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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.

Kenny

By Dr. Bobby Craig

In my previous article, I pointed out that colleges and seminaries are not preparing worship leaders in some of the more practical, every-single-day aspects of worship ministry leadership. I pointed out that these institutions aren’t set up for such an endeavor because of the nature of the academic structures that they need to have in place. I am not saying they aren’t necessary or helpful, but rather that there is a missing component in worship leader training that can only be gained through intentional mentorships outside of the academic pursuit.

Since I came to Christ at age 15, I have served as a member, intern, or worship pastor (both full-time and part-time) at twelve different churches across Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Texas. As I’m sure you well know, every church was different: different needs, different personalities, different struggles, different strengths…resulting in differing approaches to the actual “doing” of ministry in each place. As God designed it, there is also the fact that every single person you may seek to mentor is unique in giftings, personality, calling, and shortcomings that necessitate more or less guidance. As such, there is no way to give you anything similar to a one-size-fits-all solution to meeting the mentoring need. However, I do believe there are some principles we can identify and begin to apply to the varied situations in which you, the reader, may find yourself.

There are certainly some specific things within worship leadership that need to be taught. In many cases, most are learned in academic settings, picked up in day-to-day relationships, or simply God-given. These things might include communication skills, pastoral relationships, musical elements, or even technological prowess. But I want us to think deeper, to see the need to mentor on an even more foundational level. I believe the three elements that must be included in every plan of mentorship are (1) spiritual formation, (2) leadership development, and (3) time management (or more broadly, organizational skills).[1]  Dr. Vernon Whaley, former dean of the School of Music at Liberty University, spoke of these three elements as foundational to a worship leader’s ministry.

Spiritual Formation

It is important to note that Matt Thomas (cited in part 3), admonishes that “Christian mentors must be concerned with developing Christ-likeness before developing leaders.”[2] “Leaders today—those who are spiritual—must take to heart their responsibility to pass on the torch to younger people as a first-line duty”[3] because “without a strong relationship to God, even the most attractive and competent person cannot lead people to God.”[4] Michael Plank notes, “Many who are hired in worship positions possess musical skill but are deficient in knowing how to walk with Christ. Very few have been discipled through their worship training or have been taught how to use the spiritual disciplines in ways that develop one’s daily liturgy.”[5] The real key is what Paul describes to Timothy as training oneself to be godly (1 Timothy 4:7). This echoes Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians where the pursuit of godliness is like an athlete who trains their body to compete for a prize. It is not haphazard, but structured training.

There are many elements often cited as necessary spiritual disciplines. Jerry Bridges notes that “Discipline toward holiness begins with the Word of God.”[6] This involves hearing it, reading it, studying it, memorizing it, and meditating on it,[7] all while paying close attention to the nudging of the Holy Spirit so that one can apply it in daily living. C. Randall Bradley also adds that spiritual formation should include both public and private worship, renewing retreats for silence and listening, spiritual mentoring from a more mature believer, and being involved in ministry outside of one’s responsibility as a vocational minister.[8] In any case, a spiritual mentor should help their protégé to develop in each of these areas so that they may grow in godliness for the benefit of the Kingdom of God.

Leadership Development

Being a “worship leader” has the significant connotation that one “leads.” Rob Redman states that “The real key to success is leadership, not talent and resources.”[9] It is equally important that the spiritual mentor not only develop the protégé’s practice of continual spiritual formation but also develop their leadership savvy.

Leadership development is best gained through intentional, one-on-one relationships as Sanders states: “Leadership training cannot be done on a mass scale. It requires patient, careful instruction and prayerful, personal guidance over a considerable time.”[10] “Personal” guidance means being able to relate to one’s protégé as this is the key that unlocks the door for further development.

As discussed previously, learning to be a worship leader must include an experiential aspect. This would involve Maxwell’s twelfth leadership law, the Law of Empowerment.[11] His process is to find leaders, build them up, give them resources, authority, and responsibility, and then turn them loose to achieve their own success in leadership.[12] This comes with many challenges, like learning to let go of some things we worship leaders like to have under our control. For example, I feel very uncomfortable leading worship without a guitar strapped around my neck because if things go off the rails, I know I can always drop to just my voice and guitar. Sometimes, turning them loose means allowing them to feel the pressure of something going off the rails (within reason, of course).

No matter the difficulty or challenge, a mentoring worship leader must expend the energy to invest in the leadership skills of their protégés. Not only does it enhance the protégé’s current ministry, but it is also essential to the continuation of healthy, biblical worship for future generations.

Organizational Skills

“Worship does not exist only on the platform at church on Sunday morning.”[13] Not only is Brown referring to the concept of all of life being an opportunity to worship, but in the context of this statement, she is speaking about the work of the worship pastor outside of Sunday mornings. She says, “The majority of the ministry not only takes place off the platform, but should also fuel and enhance the time spent on the platform. The ability to succeed off the platform should lead to success on the platform.”[14] Brown describes this ministry of worship leadership:

The list of roles and requirements for the worship leader is long. Some are activity specific, while others are philosophical or based on characteristics or attitude. The longest list, based on activity-focused roles comes from Dr. Vernon Whaley, author, lecturer, and former dean of the Liberty University School of Music. In his text, The Role of the Worship Leader Workbook, Whaley defines fifteen separate roles in which the worship leader will serve in his ministry; worshiper, theologian, disciple, professional, artist, musician, servant-leader, pastor, staff member, administrator, team member, teacher, student, counselor, and family person. (Whaley, The Role of the Worship Leader Workbook, Appendix A) Whaley later expands the list to eighteen, adding, evangelist, mentor, and producer. (Whaley, Introduction, Video Lecture) Skill in all areas allows the worship leader to adequately serve God, his church, and his family.[15]

With this massive list, Brown concludes, “No one can implement all of the roles and responsibilities assumed without some sort of plan; there is simply too much to do.”[16] This sort of planning requires exceptional organizational skills from the worship leader.

Brown’s research has an interesting twist. Her research respondents (worship leaders) saw great benefit from organizational skills. However, of the worship leaders in Brown’s study, over 60 percent did not begin their ministry with any sort of organizational system yet all of them had implemented one which they currently use.[17] When asked if they could write an article about three things they wished they had known starting out in ministry, organizational skills received the most suggestions.[18]

Morgan speaks to ministry success (or effectiveness): “Patient plodding produces durable results.”[19] Long-lasting effectiveness is derived from leadership that patiently plods along. As such, this plodding must be organized. Bradley agrees, “Simply stated, time management [organization] is learning to achieve maximum results from the time we are allotted. Ministers of music have a responsibility not only to themselves for how their time is used but also to the church they serve. In addition, we have a spiritual responsibility for the stewardship of our lives.”[20] 

In summary, considering all of these items dealing with organization, one may be better suited to think more along the lines of life management. Taking care of one’s own spiritual health in personal discipleship and in their physical health in proper rest, among other things like diet and exercise, emotional health is also important to complete the trifecta. Family time and hobbies outside of the “work” of ministry are beneficial to emotional health. In any case, when in the ministry, being “pleasantly productive” is an all-of-life pursuit not marked by simply tangible outcomes or products. It must be more, as Matt Perman states:

We often think of productivity as getting concrete things done—emails sent, widgets made, and assignments completed. These things are important, but they do not exhaust the scope of our productivity. More and more, productivity is about intangibles—relationships developed, connections made, and things learned. We need to incorporate intangibles into our definition of productivity or we will short-change ourselves by thinking that sitting at our desks for a certain number of hours equals a productive day.[21] 

These three items represent the potential content of a mentorship, but they do not address the format of such a relationship. This, unfortunately, cannot be prescribed in any sort of blanket, one-size-fits-all suggestion. Every mentoring relationship looks different in how it is accomplished. Some might meet face-to-face on a weekly basis for an hour or two. Others might be on opposite sides of the country and only communicate via e-mail, voice calls, or video conference. Some mentorships are much more structured with homework assignments and deadlines while others are more casual and less specific. Some last a few months toward a specific, short-term goal while others last decades in an ongoing relationship. Nonetheless, spiritual formation, leadership training, and organizational skills should be the primary foci of the mentorship process.

Within these three core elements, you can certainly add other elements relating to the protegé’s needs, like music theory, stage presence, pastoral relationships, technological expertise, or any number of other aspects of worship ministry leadership. However, I believe, and my research supports, that these three core elements are foundational to the novice worship leader’s success in worship ministry.

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[1] Vernon Whaley, “Principles of Team Leadership” (Video Lecture), accessed April 22, 2018, Lynchburg, VA: Liberty University Online.

[2] Thomas, “The Indispensable Mark of Christian Leadership,” 113.

[3] Sanders, Spiritual Leadership, 19.

[4] Ibid., 18.

[5] Plank, “The Relationship Between the Discipleship and the Effectiveness of the Worship Leader in the Local Congregation,” 7.

[6] Bridges, The Pursuit of Holiness, 99.

[7] Ibid., 102.

[8] C. Randall Bradley, From Postlude to Prelude: Music Ministry’s Other Six Days (Fenton, MO: MorningStar Music Publishers, 2004), chap. 6, “Spiritual Development,” Nook.

[9] Hendricks, “A Renewed Approach to Undergraduate Worship Leader Education,” 60.

[10] Sanders, Spiritual Leadership, 183.

[11] John C. Maxwell, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1998), 121-131.

[12] Ibid., 125-126.

[13] Stacey N. Brown, “Five Principles to Empower the Worship Leader” (DWS diss., Liberty University, 2016), 15, https://digitalcommons.liberty.edu/doctoral/1217/.

[14] Ibid., 6.

[15] Brown, “Five Principles to Empower the Worship Leader,” 18.

[16] Brown, “Five Principles to Empower the Worship Leader,” 38.

[17] Ibid., 62.

[18] Ibid., 66.

[19] Ibid., 230.

[20] Bradley, From Postlude to Prelude, Chapter 6.

[21] Matt Perman, What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done (United States: Zondervan: Made available through hoopla, 2014), 15-16, https://www.hoopladigital.com/title/11617736.

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.