Effective worship ministry is a challenge that few people, other than worship leaders themselves, completely understand. Not only are most of us juggling family and career obligations while we lead our faith communities in praise each week, we are also attempting to manage the preferences and demands of our congregations, pastors, musicians, singers, and others around us who are often quite vocal about their needs. But what happens if we neglect our own spiritual and emotional health in the process of serving others? Is it possible to maintain a balanced life and still be a great worship leader?
Humans were designed by God to handle stress. When he placed Adam in the Garden of Eden, Adam was given an appropriate amount of work to accomplish. He named animals and tended the garden under God’s direction. Adam and Eve enjoyed the direct, unmediated fellowship of God in their pristine surroundings. When Adam chose to disobey God’s command, sin and death (think undue stress here) entered and God’s judgment resulted in their expulsion from Eden and the edict that they would now only eat of the earth through “painful toil” (Genesis 3:17). Thank you, Adam.
Stress, then, is not a bad thing, but part and parcel with the creation before and after the fall. Just like the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco was built to carry a certain amount of traffic each day without cracking or crumbling, we are built to bear a certain amount of weight as we work through life. Yet, many worship leaders are cracking and crumbling, showing signs of excessive wear and tear as they are weighed down with much more than they were designed to handle. Although it may be argued that stress is the natural state of man post-fall, we still need to ask, “What would be considered a state of hyper stress for us as worship leaders?” and “What can we do to stay healthy?”
Perhaps we should take a step back from the burden of the week-to-week duties for a moment to consider the greater design of God in the ordering of his Church. If Jesus is the “head of the church” (Eph 1:22), then we must believe that his “yoke is easy” and his “burden is light” (Mt 11:29), as he has promised. The tip-off that we are doing too much in ministry is when life becomes unmanageable and we, or the people closest to us, are suffering. Our task, then, is to yoke up with him, to be more attentive to his direction in the load that we are willing to carry and to be aware of our own needs spiritually, emotionally, and physically.
As post-Eden earth dwellers, we find ourselves engaged in three arenas of battle: physical, emotional, and spiritual. As Christian believers we have learned much of the spiritual arena, yet often neglect the things that keep us strong in the Lord (Eph 6:18) such as prayer, personal worship, Bible study, and fasting. We often default to the pabulum of popular semi-biblical jingles on Christian radio and abdicate our daily fellowship with God for drive time devotionals. An authentic Christ-centered spirituality is much more than knowing all the lyrics to current praise songs. We would do well to re-engage with ancient liturgies, texts, and the classic spiritual disciplines to accompany our bevy of praise tunes.
When it comes to understanding the indissoluble link between our mortal bodies, spirit, and soul, there may be few books that stand up to Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy (HarperCollins, 1998). Our western penchant to compartmentalize ourselves into three separate elements of spirit, soul, and body is antithetical to Scripture, according to Willard, and we are impoverished for this viewpoint. If we are neglecting our bodies through overeating, lack of exercise, or some other thing, we are neglecting the very presence of God (see Paul in 1 Cor 12:27). Many worship leaders are suffering unduly because they are neglecting themselves physically. Why not take a walk today?
Perhaps the area where stress cracks show the most is in the emotional arena. Burnout, depression, anxiety, and many other symptoms are warning signals that we need some self-care or even professional care. Like the dashboard in your car or in the cockpit of an airplane, warning lights usually come on for a reason: to indicate low levels of fuel, oil, or some other vital element. When we are feeling chronically depressed, hyper-stressed, or burned out, more prayer may not be the answer; rather, a phone call to a biblically based counselor might be more appropriate. Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional. God has placed in the Church many excellent counselors who are equipped to help you regain the emotional stability and health you need to continue to be a dynamic worship leader.
Healthy for the Long Haul
No one else can take responsibility for your health. I cannot swim laps for you or go out for a run to build your heart muscle. You have to get up off the couch, put down the fork, pick up the weights, and pump the iron. You have to open the Word, read it, meditate on it, and make it a vital part of your life. Though Adam abdicated the unmediated presence of God in the garden, God has made a way for you to re-engage with him by the indwelling of his Spirit. Now it is up to you to “draw close to God” (Js 4:8) in your own heart and seek him for yourself.
While church life and worship ministry are stressful, with the right perspective in mind and the willingness to do battle in these three arenas you can stay healthy and balanced to run this race with endurance (Heb 12:1).
John Chisum is an internationally appreciated worship leader, songwriter, mentor, and clinician. Click here for information on The Worship Leader’s One-on-One Coaching with John Chisum. For information about booking John for a worship seminar, worship concert, or special event, contact him directly at [email protected], or call 251-533-5960.