I’ve had an abnormal amount of friends in the last year tell me they are ready to go into full-time pastoral music/worship ministry. Some have interned with me. Some I’ve mentored. Some are friends and co-laborers.
All of them had the same pressing general questions: “Am I ready for it?” “What do I need to know?” “Do you think I can do it?” And, all of them asked me specifically, “What have you learned that I should know?”
I’ve been in music ministry for going on 30 years. I’ve been asked these questions many times. My answers would have been much different 20 years ago. I know this because I recently made a list of the Top 20 things I’ve learned (at least the ones that jumped right in to my mind) and realized . . . very few of them are about music.
If it’s helpful for you, here’s the first list I came up with.
#1 Continue to develop a philosophy of ministry. What does the Bible say about worship? Is it for everyone? Is it evangelical? Is it private? Is it corporate? What ways do we worship outside of music? How is worship defined throughout all of scripture? What is my role as a leader? What is the goal of the weekend experience? How can I measure the effectiveness of what I am doing as a leader?
If you don’t have answers to the above, you have some work ahead of you.
I say, “continue to develop” because I guarantee, once you have the answers, you will change your mind at some point. Maybe God will reveal something new. Maybe God will do something new in your congregation or in the community at large and you will have to find a way to respond to it.
I know too many men and women fresh out of college or fresh from some worship leading mountaintop experience or season who are ready to take on the world and fight for what they “believe” to be true about worship without knowing how to listen to others, pay attention to the signs around them, or pay attention to the people they are supposedly ministering with and to.
When I was young in ministry, there was always someone who had my back and had all these answers for me. They gave me a platform and fought my battles. Then, there comes a time where you can’t call for mom and dad to come wipe your butt anymore.
#2 Define your methodology. Why do you do the things you do in the way you do them?
In some ways, you may be paid for your style, opinion, and personality. If someone hires you, they probably like you. Or, at least, the idea they have of you.
You have quirks and idiosyncrasies that filter out into the way you do ministry. You don’t have to apologize for those things. But, you will serve the church well by being able to articulate the things you believe to be true about ministry in non-confrontational, non-militaristic, non-jackassian ways.
Make sure you develop a relationship with your leaders above you and converse about methodology often. Get on the same page. Decide what you are willing to bleed for and bleed together.
#3 Keep training to be a theologian. Not everyone has the knack for theology. Not everyone is a bookworm. Not everyone is articulate in being able to cross-reference scholars and commentators on the fly. We don’t all have to be that person.
Still, don’t simply be a spiritual sponge. Don’t sit on your bum and wait for Sunday’s sermon or your favorite podcast to speak in to you.
Continually ask, “What do I believe about God and His people?” “How is God working in this world?” “What is He saying?” “Doing?”
Then, download some books. Pick up a pen and pad of paper. Grab your Bible and a highlighter. Read. Seek. Study.
Sound theology is not only helpful for preachers and evangelists. Music ministers should be able to decide what songs they want to introduce to their congregation by testing the words as much as they test melody, memorability, approachability, and singability (among other things).
#4 Say it with me, “There is no such thing as balance.” Young people out of college and most of my interns like to use this word a lot. But, it’s a forbidden word around me. Ministry is not about balance. Many times, your life will be totally unbalanced.
Ministry happens in cycles and seasons. If you think you’ll be able to have some kind of normalcy to your schedule or that your life in ministry can work like it does checking in to a 9-5, you’ll be sorely disappointed and you’re setting yourself up for failure.
Celebrate the seasons and talk through them with your family. Let them know what is coming up and what life will be like on the other side of tough seasons. Look forward to rest and vacations and private time. Protect those times. And, enjoy the chaos when you’re in the middle of it. If everyone gets on the same page it will help make ministry a rewarding career/vocation.
#5 Get your spouse on board. Your spouse is part of the ministry life whether he or she knows it (wants it?) or not. He or she will have expectations put on them. Unfairly at times. They will be looked at as an expert at what you do and what is going on at the church by association. So, communicate well with your spouse so they aren’t the last ones in-the-know.
Don’t share ministry grievances at home. I learned this early on. When you tell your spouse about the person who treated you harshly, they will remember it forever. Even after you reconcile with said person. Chances are, you will forget to tell your spouse the reconciliation story and, even if you do, the damage is done. Now, you’ve caused your spouse to sin by holding a grudge and in a strange twist, you’ve become the offender.
Finally, help your spouse define his or her role in ministry and defend them. Don’t let anyone put expectations on your spouse. Celebrate your spouse’s individuality and role in the kingdom. Don’t let them be defined by others or by your ministry.
#6 Be available for counsel. People will come to you for advice. You don’t need to be the advice guru but you should at least know where to send them for it. You should also be attentive to their needs and issues. Listen well. Share your experiences and things you have learned along the way. Good, bad, right, or wrong, when you are an up-front leader, you are a go-to person for counsel. Be a friend and offer all you have. Sometimes the listening is all they want.
#7 Develop a strong sense of self-identity. Who are you? What does God have for you? What is He calling you to do? What permissions has He given you?
At your core, you are not a pastor or a musician or a worship leader—you are a child of God. What you do is not who you are. Be able to articulate what God has called you—a Jesus follower—to do for the kingdom.
And, in the words of Damien Rice, “ . . . if all that you are is not all you desire then come.” Don’t be too big for your britches (as grandpa would tell me). You are a worshipper. Remember who you are.
P.S. Double-check your online persona. Who you are online is . . . who you are.
#8 Love people until they ask you why. This is the greatest piece of advice I’ve ever been given by my friend, Dr. Joseph Aldrich who is now at home with Jesus. Never let people wonder if you love them.
#9 Know your resources. Be a resource. Build people networks and information networks.
Hang around like-minded people. Don’t go to conferences unless they actually help you. Pick the conferences and think-tanks where you meet people you are bound to stay in contact with. Share your stuff. Give stuff away. Take stuff when it is offered to you and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Take advantage of opportunities to meet new people you can learn from. Take advantage of opportunities to teach others what you know. Say yes to a bunch of stuff. Too many people will tell you all about boundaries and protecting your time. Those same people come to me all the time and ask me how I do what I do. The difference between us is usually the experiences I have created for myself and have taken advantage of. I am no one special but I know a TON of people who are great at what they do and we are all connected. Why? We say yes.
Invite folks in to your world. Keep no secrets. If it costs you money to teach others, do it. It all comes around.
#10 Put a high priority on ingenuity and invention. What role does creativity play for you? What sparks your creativity? What are you dreaming up? What are you making out of nothing? You should have answers to these questions if longevity in ministry is important to you. As Howard Hendricks once said, you would rather be a “running stream” for your teams and the people you lead as opposed to a “stagnant pool.” Keep learning. Keep inventing.
#11 Be easy to work with (and/or for). What do people say about you when you aren’t around? Are you fun? Are you interested in them? Do they want to be like you? Do you energize or suck energy? Cultivate your people skills. It’s not too difficult. It starts with sending time with people.
#12 Be a giver, not a taker. I have a friend who gives stuff away to me all the time. I have stopped telling him about things I like in his house because he just gives them to me. When we go to lunch, he buys. When we visit another town, he takes me to all his favorite spots. When he finds something he likes, he buys a few of them and gives them to his friends. He is not trying to buy our love—we love him for many reasons outside his generosity. But I want to be like him so bad. I want to be that giver. It breeds positive energy.
I have another friend. He is always asking for things. Nothing is ever right in his life. Always the victim. Always looking for a handout. He sucks the energy from everyone within listening distance of him. He is what we call an ask-hole. To love him is a choice. No one wants to be like him.
Outside of not wanting to be perceived as a jerk and a killjoy, the reasons for being generous are infinite. Jesus modeled it. It brings joy. It is life giving to be a giver. It adds years to your life. It increases blessing. You’ll find you keep getting more to give away. Take time to look around at your “stuff” and find ways to give it away to someone who will appreciate it.
#13 Cultivate a soft spirit and tough skin. Soft-spirit-people work on approachability. They invite people in. They listen to stories. They cry with people. They hug. They ask questions. But, you also need a bit of a shield in ministry to take the darts. Don’t be defensive but don’t stand there while people piss on you. Weigh criticism, don’t count it. Don’t rent your headspace to people who just want to bring you down to their level of meanness and insensitivity. Soft and tough. You need both.
#14 Make sure your ministry drive is not a need for “the job.” People need to know you are about the call, not the check. Don’t air your grievances about your job with people who serve alongside you or attend your church. They pay your salary. If you don’t like the job, get another one. But, don’t talk about how God has called you and bitch and moan out the other side of your mouth. Read James 3.
#15 Kill your money motivation. In close connection with the above lesson, make sure you are not always talking about your lack of money. Quit making jokes about how pastors and ministers obviously don’t choose the job because of money. Don’t allow your family to constantly talk about what you can’t afford—there are others in the exact same boat. This doesn’t mean you can’t have hopes and dreams and aspirations. This doesn’t mean you can’t ask for a raise. This doesn’t mean you can’t have honest money conversations with your boss. Just, don’t be the guy or gal who is always on the poor-me train. Allowing yourself to wallow here zaps all your energy, keeps you from being inventive, and steals your joy. After a bit, people will be afraid every time you open your mouth.
#16 Get control of your money habits. Live, but don’t be stupid. Few things kill your credibility faster than foolish spending and residence in senseless-debt-jail. As far as you can control it, be wise.
In related news, whether you like it or not people are making judgments about your money habits. They may misjudge you and shame on them for that. But, I have found it is wise to disclose everything I think might be misjudged and eliminate questions. It may seem unfair, but it will save you heartache. For instance, if you come in to an inheritance and you are able to pay cash for a home outside your means, tell the story. If someone blesses you with a sports car that would normally cost you two year’s wages, tell the story. If grandma writes you a check to take your family on a two-month European vacation, tell the story.
One more thing, unless your job is to manage church money, don’t touch it. Don’t take cash from people to put in the offering. Don’t carry the cash to the counters on Sunday. Don’t make the bank deposits. Don’t take cash withdraws from an ATM without prior approval and only when absolutely necessary, with receipts, and a precise account of the spending.
#17 Remember, you are not the sin police. Sometimes, even in ministry, people feel better about themselves by pointing out others’ wrongdoing. Don’t equate your role with that of an enforcer. It is not your job to make perfect people. Sure, hold people accountable, but remember that accountability and edit-ability are best with an invitation and in relationship.
#18 Constantly work on your stage presence and communication. Smile a lot. Think things through prior to stepping on stage. Think about pause, pitch, pace, and punch. You only have a few minutes to communicate Jesus each week. He’s worth your best. Study communication. Take public speaking courses. Read books. And, don’t underestimate the power of the lobby. The more hands you shake and hugs you give before you step on stage will improve your ability to make connection with people. Remember how hard you worked to make sure your very first times on stage were huge successes? Do that every week.
#19 Outwork everybody. There is no shortage of people who will tell you to set boundaries, take a Sabbath, rest up, beware of burnout, etc. They are not wrong all the time. But few people will say, “work hard” anymore. So, I’m saying it. Be the first one there and the last to leave. Volunteer hours on top of your salaried hours. Invent things that take your personal extra time and focus. Sweat. Don’t make excuses. Don’t make dumb decisions to ditch your work for things you don’t have to be at. Set the bar high for others and higher for yourself. Most people I know that have volunteer problems on their teams have a work-ethic issue. Your team will only work as hard as you do. In a world of high-tech, timesaving, “the computer does the work for you” work ethic . . . be the pioneer. Be the one willing to cross the mountains in the Conestoga. Be the one with callouses on your hands. You will never have a volunteer deficit.
#20 Be a responsible person. Have your affairs in order. Make sure you are above reproach. Follow through with commitments. Be on time. Apologize. Don’t be dumb.