uestion: 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.
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.
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.]
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.