Building Strong Worship Leaders
Years ago, I served under a Senior Pastor who often told our staff that the most important gift we could bring to the church was a healthy self. I never forgot his words. Since then, I have come across some worship pastors and worship leaders who clearly are flourishing. They still exhibit bright eyes, celebrating the wonder of God’s unique calling on their lives. But others walk around with a look of weariness, carrying kernels of bitterness or skepticism or carefully disguised anger. They are not thriving…but simply surviving. I believe that just as Paul told his disciple Timothy to “pay attention to his life and ministry,” so we must take responsibility for the vitality of our souls and spirit.
If we truly are to flourish like the tree described in Psalm 1, bearing fruit in its season, healthy and vital and filled with joy, we must pay attention to at least 4 life-giving practices.
When was the last time you were alone, truly alone, and away from your phone, radio, IPod, and noise of any kind except the songs of birds or the splashing of water? Whether you are introverted or extroverted, you cannot cultivate a healthy soul unless you carve out time for solitude. In Mark 6, Jesus gave a glorious invitation to his disciples, and that same invitation is offered to you and me: Come with me, by yourselves, to a quiet place and get some rest.
The planning of worship, leadership of teams, weekly meetings and rehearsals, dealing with difficult people—all of these activities can suck the life right out of us. Many worship leaders set themselves up as martyrs, always available and never truly alone. I believe we all require regular departures to the place of quiet, so that we can drown out other voices and make room to hear the One Voice we most need and long to hear. Solitude will not happen unless we are intentional. If you are in a season with young children, you will have to fight for at least a little bit of time each week to be truly alone.
Most worship leaders don’t practice the Sabbath. Sadly, it’s the one commandment many believers consider to be optional! Yet our Heavenly Father, the one who created us and knows us intimately, designed you and me to live in a rhythm marked by 6 days of work…and one day of life-giving rest. The Sabbath was never intended to be a burden.
In Isaiah 58 God challenges us to call the Sabbath a delight—and then promises that if we honor this one day a week, we will discover our joy in the Lord. God goes on to say, “I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land.” What a picture of abundant life!
Those who serve on Sundays must set aside a different day of the week for replenishment—not to be filled with errands, e-mails, and yard work! Dan Allendar poses this question as we look at our Sabbath:
What would I do for a 24-hour period of time if the only criteria was to pursue my deepest joy?
Those who carve out time for play, rest, community, reflection, and delight on the Sabbath day recognize that our Creator intends for us to live this way consistently so that we can be fueled up and refreshed for the challenges facing us over the next 6 days.
Are you treasuring the Sabbath? Or are you pridefully deciding that you know better, that you can ignore just this one commandment because you are like the Energizer Bunny and will never pay a price for your casual ignoring of this sacred day? In recent years, I have begun to practice the Sabbath more consistently, and I already see the benefits for my soul and spirit.
Every person in ministry interacts with people who drain their energy. This is to be expected. It is part of our calling as ministers. But those difficult and challenging relationships need to be compensated for with a few friendships that breathe life right back into us. We must intentionally make room for these relationships and build them over time. These are the friends we can laugh and cry with. These are the people we confess our shadow side to, the ones whom we do not have to (and cannot) impress or be fake with. These are the rare and remarkable men and women who have the courage to look us in the eye, speak truth including the hard things to us, and who will walk with us in our darkest seasons.
I would not have thrived in the past 30 years of church ministry were it not for my safe friends. Those friendships did not just happen—I had to make investments of time in order to see them grow. But God has revealed His love to me through these men and women who know me well and love me deeply.
You do not require many of these kinds of friends, but you need at least two or three. Do you have some people in your life you can go to the depths with? If not, begin praying that God will show you some “candidates,” and start moving toward those folks, testing the waters, and opening up the story of your life with truth and vulnerability.
Finally, the worship arts people I know who are flourishing continually expose themselves to great art. They recognize that the creative spirit must be nourished through reading excellent writing, seeing beautiful paintings and photography, listening to a wide variety of superb music, watching powerful stories through film and television. We build the storehouse of our minds the more we collect ideas and experience moments that move and inspire us.
If you feel like you are creatively dry and in a rut, I challenge you to explore something new, to give yourself the gift of drinking in the wonder and beauty of great art in any form.
While there are no firm guarantees to the abundant life Jesus promised us, these four practices are key ingredients. Look over the list and evaluate how you are doing these days in each one:
My hope is that you would truly flourish, that you would make it to the end of your race as a leader in worship loving Jesus and others more deeply, and filled with a contagious spirit of joy. This is the greatest gift you can bring to your church.