It is often said that worship ministry is one of the most important ministries in the church. But that’s probably not true: in my view, all ministries are equally important.
Worship ministry does, however, have some distinctives: one of which is its visibility – which is why the congregation tends to elevate its importance. Another is this: unlike most ministries, it is a seedbed for tension and conflict.
Have you experienced this? I certainly have. I remember once, many years ago, I had just started out back-up singing. Back then, no one really taught you how to do anything and I think I got into the team just because I sang really loudly (and because they wanted some of the youth to start serving in the team). So I just went all out. I wasn’t concerned at all about blending with the other singers (I thought blending was a culinary term) and I even tried singing harmonies (when I clearly couldn’t). The more experienced singer next to me didn’t give a moment’s hesitation before launching out in correction. He looked me in the eye and said “Look, if you can’t sing harmony – DON’T”. That got me to shut up for a while…
Then I became a better singer. Now, I could do harmonies, except the other guy had been in the team for a long time and he always gets to sing the tenor part. So sometimes, I launch straight into the harmony at the beginning of the song before he gets a chance to work the harmony in. So much for team spirit… And I was really despising the new singer who clearly didn’t know how to blend.
That was just the tip of the iceberg.
Through my many years of worship ministry, I’ve witnessed all sorts of emotional manipulation, bad attitudes, internal jostling, pride and criticism (the non-constructive type) – and I’m just talking about myself.
But of course, there are also the triumphs of musically “nailing a set”, the celebrating together, watching each other grow and achieving goals that make worship ministry thoroughly rewarding.
This sort of thing happens in every ministry, but moreso, I believe, in worship ministry. Because it’s so visible. So technical. And people are so passionate. And because it’s a team ministry right from the get-go.
Which is why I thought the following passage in 1 Chron 25:6-8 was really interesting in describing how David ordered his worship ministers and musicians:
All these men were under the supervision of their father for the music of the temple of the Lord, with cymbals, lyres and harps, for the ministry at the house of God.
Asaph, Jeduthun and Heman were under the supervision of the king. Along with their relatives—all of them trained and skilled in music for the Lord—they numbered 288. Young and old alike, teacher as well as student, cast lots for their duties.
There are a few important principles we can draw from this.
The passage says “all these men were under the supervision of their father”. This suggests that worship ministry is a family affair.
I remember a few years back when my old church started rostering into bands. It meant that for a season, the same musicians and singers would have to serve together; get a sense of each other’s styles, strengths and weaknesses and also get used to each other’s personalities. A lot of us grew really close. Because there were a few young-uns on the team, Ling and I used to have to give them transport to rehearsals. Instead of just going to rehearsal, we made a meal of it – literally. We made it a habit to eat together before Wednesday night rehearsals. We got to not only make music together, but we shared our hopes, dreams, struggles and disappointments. Because our lives became more intertwined, a by-product was that we flowed better as a team.
So it became quite easy for me to say to our singers, for example, that we needed a bit more work. So we hired Stephanie Truscott and she came to tutor our singers for a few weeks. Okay, so we didn’t turn into a gospel choir, but we certainly learned how to blend a lot better.
Now, nothing irks you more than your family members. This is where the proverb “iron sharpens iron” becomes the most real. But as a result, we grow in character.
Developing the “family” idea further, here’s the crux of the passage: father and son served together. And this suggests mentoring!
Over the years in worship ministry, I’ve been mentored by some excellent worship leaders. I don’t know where I got my style from (because they all led worship very different to me). Perhaps it was through all the years of listening to Ron Kenoly CDs and my wanting to be a big black guy – well at least I achieved the first half of my goal.
One of my first mentors used to feed me new cassettes (yes it was that long ago) and articles on worship. (We were meant to pass the articles onto others, but I just hoarded them). By doing that, he was resourcing me. He helped me to learn new songs but also appreciate the theological anchor of worship.
He also gave me a lot of constructive criticism and correction. This was important as I began to learn to lead worship because until then, all I had to go by was the way worship leaders led on the different cassette tapes that I had and watching worship leaders during church services. Under this mentor, I was given insight into the nitty-gritty’s and nuts-and-bolts of worship leading. What he was doing was honing my craft. And of course, you don’t develop a good attitude by reading a book, so my mentor would give me a gentle rebuke where necessary.
Another mentor I had (my next worship pastor) imparted in me a heart for intercessory worship and revival. She would pray and well up in tears. She gave me fresh insight into the link between worship, intercession and the transformation of the nations. I still carry this burden to this day.
But she also released me into my potential, believing that I could be more than I imagined. She began pushing me out of my comfort zone and also began connecting me with others of the same heart and mind, including people who had beaten the trail before me. I still work with some of those people today.
And then I came across a psalmist, who inspired me to dream even bigger. He shared stories of massive gatherings in Singapore where churches would gather together in worship, regardless of background or denomination. And I started to wonder not when, but how soon, it could all happen in Perth.
In worship ministry, spiritual fathers and spiritual sons, mentors and disciples, serve together side by side to advance the kingdom of God.
What was the result? This passage says that they were “all trained and skilled”. You might say that high level skill was a prerequisite for their serving but I like to think that not all Levites were born with a timbrel in their hands. Rather, within their own families, the “trade skills” were passed on from father to son. And presumably so was the passion for God’s presence!
In this mentoring environment, we not only become better worship musicians and singers, our anointing increases and our spiritual sensitivity is sharpened. But a far more important result was that as worship happened 24/7 in the Tabernacle of David, the heavens were opened and the kingdom boundaries were broadened. The nation experienced unprecedented prosperity!
And this is why I enjoy worship ministry so much. There is definitely that amazing thrill I get when I see God’s people worshipping together and the presence of God fills a room. But I also enjoy it because it is ministry where “old and young”, “teacher and student” can stand side-by-side and minister together; where we get the opportunity to minister intergenerationally; where mentors can resource, correct, release, connect and inspire the next generation; and we can together, through worship, see our cities and nations transformed.