, six of the nine only required one semester of an internship or practicum in an active worship ministry.[3] Only three out of thirteen programs had more than one semester of anything resembling practical or experiential training elements in an entire 4-year program. Without a significant shift in focus from these thirteen schools and others like them, “Most of the men and women graduating . . . will be placed into two or three church [positions] where they will either learn to swim on their own or drown.”[4]

Worship Leader magazine, a prominent voice in worship leadership of today’s churches, shows that schools have begun to address this gap. Seven years after Hendricks’ study, and including some of the same institutions, in the Winter issue of 2019, nine different colleges, universities, and specifically designed worship intensives are featured due to their influence in the field of worship leadership. Common language for each program includes “mentoring,” “internships,” and “practicums” while also highlighting that students will learn from faculty who are presently active in worship leadership and who are not just “academics.”[5]

Even though schools are beginning to address this gap, in Selzer’s study at Denver Seminary, several respondents felt the mentoring program was “forced,”[6] “superficial,”[7] and “too short in time.”[8] Selzer says that when participants, students in this case, “felt forced into the process, the perceived benefit of the program was diminished.”[9] She then points to Garrison’s research which “asserts that externally imposed mandates for performance can reduce willingness to accept personal responsibility for learning.”[10] According to Selzer, being a “hoop to jump through” to meet the needs of accredited degree completion can too often work against the intended goal of structured mentoring programs within worship leadership degree programs.[11] This basically means that college worship leadership programs forcing or requiring students to participate in mentoring programs as a part of the curriculum often simply does not work as intended. By not being organically contrived as shown in the last article, its results are typically less than desired. 

Beyond this gap between academic knowledge and practical application, Plank uncovered an even more dire disconnect in the university and seminary training of worship leaders. “Overwhelmingly, worship leadership degree programs require little, if any, discipleship or spiritual formation coursework.”[12] Worship leadership degrees are often secluded to the music schools with little or no interaction in the theology departments.[13] Likewise, theology students, often training to be pastors, who eventually become the ones hiring worship leaders, do not venture into the music departments.[14]The result in many evangelical churches is now skillful musicians without the means to develop a deeper spirituality, and theologically sound preachers without an understanding of biblical worship.[15]

Plank’s research supports the above claims with sobering reality:

The purpose was to investigate the number of hours required in the area of discipleship in the worship degree programs. When a course title appeared to be instructional for the student’s inner spiritual development, understanding and/or practicing spiritual disciplines, or how to be a lifelong Christ-follower, the course description was noted in order to confirm the required hours. A percentage of the worship degree program was calculated in order to reveal how much of the degree required a discipleship element.[16]

An overview of forty-five worship degree programs in both undergraduate and graduate schools revealed 2.28% of the degree programs contain a required discipleship component. . . . Half (twenty-two out of forty-five) of worship leadership degree programs required no discipleship coursework at all.”[17]

Summarizing Plank’s findings, half (twenty-two) of the worship leadership degrees in these forty-five programs do not have any coursework devoted to discipleship and of those twenty-five that do, only 2.28 percent of the entire degree program is devoted to a discipleship component. Nearly 98% of the degree programs studied were focused on what a worship leader needed to do, and only 2% centered on who a worship leader needed to be. Experiential learning is not simply about what one does, but also who one isNot only does the research show that colleges and seminaries, in general, are not devoting enough energy toward practical, experiential learning for worship leaders, but the nature of a degree program isn’t suitable for such learning due to its requirements and demands for measurable, quantifiable markers. As such, the only options remaining are trial and error or mentorship. I think most of us would agree that trial and error is not the most forgiving or beneficial way to learn the ropes of ministry.

I know this post was a little more “academic” with research and sources, but I really wanted you to see that academic pursuits, though good and worthwhile, are not sufficient for what a worship leader needs. Novice worship leaders desperately need mentorship from those of us who have been down that road before.

The next article will show you three practical areas in which you can mentor a novice worship leader as you take up this mantle.


[1]  Allen Sherman Hendricks, “A Renewed Approach to Undergraduate Worship Leader Education” (DMin diss., Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, 2012), accessed July 22, 2019, https://digitalcommons.liberty.edu/ doctoral/592, 110-111.

[2] Ibid., 109-113.

[3] Ibid., 159.

[4] Ibid.

[5] “Spiritual Direction,” Worship Leader, March 29, 2019.

[6] Elisabeth H. Selzer, “Effectiveness of a Seminary’s Training and Mentoring Program and Subsequent Job Satisfaction of Its Graduates,” Journal of Research on Christian Education 17, no. 1 (Jan-Jun 2008): 31.

[7] Ibid., 30.

[8] Ibid., 32.

[9] Ibid., 34.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid., 31.

[12]  Michael Plank, “The Relationship Between the Discipleship and the Effectiveness of the Worship Leader in the Local Congregation” (DMin diss., Biola University, 2016), 8.

[13] Ibid., 14-15.

[14] Ibid., 15.

[15] Ibid., 19.

[16] Ibid., 8-9.

[17] Ibid., 14-15.

Dr. Bobby Craig

With nearly thirty years in worship ministry leadership in various churches throughout Alabama, Texas, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina, Bobby has experienced almost everything a church music ministry can throw at him. Not only does his vast experience provide support to his ministry, but he also holds a Bachelor of Music from Samford University in Birmingham, AL, a Master of Music from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, TX, and a Doctor of Worship Studies from Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA. Bobby currently lives in Moulton, AL with his wife, Heather, and three daughters, Evangeline, Eliza, and Melody.