- Certain positions in the church (one of them being worship pastor) often have a perceived shelf life. While I disagree with ageism, I do think that one of the ways that ministers can stay viable is to take on a different ministry at some point in their careers.
In my last article for Worship Leader (click here to read), I shared with you some thoughts on how flexibility can help maintain ministry effectiveness and posited that it could be your greatest ability as worship ministry continues to change. This article will focus on taking flexibility to the next level: transforming yourself. We will start with the most drastic forms of reinventing yourself to the least radical.
I grew up in a pastor’s home, so I understood ministry well. I didn’t want to automatically go into ministry but did feel God’s call to prepare for my future. I continued my schooling through my master’s degree and felt that Christian education may be where God was calling me. I enrolled in my doctoral program and continued to study music. In the middle of my studies, I began working part time at a church. I informed them that I would be there for about three years and would leave when I finished my degree. They agreed to those arrangements.
In the process of finishing my degree, I felt that God was calling me into full-time worship ministry. Making a long story short, I was licensed and ordained at that church and spent seven years there. After two other full-time ministry stints, I began teaching part time for a Christian university. I really enjoyed my time teaching and wondered if perhaps God would someday open the door for me to teach full time.
So, I decided that if I wanted to be a professor, I would need to start doing things professors do. I continued to teach, began writing some articles, and applied for teaching positions. Soon, God began to open some doors for teaching opportunities, and I have been teaching ever since.
God had prepared me with my previous education along with over a decade of ministry experience to prepare me for what I’m doing now. However, it did require leaving my ministry position for a new career.
Career Change Where You Are
Perhaps you are enjoying the place where you work but are feeling restless about your current position. Instead of leaving, maybe you need to reinvent yourself where you are. It is easy to want to escape to find where the grass seems greener, but maybe renegotiating the responsibilities that you have would be a way to increase your longevity in ministry at a location and give you new career opportunities where you currently serve.
Certain positions in the church (one of them being worship pastor) often have a perceived shelf life. While I disagree with ageism, I do think that one of the ways that ministers can stay viable is to take on a different ministry at some point in their careers. I have friends and former students who started out in worship ministry but have reinvented themselves as discipleship pastors, senior pastors, or executive pastors. Sometimes this is a full switch from one roll to the next, but other times it is just adding responsibilities while perhaps subtracting others.
Same Career, New You
The least drastic way to reinvent yourself is by keeping the same role at the same location but reinventing yourself where you currently are. This can look different for each person. For some, it may be adding a new skill set. Are there things that you have wanted to learn that would enhance your current ministry? For others, it could be developing a new passion. Perhaps a God-given desire to pursue something new could increase your job satisfaction and further His kingdom. For others, the change could be a new “look” or personal development. Are you naturally shy? Possibly reinvent yourself as someone who is more outgoing. Do you talk too much? Reinvent yourself as someone who is a good listener.
One of my colleagues at Cedarville University is a great example of this. When I came to the University, he was an excellent pianist and pedagogue (and still is). However, he has reinvented himself several times. He took an interest in Irish folk music and became quite accomplished on the accordion and Irish whistles. His current interest is in historical music improvisation, and he has now written a textbook on the subject and is one of the leading authorities in the world.
Reinventing yourself in your current role is a way to breathe life into your career. When I came to Cedarville, my role was to teach church music and music composition. When we hired a composer, I focused my attention on church music. Doing so led me to start a contemporary worship degree that would help educate students for the kind of music we were doing in chapel and in our constituent churches. We started our Worship 4:24 conference that offered a new set of opportunities and challenges. Just recently, we have started graduate programs to help train worship leaders. All of these changes have helped me reinvent myself and made the last 20 years that I have been teaching life-giving and exciting.
While being flexible in your career can help with your ministry longevity and effectiveness, perhaps more radical change may force you into reinventing yourself. Or, perhaps your reinvention is just internally motivated by a desire to do something different. In either case, reinvention is a way to recreate yourself to be more effective and happier in various seasons of your life and career. God is creator, and He is also in the new creation business (2 Cor. 5:17, Isaiah 43:18-19, Ezek. 36:26, Rev. 21:1).
Read Tips for New Worship Leaders by Greg Jones.
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Dr. O'Neel serves as Associate Professor of Music and Worship, and as director of music theory. He has served for 11 years as a full-time minister for worship and has a wealth of experience and knowledge in all aspects of traditional and contemporary worship. He received his Ph.D. in Music Theory from the University of Texas at Austin in 1996 and has been at Cedarville University since 2002.