Worship Leaders Wanted – The Hardest Find in Church Ministry

helpTeaching pastors are a dime a dozen.  Youth ministers are everywhere.  Children’s ministry leaders are sought after all the time.  But where are the worship pastors?

Where are the music ministers?  Where are the creative-types that lead us each and every Sunday to the throne of grace?  Where are coming from?  Where have they gone?   The answer: no one knows.

As an interim pastor and frequent guest speaker in churches, I serve alongside all sorts of worship leaders.  Very few are full-time staff members; most are part-time, cross-vocational servant-leaders pulling two or three jobs to forge a living.  In smaller churches, you mostly have faithful volunteers with little or no musical training but who have a desire to serve God.

I love them all.  I love their heart.  I love their willingness to get up there and lead people who often look like marble statues with frowny faces :(.  I love when they partner with me as the teacher/preacher to make the entire service meaningful.

But their kind are going extinct.  They are dying away.  And the younger generation are not moving up to fill their spots.  It seems that the younger generation could care less.

Why is this happening?  Let me suggest a few possible reasons.

First, in our day and time theology is king and the teaching/preaching ministry of the church has become exalted as the highest order of church-based ministry.  While there is no doubt theology is critical in our culture with rampant pluralism, relativistic secularization, and a large segment of our population who are biblically illiterate, but does that mean the preaching and teaching ministry must command the majority of our worship time?  I would offer that most of our deeply held theological roots come not from sermons, but from songs.  (I’ve written on when pastors were the hymn writers.)

Another reason is perceived value.  As pastor/theologians view their role as the most essential for church health and spiritual growth, other ministry platforms are viewed as less valuable or subsequently inferior.  I wouldn’t say they are viewed as insufficient, but their value is not essential.   The common notion among many preaching pastors today is that as long as the teaching/preaching ministry is good, strong and biblically faithful, then other sectors of ministry will, by proxy, succeed.  I am not sure I agree with that conclusion.

A third reason is that it hard to find someone who believes God has called them into worship ministry.  You might discover someone with talent in vocal or instrumental music, or in songwriting, or even in leading people in corporate worship, but the last thing they are considering is using these talents for the Lord through local church ministry.  I teach hundreds of young adults preparing for future ministry and rarely do I have any student who believes God has called them to lead worship as their vocation.

Rewind back 25 years.  In those days, the music minister (or music director) was viewed as second most important team member on the church staff, far ahead of youth, children or education.  The role was highly important because of the amount of “face time” they shared with the teaching pastor.  The two-man team was like as Batman and Robin, Jordan and Pippen, Andy and Barney.  They worked as a tag-team planning worship elements, service designs, and ways to incorporate creativity into the plan.  This function is very rare today.

Today, the worship minister is not that important.  Most church leaders view children’s ministry as the #2 most important staff position to fill.  A poor children’s ministry equates to fewer young families and diminished growth potential.  Worship leadership might make it to the third or fourth slot on most church teams.

All these reasons (and many more) lead to lessened interest in exploring God’s call in worship ministry.

Fast forward 25 years.  I anticipate there will be few, if any, young people following God’s call into music ministry.  I believe there will be very few full-time worship pastors, only found on large church staffs with multiple services.  I sense that schools of music at the seminary and Christian college level will no longer prepare students in church music or worship leadership.  Those degrees will go away.

I believe the want ads will be filled with churches desperately looking for someone, anyone, to lead worship at their church, but no one will be applying.

These are just my predictions.  I hope I am utterly wrong, but I don’t believe I am.



16 thoughts on “Worship Leaders Wanted – The Hardest Find in Church Ministry

  1. Nice word, Shane. I’m hoping that churches will once again find great value in having the lead worshiper that can draw people near God’s presence and serve as a model for what can happen day by day in the lives of believers. I hope that colleges and seminaries can continue to find ways to prepare such leaders . . . but, to a great extent, congregations have to discover this need at the “ground level.” Another reason why schools like Campbellsville University need to expand our reach into churches is precisely to demonstrate the value of well-prepared lead worshipers. One final point, much in contemporary worship has bubbled up from within local churches themselves, much like the “garage band” (not usually connected with a local School of Music, think the Irish band, U2) that kept working on its own music and then a movement began. There usually is enough talent in a local church to fuel the worship of a church for a long time. However, you’ve got to have a lead worshiper, adept at drawing out and cultivating the talents and spiritual maturity of persons who could generate a renewed culture of worship in any local church setting. It may not be this simple, but all you need “love” (for worship; we are after all, beings made to worship, to love our creator) and “3 chords and the truth” (the startup costs are not always high).

    • Well said Dr. Hurtgen. One thing I have noticed about raising internal worship leaders and teams is that good musicians attracts other good musicians. But the opposite is also true – bad musicians steers the good musicians away. So aspiring talent from within might be going out the back door to the next church where more talent dwells.

  2. Shane–interesting thoughts and some resonate very deeply with me! I’ve got a couple of ideas to run by you if you’re open but would prefer to do so via email or phone. Thanks for your willingness to step out there with these perspectives.

  3. As a “tenured” music minister…. the descriptions have changed drastically – Man, i couldn’t get away, out-run God’s CALL on my life to serve HIM as a Music Minister…Once I fully surrendered, I fully prepared at a Christian University and then followed by graduating from Seminary with a Master’s in Church Music – God blessed and I have had the privilege of serving in large/mega churches ever since until recently – I see it all changing… to more secular influences – no calling – no training – Hey he sings great and plays a guitar, get him to do it – and did I say – NO CALLING – a young friend of my son- now attending this same Christian University – leads “worship” at his church – sings great, plays guitar, wears skinny jeans, is “cool and hip” – asked to use my son’s town home for a week while My son was away on tour during spring break (he lives close to the beach) unknown to my son – I had planned to go to his town home – with new furniture – new paint – carpet cleaners and such while he was away to surprise him when he got home – I turned the key and immediately saw a blow up mattress on the living room floor – and thot – WHO is here? – no one but some one WAS staying there – ok- no problem – one of his friends – but then I went over to the kitchen – there on the counter … a Margarita Machine and a Hooka they could SMOKE – my blood began to boil…. then I went upstairs to his bedroom – on one side of the bed – male clothes/luggage – on the other side – female – I about passed out – turned to leave and called my son…. “oh yes dad – my friend and a friend of his wanted to camp out at my place while I’m on tour” – well son – did you know…..fill in the blank….. NO he didn’t realize – I told him – to call his “friends” and tell them if they didn’t get out in the next 2 hours – I would throw it all out on the street – he did – they came running and did – my son told his friend how upset I was that his worship leader friend brought booze, a smoking machine and was sleeping with his girlfriend in my son’s bed!!….. did i say – NO CALLING? – here in lies the problem….. can be good musicians but are as spiritually deep as a pizza pan – this young man did contact me to apologize which I appreciated -because he didn’t HAVE to do it…. I asked him one question….. WHAT DO YOU DO DIFFERENT because you are a CHRISTIAN?….of course no answer. So I said all of that to say this….. there is little musical training these days – When I was 30 i was directing a 250 voice choir with a 40 piece orchestra in a major city on national TV – how? CALLING – PREPARATION – HARD WORK – MUSICAL ABILITY – and did I say CALLING??

  4. I feel many young people want to distance themselves from the complaints that arise from worship styles. They no longer view worship ministry as a ministry that promotes unity but disunity. I feel this problem that has grown over many decades has finally impacted the church to a point that it will feel for a very long time. There is no way to speak to all the reasons in a post as to why this has happened but the church must unify again under the banner of worship of our Lord Jesus Christ. It makes no difference who is number one or two when Jesus is Lord. I surrendered to the music ministry almost 20 years ago and only about two years ago decided to stay out of a ministry position to reassess my calling and determine if the problem was me or church in general. So far I find fault in both parties but the church has made it difficult on all ministers and those serving are in a battle every day over truth in worship. The reason I believe talented musicians are in demand is that they can operate w/o an accompanist. Where I live accompanists are in demand everywhere. I just encourage churches to train up piano players and instil in them the value they have as leaders in worship. Maybe God will use them one day for His Glory.

  5. Ouch. How sad. As a mid 40’s, 20 year plus veteran of full time music ministry this really hurts. Not trying to start an argument, but I honesty see the complete opposite of what has been written here on many points. I know a lot of worship ‘pastors’ who don’t fit the bill of what churches and senior pastors are looking for as their worship guy. Churches are now looking for performers over leaders. Great musicians over great pastors. Just look at how many churches have in recent years hired as their worship pastors guys who have been Christian artists, songwriters, and performers. That seems to have taken the number one priority with so many when it comes to ‘the search’ for a worship pastor.

  6. While I love the pastor who baptized me as well as my pastor of today, my worship pastor was the most influential man in my life and remains so years after passing away. The ties that bind people to their worship pastors are powerful. Worship pastors powerfully influence people to be more joyful and bolder in their faith and churches today are brighter lights in culture because of worship pastors. Worship pastors rock! Churches that miss this are robbing their congregations of the abundance of the journey of faith! I am grateful to be in a church that highly esteems it’s worship pastor.

  7. Many churches have de-valued the role music plays in their service. When there are four members of a self-absorbed “praise team” hollering Scripturally shallow lyrics into microphones instead a 50-member choir *leading* the congregation to worship through the time-honored divinely inspired words of the finest writers in history…no wonder it’s hard to find folks to do that! What self-respecting musician would consent to deliver such pap? What man of God would accept such theologically bankrupt messages? Would a vintner willingly serve Kool-Aide?

  8. Great word Dr. G! I think you nailed it with the undervaluing and lack of theological understanding of worship leadership. Smaller church worship leaders certainly get eclipsed by the highly exalted “pastor”. But I think what is missing more than anything is a misunderstanding of the worship leader’s role. For someone who is forming disciples through worship practices, developing liturgies to reveal and respond, teaching scripture, and shepherding a team–it seems ridiculous not to consider this role as pastoral. And the requirements for such should follow suite. I think this is why you have recently seen a title change in recent years from “worship leader” to “worship pastor” in larger churches. This is also why there are so many more books being produced on the subject of the worship pastor’s role. I think there is hope for the position in the church, but I’m not sure how it will play out for smaller churches. In general, I’m not sure what will happen to smaller churches. Good stuff!

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