A few months ago, Worship Design Collective author, Branden Peterson, wrote an excellent article called “Don’t Be an Island (In Ministry).” In that article, he laid out some clear reasons why a worship leader must create community, along with some practical suggestions of how to go about it. Picking up on one of his ideas that worship leaders develop mentorship relationships, I would like to develop the thought that a mentorship culture be cultivated among worship teams.
The Christian life is intrinsically a call to others. It has in its essence a life-on-life trajectory. But the focus of the musician can often turn inwards, goals of perfection driving the artist to hone and hone (and hone!) the craft. The lens of becoming as skilled as possible can sometimes obscure the value of developing others. Further, the drive for excellent production can sway some worship teams to exclude novice players altogether, rather than enveloping-to-develop them. I’d like to propose how worship teams can create an environment that nurtures and integrates newer players.
Model a love of learning
As the leader of the worship ministry in your church, you are the one to create the atmosphere of its people. You are the one who sets the tone and weaves the fabric of your creative worship community. If you want to build and nurture an environment of musical mentorship, then you must wield the flag of the lifelong learner. And to wield the flag, it must be genuine. If you aren’t a lifelong learner, maybe your focus first needs to be yourself. Find a teacher, read books and articles, watch some videos…it shouldn’t take too long to realize you haven’t learned everything there is to learn yet in the musical world. Share your excitement about the idea that most recently challenged you. Strike up conversation with fellow instrumentalists about the technique you are currently trying to master. Refer often to your “practice time”. Talk, tweet and type about what you are currently studying, and let your teams see that you are a professional student. Let the learning begin with you.
Don’t be afraid of the novice
God has called you to a people. Some of them are super talented and far along the spectrum of music learning. They are the easy ones, and the ones to whom we are often more easily drawn, because they don’t seem to require as much work, and they make us look good. But God has also called you to the newbie – the one who’s fingers don’t quite fly yet, or whose ears are still tuning up, or who are still finding their way around a chord chart. Don’t be afraid of these novices! Don’t send them away, inviting them to return when they are done training. They have been gifted to you to train. They have been planted in your garden for you to cultivate. Pray specifically for each one, and ask God to give you a vision for who they are and who they can become as musical worshipers. Meet with them and listen to them. Speak honestly about where they are, and cast vision for where they could be. Help them to set goals and point them in the right direction, be it a teacher, a website, a new riff, or some ear training lessons. Show them where to go, why to go, and how to get there.
Make opportunities for skill-sharing
The worship team is prime training ground. It is rich because it is filled with people eager to serve the Church. Begin to build into the ethos of your community that part of our service to the church is coming alongside others not quite as far along the road. Rather than simply suggesting that your team members find someone to mentor, help them to discover those in need of teaching. Match up seasoned players or singers with teens or young adults who are waiting in the wings. Establish regular times when the younger players can shadow the more experienced players, maybe playing with them unplugged at first. Encourage helpful dialogue and hands-on teaching. Foster an environment where newer players are safe to try their hand at something new, with someone to help show them the way. If casual times of making music together are offered on a regular basis, these relationships could well yield confident players sooner than you’d expect, and may even develop into meaningful mentorship relationships apart from the music. As your novices grow to be more confident and they are integrated on to your worship teams, help them, in turn, to identify someone newer to mentor.
Sometimes it’s a great idea to outsource some of the teaching. Occasionally a training event may be just what your team needs to strengthen their bond to one another and heighten their morale. Search out worship conferences at other local churches or universities, or take advantage of opportunities to stream an event together. Or work together to raise some money for a memorable trip to a larger event. Common experiences in an educational environment that is geared toward impacting Christ’s Church are helpful for team unity and growth. They foster common language and create lasting memories, and they fuel the drive to learn even more.
Many of the most successful names we know point to one or two particular people throughout their lives who took the time to mentor them, and to encourage them in their growth. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are called to life-on-life investment. The worship ministry of your church is a fantastic place to begin.
Can you name an influential mentor in your life? Who are you mentoring?