By Tim Swanson
When I first started studying music in College, I didn’t want to be a worship leader. In fact, I thought worship leaders were losers. To me they were just people who couldn’t make it as real musicians. In my mind, I had to make it big so I didn’t end up like them. I was also kind of an arrogant jerk if you couldn’t tell.
In spite of my misdirected feelings, I took a job as a worship leader for an evening service at a church near my college. In my mind, it was okay to use the whole worship leader gig as a stepping stone to bigger and better things. Plus there are not a lot of paid music jobs for freshmen music majors. I was fortunate to have a good band. In the first year or two, my team had a pretty low turn over rate. It was also a beneficial experience for me because the band was skilled enough that they made me look better than I actually was. And though I wouldn’t have readily admitted it, I was growing closer to my team. I felt pretty good about things. I just entered my twenties, and I believed I was on the path to greatness.
Then one night as I was driving home from a party my phone rang. It was my electric guitar player. I looked at the clock and it was past ten. That made his call seem a little peculiar since, unlike me, he was married and had two young kids. So I pushed the green answer button on my razor flip phone #oldschool, and I’ll never forget what I heard after that. My electric guitarist, on the other end of the line, and with a sober tone said, “my wife just took my kids and left me. Can you come over?”
I was stunned but I managed a, “yes”. I told him I’d be right over, and quickly hung up with him so I could call for backup. I dialed the number of the teaching pastor from the evening service where I was leading. I told him the situation and asked, “what do I do? What do I say?” I was ready for him to bestow ancient pastor wisdom on me that’d save the day. Heck! I’d have settled for one good piece of advice. What I was not ready for was what he actually said, “Sorry man. There’s no textbook answer for this one. You just have to go do your best. Welcome to being a pastor”. Do my best!? That’s not advice! That’s kind of thing a cartoon dog tells kids about how to get through a tough school day. I hung up from that call feeling frustrated. So I decided to pray. My mind was racing, so I just asked God to give me the words to say. When I got to his house, we spent hours talking, praying, laughing. There might have even been some crying, but who remembers that sort of thing anyway? I sat with my good friend and bared his burden with him that night. It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it. That week, I went into the office at my school and changed the focus of my degree from Music Education to Music Ministry.
God used that night as a catalyst for my passion for being a worship leader. With me, he didn’t use any music. Instead He used a time of worship where I got to share in the heart break of one of my team members. To this day, my biggest motivation is the people I work with. I don’t want anyone to hear what I’m not saying. I love doing church music, and I couldn’t live without it. But it’s the opportunity to invest in my team and watch them develop as believers, leaders and musicians that drives me.
Each one of us has a unique story that led us to where we are today. And your story is vital to you as a worship leader because it reveals what connects your heart to your calling. As you look into the future you’ll want to understand where your passion comes from and be able to articulate it, because God will use it to show you which direction he wants you to go. These are the things that helped me discover the roots of my heart for leading Church Music.
1. Pray. Ask God what he wants you to see about yourself as a leader. He intentionally handcrafted you in your mother’s womb. He’s the best one to ask when it comes to the matters of your heart.
2. Look at your past plans. After one year as the Music Director at Moon Valley Bible Church, I took a look back at my previous year of planning. That was when I first realized that most of my planning was centered around people. Once I realized my heart for people was a strength, I targeted it. Quickly my effectiveness as a leader went way up.
3. Judge other people. Not their spirituality, but their style. And not in a critical way. But look at what the other leaders around you are doing and ask yourself which things turn you off and which things you’d die if you didn’t try.
4. Tell your story often. Telling your story will help you hash out which details matter and which ones don’t.
5. Look to your heroes’ hearts. I have found that most of the leaders I look up to are people who are passionate about their teams like I am. Look at what motivates and drives your heroes. Chances are you will find a common ground.
Tim Swanson is the Music Director at Moon Valley Bible Church in Phoenix, Az. His great satisfaction is working with his team to write music that glorifies God. While he is not working, Tim enjoys spending time with his wife and three kids. For more, visit timhswanson.com.