Why Worship Leaders Should Get A Real Job


jobNow that I have your attention, leading worship is indeed a worthy calling and vocation that requires preparation, education and skills. And yes, it is a real job. But what if opportunities were no longer available for you to lead worship vocationally?

What if you needed to voluntarily or were forced involuntarily to step aside from vocational worship leadership for an interim or extended period of time? Or if you’re a student preparing for vocational worship ministry, what if you don’t immediately land a position after graduation? What would or could you do in these instances to provide for your family while still responding to God’s call? Some of us have found ourselves in similar situations only to realize we are not trained or are not training to do anything else.

Statistics show that 95% of churches average 350 or less in worship and that 75-80% of those churches average 150 or less. Forced terminations, unhealthy staff relationships and ageism are all unfortunate realities. Church planting movements have amplified the need for additional volunteer and part time worship leaders. And even larger, more established congregations are no longer realizing the need for full-time worship and music staff as they try to stretch their financial resources to accommodate their various generational, cultural, ethnic and multisite needs.

With those statistics in mind, the present and future reality seems to indicate that the need for full-time music and worship leaders is on the decline. In other words, it appears there are and will continue to be more prepared full-time leaders than full time places for them to serve. So reality dictates that while preparing for worship leadership we should also be learning additional marketable skills.

For this to occur, we must first acknowledge that a call to bivocational ministry is not a mediocre calling but is in fact a call to full-time ministry that just happens to occur not only when we gather at church but also when we disperse to the marketplace. We must also encourage our Christian colleges and seminaries to more actively challenge students preparing for worship ministry to also learn other vocational skills. We must agree that it is never too soon or too late to learn something new. And we must affirm that learning an additional skill doesn’t compromise our calling but in fact enhances it by allowing us to communicate in other worship languages beyond choirs and chord charts.


18 Responses to “Why Worship Leaders Should Get A Real Job”

  • David Manner Says:

    Thank you for a thoughtful response, Mike that definitely gives credence to my post. You are living what I wrote about and help us understand that it can be sometimes painful but also fruitful.

  • Mike Huggins Says:

    I have experienced what David described as a result of forced resignation. In the midst of anger, and hurt, and an income reduced by more than half (just to name a few emotions/side effects), I discovered not a life outside of ministry, but a life of ministry. My eye-opening experience came in a strange sort of way when I suddenly realized that in three months outside a church vocation I had heard more foul language than I had in over 30 years of “full-time” ministry and somehow knew I was where I should be. I also rub elbows with way more folks on a daily basis than I ever used to which gives more opportunity to share the gospel. It’s still difficult and definitely a day by day journey. This is no easy conversation but one that needs saying and considering. Thanks for bringing it up.

  • Randall Hall Says:

    David–I’m going to send a private message with a couple of additional thoughts regarding how this affects me on a personal nature at this point in my life but in so many ways, this post really hit home. For years, my father championed bivocational ministry in MS and so I have seen that model used very effectively for years. I think that in many ways, churches got a little “fat and sassy” during recent years but as churches have begun to decline, I think prudent use of resources, both financial and personnel, will come into play again.

    I have counseled many young ministers (music, youth, pastors, etc.) to prepare as though they are going to be bivocational–in fact, although I believe strongly in theological preparation, I’m also thinking that degrees in leadership would provide more opportunities both in a ministerial vocation as well as the secular world. Regardless, ministers are going to have to do more “after hours” work to be prepared because the vast majority of new ministers will not pick up and move to seminary for 2-3 years but rather will take advantage of online options while still working a full time job.

    Thanks for your continued insight!

  • David Manner Says:

    Thanks for a real life example of what I was talking about in the post, Eric. May your tribe increase. And it will whether we like it or not because of the changing dynamics.

  • Eric Benoy Says:

    Thanks for the good words and thoughts, David. We need this reminder as church employment begins reflecting how the overall job market has changed.

    When I started seminary I was not sure as to which ministry God had called me. I just took everything I could and accepted all the supply work and opportunities that came my way. And as I look back at things after 23 years of bi-vocational ministry, I see it was His plan all along. I got equipped to do music, education, outreach, preaching — and I do all those even now in my church as I work a full time job. People may want to be thinking more as a generalist, being trained and getting experience in several areas. My first position was not even music, but it did lead to it eventually.

    Thousands and thousands of churches just cannot afford decent pay and they truly need to be seen as ministry in and of itself. That is, though we cannot pay decently, we are blessed to have someone who is not concerned with that but in ministering. The church I serve does not pay enough to meet weekly grocery and gasoline needs, but it is where God has placed me and called me to love and lead the people.

    There are so many circumstances for churches to “down-size” staff or reduce them to part-time. Despite the 6 SBC seminaries (and others) graduating at thousand or more each year combined, there are still churches needing pastors and staff ministers. I could go on for a while about this, but your post is clear and succinct — (1) we need God-called men and women, (2) trained to fill full-time and part-time positions (3) with the realization that, truthfully, bi-vocational is growing once again and (4) that they must have other marketable skills (teaching music in public schools is even harder to come by as programs get cut) so they can meet their financial needs.

    Final anecdote: I remember many years ago at a conference, sitting at a table with a prominent faculty member of a prominent SBC institution who was talking about getting calls for organists but not offering full-time positions and folks were nodding sympathetically. I piped up and said, “So? Why do only large churches that can afford a F/T organist deserve to have such wonderful musicians leading and accompanying in worship? Why not train them for bi-vocational work and get them out in all sorts of churches, ministering, perhaps inspiring future organists?”

  • Fred Bruder Says:

    I am a new member of this website suggested to me by LinkedIn. I retired from a career as a Park Ranger in 2007 after 33 years. I had originally trained for full-time ministry, but life threw a few curves that redirected my path. I now find myself in the ‘4th Quarter’ of my life with a renewed call to the ministry. Over the years, I have been involved in churches as a lay teacher, choir member, quartet member and as a soloist. Now I find that God has given me a yearning and is blessing my music ministry in ways I thought were long past for me. My wife and I are now full-time RVrs and seasonal workampers. This allows us to travel to different areas of the country, settle in to a community and a church, then bloom where we are planted as God sees fit.

    I would like to share a few observations of what I have been learning that might help others who are seeking God’s direction in a late in life calling.
    1: God’s timing is perfect. A thousand years is as a day to Him. Don’t beat yourself up that you didn’t follow the path you thought He had for you in your youth…been there, done that. If you are experiencing a renewal of your call, be thankful and minister with a thankful heart. Those you minister to in music will be blessed as well.
    2: Look for songs that minister to you to share with a congregation. I grew up thinking that southern gospel was the only true gospel music style. I went to Bible college in Nashville TN where this was reinforced when I worked for Benson Publishing Company. Then I started listening to some of the early Christian rockers. I still have many favorites from that era of gospel rock that still minister to me when I listen to them. Be open to sing songs out of your comfort zone if led to.
    3: Be prepared to be a helper to the song leader/director. You may have more experience and even more spiritual insight than that person, but you are a helper. Follow their lead, then you will be given opportunities to minister in your own unique way.

    I hope these insights from my late blooming ministry are a help to someone who is struggling to find their place in the body of Christ and in fulfilling the calling that you feel on your life. Remember, none of this is catching the Father by surprise. He gave you the calling, He will help you to fulfill it.

  • Rod Martin Says:

    Hi Jason,
    I appreciate your comments and your insights on calling. Please know that when I speak of my calling into ministry, I have always understood that to be as Pastoral Ministry which led me down the path of Ordination. Your first sentence as it describes your calling and ministry position would work well for me. As others may use the word calling it may mean the same to them or maybe something very meaningful as they are prompted or led by the Holy Spirit to lead, serve or respond in ministry. As I am grateful to serve in ministry with pastors such as yourself, I applaud and welcome working along side those who hear the Father’s prompting voice and say yes. Especially when in ministry they will, as you and I both know, hear so much discontent from those who they try to feed at the worship table.

  • Rod Martin Says:

    David, what terrific article. Thank you for your thoughts and perspective from beginning to end. I’ve been in full time worship ministry for over 20 years and there have been many times I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to have job opportunities to help meet the lack of income when needed outside of the church financially supporting me. My call into ministry was never about my income. If God chooses to financially support me through the church so I can invest more ministry hours I’m grateful. If He chooses to support me through multi-vocational experiences I’m blessed and honored to serve Him in multiple areas of ministries.

    The basic fact is, He called me to pastor and He has placed me in a variety of situations through the years. Sometimes as a professional musician and others as a pro audio tech but I pray for the opportunity to show Christ every day. As a full time pastor who receives a regular income through the church I am fortunate. I am fortunate to receive an income at all. It is simply how God is providing today. It allows me to put in 60 to 80 hours in a week.

    I truly do understand the concern regarding ageism. I’m in my 50’s now and serve with a staff who are all younger than me. Pretty funny considering I am the worship pastor and NOT the senior care pastor. What I bring is me. A person who realized that he had to and desired to re-tool regularly. I want to learn more and learn how to become a deeper worshiper. Then learn how to teach that to a congregation. Sometimes it’s teaching to a church I’m visiting and have not developed a relationship with so I have to develop that with them in leadership quickly as I go. All that being said, as an older leader, I have the duty and charge to mentor other leaders. I love having younger people leading with me. I love stretching the church through musical genre’s. In case you are wondering, our church is pretty rock’n. We have an early service that meets the worship pallets of the traditional hymn sing folks folks but the band still plays (10 db quieter). It’s a good service and we have all ages come to both services.

    It’s easy to become cynical of the church. I agree that there are some difficult and unfortunate, poor decisions happening within the church at large when it comes to many leadership trends. But as long as I remember, there always have been. They simply have changed what they look like over the years. What we are responsible for as individual leaders and pastors, are to be true to our call, and encourage and support one another in their call.

    We might have seasons or full careers of multi-vocational ministries and we might have times we can help employ or support those who are in need of such work. We need to be ready to serve as God calls us in any capacity. It’s an honor!

  • Jason Says:

    This is exactly why I am called to PASTORAL ministry and feel very blessed that I can fulfill this calling in the context of “leading worship” – at least for now. Maybe it will be a different context later on – in fact, I’m sure it will. Something I think I would like to engage in sometime is a healthy study/debate on the whole issue of “calling” with regard to worship music. Is there really such a thing? I’m not so sure there is – at least in the same way that there is a calling for apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers and evangelists. The closest thing to “calling in music” i can find is the skillfulness of the Levites in the Old Testament. Someone might argue that leading worship IS a form of pastoring or teaching (or even prophetic or evangelistic), but I would still argue that if that is true their calling is to teaching and pastoring – not music and singing and playing an instrument – and if their “ministry” is limited to the stage and planning room, they they are not really being a pastor or teacher, but instead “skilled musicians charged with leading the singing” (like the sons of Korah), which is ok, but let us stop calling them pastors and pretending they are “called to lead worship”.

  • Kurt Kelley Says:

    Ageism and monoculuralism are a few reason why I have not been sought out by churches for worship. Thus, I have accepted that I am not what the typical American church wants in its worship leader. Im not young, IM not handsome, I am not a techy or multi media expert. (I dont even have an i phone or i pad) Plus, I think worship music should reach ALL people, not just the young, educated, white ones.

    That being said, I am blessed to make a living in music playing secular gigs. I play with a great band, and we play a tasteful and diverse song list of many styles. THat is verboten in many churches today. One must ONLY do whatever are the latest hit songs from Christian radio, regardless of the fact that most of the people out there do NOT listen to Christian radio, and have never heard of Jesus Culture and Hillsong United!

    I get tired of worship being a performance of those CCM hit songs, while most of the congregation just stands and stares, unable to sing such songs. But slip in an old school song, and suddenly, EVERYONE is singing. Imagine that!

  • David Page Says:

    Very interesting perspective. Might we be seeing some early fallout from the mega-church phenomenon? When a big church is boasting membership in the 5,000 – 15,000 range, you just have to ask – are ALL of those first-time conversions? Of course not, it’s called “transfer growth” – meaning, people who used to go to a smaller church but left for the church with the flashy appeal.

    The big churches get bigger (“success breeds success”), thus consolidating the overall “market” for qualified worship pastors while at the same time sucking the life-blood away from the lesser and increasingly dwindling churches, which can no longer afford to pay staff. Hey, I’m no economics expert (barely got out of high school) but even I can do the math on this.

    At age almost-55, it seems that the stats here are clearly not in my favor for consideration for any of the few coveted openings I have been busily applying for. Sorry if this sounds like a rant. I will close with the thought that, sadly, judgment will come first to the church. Perhaps it already has?

  • There's Nothing Wrong With A Day Job | Worship Links Says:

    […] thought about all these things as I read Worship Leader…Get A Real Job! by David Manner. After citing some statistics that don’t paint a rosy picture for the future […]

  • Duane Hines Says:

    As one who has never had a full-time music ministry, I completely understand this post. God commanded us to “go,” not for the people to “come”. We are to go into all the world and make disciples. I consider my full-time job a ministry as I work at a helping agency. I pray everyday that the people I come in contact with will see Jesus in me by the way I treated them. I will confess that I do not always do that and I pray for God’s forgiveness for that because that’s not what he called me to do.

    For those of you who have lost fulltime ministry positions, my heart breaks for you for that was my heart’s desire. But God knows what is best for my life and I trust Him with that. I encourage each of you to be “marketable” for outside ministry.

    Thanks for this post David. I found it very encouraging!

  • Doug Scaddan Says:

    Thank you for your heart for ministry and this post. It really struck home as our church right now is considering hiring a part time worship leader! Thank you.

  • Milton Ferguslon Says:

    To both Mike and Aaron: Congratulations and THANK YOU! You can know that I shall join many others in praying for a refreshing, rewarding ministry for each of you.

  • Aaron Smith Says:

    I am in full agreement that we should challenge our learning centers to stress the call to availability not to stability. I have sustained my life in ministry (13 years) by finding those other areas of giftedness, but it can get very discouraging when you feel called to “full time work” and you have to spend a large portion of your week doing other things to make sure that the electric stays on. I love my church and they pay me as well as they can, but it is a challenging life that most are unwilling to live.

    I can also say that I have served in a tri even quadruple vocation for my ministry life and it seems that every full time ministry that comes available will not consider people with no experience in full time positions. I have experience in worship, technology, college ministry and evangelism but again none of these were paid full time. I know this is not always the case, but over the last 5 years I have sought many positions and find that 8 of ten in their listing require full time experience no matter how diverse your ministry experience is. I submit a resume with 13 years of worship ministry experience and all my extra trainings and that does not suffice for most.

    God did not call me to comfort or safety!! He called me to obedience and I will do that until the day I day. I pray that some day I might have the opportunity to serve in a full time church position, but will serve multi-vocationally until that day comes. Thanks for the post.

  • Mike Murray Says:

    Very interesting post due to it describing my situation almost perfectly.When the move is made to the marketplace, it can be a bit of a challenge to explain why the move from the church. Also, the marketplace may not see how leadership skills, communication skills, people skills that are used in the church transfer to the marketplace.
    The key in all of this, and David aludes to it, is that as Christians, all of life is ministry. For the pastor or worship leader, that is working in the marketplace, it is even more important to keep this perspective. Our lives are not to only smell sweet on Sunday but we are to be salt and light to those whom we encounter in whatever situation we are in.

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