Advice for the Aging Worship Leader

Aging Worship Leader
Advice for the Aging Worship Leader
By Rory Noland

Question: I’m in my mid-40s, and I’ve been leading worship my entire adult life. I love what I do, but lately I’ve been watching a new wave of bright, young, talented worship leaders come on the scene, and it makes me wonder how much longer I can (or should) lead worship. I have no idea what else I would do, and I can’t imagine doing anything else. Any advice for an aging worship leader?

Answer: At 40 or 45, you’re far from being an “aging worship leader,” but I understand your concern for your future. When starting out in ministry, most of us assume we’ll lead worship the rest of our lives. It doesn’t always work out that way. However, as someone who’s been through my fair share of transitions, I assure you that life and ministry both get better as you grow older.

Some worship leaders, arts pastors, and music directors are called to serve the same church for most, if not all, of their lives. Others of us will face one or more career changes over the course of our lives. Some of you have strengths in administration, teaching, mentoring, and some of you have gifts that you’ve yet to discover in this season of life. We know that God’s plans for you are good, whether you simply grow in the abilities you have, or embrace a whole new path of ministry. The following is a list of some of the new roles that my worship leader friends in their 50s, 60s, and beyond are currently enjoying. We all have roles of support and leadership in different areas of our life, so ask God what he’s unfolding for you and simply listen with an open mind. It’s not mainly about what you “do,” but what he “is” in and to you.

Worship Overseer
After leading upfront every week for decades, some worship leaders graduate to more of a behind-the-scenes, managerial role. Their job is to lead and mentor the church’s young worship leaders and cast vision for the worship ministry as a whole. The advantage to this approach is that, while musical styles may change, it insures continuity of values and worship philosophy.

Interim Worship Leader
Many churches are “in between” worship leaders.. I have a good friend who enjoys serving churches in this capacity. He signs a six-month contract to help out and if, at the end of six months, the church still hasn’t made their hire, he can choose to stay and continue or move on to help another church.

Non-Worship Staff
Some worship leaders eventually take on a completely new role outside the worship department. They become pastors, preachers, associate pastors, or ministry directors. One man I’m currently mentoring stepped down from leading worship to head up the care ministry at his church. Ambivalent at first, he now realizes that this new position is a better fit for his mercy gifts than worship leading.

Many former worship leaders become teachers. They write books, speak at conferences, or conduct workshops. Some end up teaching private lessons or on the junior high, high school or collegiate level.

With decades of experience under their belts, some worship leaders become consultants later in life. Sought after by churches to train and mentor worship leaders, consultants can also offer suggestions to improve services as well as strategize solutions for any problem areas churches face.

I’m aware of more than a few former worship leaders who are now on the mission field. Some are fulfilling a life long dream to minister abroad in a different culture. [Mark Tedder put out a call for worship leaders to serve abroad in Worship Leader’s September issue this year.]

Business Person
Some get out of church work altogether and go into marketplace jobs or start their own business; they become producers, studio players, or gigging musicians, or go into Web design, marketing, or  real estate.

Part Time Worship Leader
As they grow older, some choose to cut back on leading at church in order to do other things. I have a couple friends who reworked their job descriptions so they could venture into careers as solo artists. They still lead worship at their church, but not as often. They also took pay cuts in exchange for the freedom to travel and do other things. 

Numbers 8:25-26 stipulates that the Levites, who led the Israelites in worship, cut back on working when they turned 50 (at that time the average life span was less than 50 years, so only the lucky few would make this transition). However, that didn’t mean that they stopped ministering. They were to “assist their brothers in performing their duties at the Tent of Meeting, but they themselves must not do the work.” So even though the older Levites were exempt from heavy lifting, they still hung around and made themselves useful. So if the Lord ever calls you to make a career change, I assure you that there is life after church work—and it is very good.

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    14 comments on “Advice for the Aging Worship Leader

    1. Well, for a little perspective on what constitutes an “aging worship leader”, I am, at 62, considering how to modify my role a little more to make way for younger leaders. Here’s the great thing about music; If you can play, if you can lead and engage, then you are somewhat ageless. Doc Cheatham was a jazz trumpet player who never really earned a huge name for himself. In fact, he never even got noticed much until he hit his 50′s. He was able, however, to play with some of the greats; Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and many more. As the story goes, one Sunday, at age 95, he played his normal Sunday brunch gig at a local hotel, went home to take a nap, then peacefully passed away. Now, that’s a full life. I am way OK with leading worship some Sunday morning then peacefully passing on to experience some up close and personal worship that same afternoon.
      An “Aging Leader” in your 40′s? Not hardly.

      • Well said! Thank you.
        From a 44 yr old (who passes for a 35)
        All of us should keep up our craft, take care of our voices and keep growing in our relationship with Jesus. We should also be willing to share the stage. I would like to see more “sharing” in leadership. It’s healthy and enriching for the congregation – also it helps worship leaders and players grow and mature.

    2. I had to chuckle at the title and content of this article. You see, the path of my musical and spiritual journey led me to become worship leader at our small church at the age of 60! I have been delighted and rejuvenated at this new aspect of my life, and having a great time learning an entirely new (for me) style of worship and music. God has surprises in store for us our entire lives.

      Yes, I make jokes and wonder about being the “world’s oldest worship leader,” but for now, it fits me, I fit our congregation’s needs, and we all fit into God’s mysterious plan somehow. I’ll serve as long as God grants me, and when my aging warble is no longer appropriate to the music, I’ll step back and concentrate on keyboards. As musicians, we are aware of our strengths and weaknesses, and I know God will, one day, whisper in my ear, “Give it up, old girl; it’s time.”

      Aging worship leader at 40? Hey, kiddo, you’ve barely begun. The best, truly, is yet to come.

    3. I’d have to say this thought has crossed my mind a couple of times this last year, after turning 66 last November. However, I have also realized there doesn’t seem to be an immediate replacement…as a former rock’n’roller, I still relate to both today’s contemporary- style and much of the traditional songs I grew up singing. In a somewhat technical sense I feel the transitions and song flow has improved in the 15 years I’ve been a worship leader, thanks to guidance from the Holy Spirit and my diverse music background, so I’m hopeful there’s still room for improvement. While I can never “repay” God for the years I squandered playing secular music, I still desire to serve Him as long as He gives me strength and opportunity to. I may very well steal the moniker of “world’s oldest worship leader,” though. I’ve also enjoyed leading a Community Choir for the past 15 years, which is a special joy!

    4. As a fresh 50yo, I am noticing younger worship leaders who need that push to step into the next level. I can see a seemless transition for our church when the time comes that I should step back and let the next generation lead.

    5. Pingback: The Aging Worship Leader | Worship Links

    6. At first I thought this article was written by someone who’s maybe 25 and has no clue about being a grown-up, but I see from the author’s picture elsewhere that’s not the case.

      I still think the tone of the article is distinctly “put-out-to-pasture”, and makes little if any allowance for those of us who are “aging” and still doing stuff.

      I play electric guitar and keys in a worship band, and I’m the lead worshiper. We do hymns, we do gospel songs, we do Chris Tomlin, we do Hillsong United, we do WORSHIP! Our band is multi-generational, from a couple of college kids to a 60-year-old. This reflects roughly our multi-generational congregation — infants to 80+-year-olds, and we all worship together in one service.

      We enjoy each other. We share our joys and our trials. We pray for each other. And we worship — with great joy and enthusiasm.

      We have mentored younger worship leaders, all of whom have moved on to bigger churches. We’re honored to have been a part of their journey.

      The idea that you have to hang up your spurs because you’re “aging” is just ageism, in my view. (You probably guessed, I’m the 60 year old.)

      Lest you think I have worn out my welcome (and my relevance) and don’t know it, my wife and I recently started a singles group. At first it too was multi-generational, but all of the growth has come from the 20-something sector. Every time we meet, there are more and more of that age group in attendance, all invited by their peers.

      So original questioner, pay no attention to the author. Do whatever God calls you to do with all your might, and it’ll work out fine. I plan on mentoring young worship leaders (and young people, for that matter) right up until I move to the nursing home.

    7. At 62 I find myself at this crossroads in ministry. I have been dismissed at my church so they can explore different areas of worship with a new pastor and staff. At this point I am clueless as to where God will lead. I know I have other skills but how do you handle not ministering to your calling? Leading worship is all I have ever done. The pain of being dismissed when you did nothing wrong really is killing me and my spirit.

      • I have been through being dismissed without cause ( legal in the state I served) with the explanation except that “you are done here.” I had a wonderful relationship with those I served – choir, children’s choir leaders, handbells – but it seemed there was nothing I could do to please those in power. It was the opening of a door I had never dreamed of. I couldn’t see how that would be at first, but trust me, if you hunker down in the trenches with the Lord, He will provide for you in exceedingly abundant ways you have not seen heretofore. I just turned 62, am now serving in a different church part-time, and have such a wonderful relationship with my pastor and those I work with. The part-time I wish could be changed; nevertheless, the Lord has been faithful. I’d be glad to talk with you, but don’t know how that could be arranged. Know I will be praying for you Ron, that the Lord Jesus will show Himself strong on your behalf, and that you will know the joy of following HIm with every step you take.

    8. At 60, I continue to fulfill the call, that takes on various roles according to the need.

      Be open to walking by faith. Moses, as well as many were in their 60s+ when the delivered God’s People.

    9. I feel like today’s church is in a hurry to phase out Worship Leaders and Pastors because of age. I don’t agree with that. If The Rolling Stones, The Who, Stevie Wonder, Rush and Bruce Springsteen can still sell out concerts; seasoned Worship Leaders can be just as effective.

      I will praise the LORD all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.

    10. At 66, I am having the time of my life leading worship. Our church has a blended worship style. I love the new praise and worship music, but also love the hymns of the church. I look for new rhythms, additional choruses, etc. that have been written for the hymns that bring them to life. I am in the process of mentoring an individual on the praise team who also fills in for me when I am gone. He doesn’t lead like I do but is nicely developing his own style. I’m thankful for a church who doesn’t consider age a factor. The bottom line, for me and our praise team, is for each of us personally to go into the throne room and worship our Creator. If we can do that, it will move the congregation to that place as well for a powerful sense of His presence.

    11. Thank you, friends for sharing your thoughts and advice. I sing in a worship team at a small church and was asked to take the worship team leader’s place while he is on vacation. At first, I was reluctant to say yes, (because of my inexperience as a speaker and also because of my age [77] ), but thinking about it, I am going to accept. At the same time, I’ll pray and read and prepare for God’s guidance and remember I’m not up there for myself as a performer, but for the Lord’s people.

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