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The End of an Era

The End of an Era

Today, I am writing to you from the future.

Your future, to be exact.

It isn’t exactly what you are expecting or planning for it to be, but it is good.

Should I mention that you are no longer wearing skinny jeans?

Bell bottoms are back in and, being the trend-setter that you are, you have a pair in every pastel color.

I’m sorry to say that banjos and Nords are passé and the theremin has taken over as the instrument that will single-handedly up your worship cool-factor.

It’s a new world and you are leading the way, pushing the limits of what a worship leader can be.

It is inevitable that your future will look very different than your present.

Wherever you are today, it is inevitable that your future will look very different than your present. Even if you are dead-set on never changing, the world around you won’t stop re-inventing itself.

In the realm of worship, we have seen such an influx of new sounds and a diversification of different styles over the past five years. Our definition of what is considered “worship music” is ever-changing and expanding at a rapid rate.

How will you find your place in this future world?
Will there even be room for you?

I am right there with you. I am thirty-three years old. I have a receding hairline. No longer am I the cool new kid on the block or the youngest guy on our staff. I lead a team of twenty-something worship leaders. I still feel pretty cool and I am making a modest effort to keep up with the current styles. But I am in transition. I fear being that guy still trying to be a trendsetter, but who should have gracefully bowed out a long time ago. I ask questions like,

How do I stay relevant and yet true to myself?
How do I know when or if I should hang up my worship-leading hat and start a new journey?
How do I know if it’s the end of my era?

At some point you have faced or will face these questions in your own life. I wish I could give you a simple answer for what you should do when you reach this point, but I can’t.

Some people like Martin Smith, Michael W. Smith, and Darlene Zschech have somehow found ways to adapt to new styles throughout many years of ministry. Others have gone on to pursue different callings like planting churches, leading other ministries, or roasting coffee. I’m not sure what God has in store for you, but if you are going to remain relevant as a worship leader here are a few things you must do.

Maintain A Relevant Style

Notice I didn’t say the most current style. You just need a style that is relevant to your particular setting. There is still room in the Kingdom for choirs, pipe organs, and “Lord I Lift Your Name On High”, but there is not room in every setting for those things. There is room in the Kingdom for grinding synth leads and songs like John Mark McMillan’s “Skeleton Bones”, but there is not room in every church for them.

If you want to stick around as a great worship leader, you need to be adaptable and open to change. That is why I used the word “maintain”. The people you are leading are changing. The culture they live in is changing. Your style will need to change along with them in order to stay relevant. I believe you should encourage your congregation to sing new songs and experience new styles of worship. Just be sure to do it slowly and with the established culture of your church in mind. Your preferences should always be subject to the vision and style of your leaders and those whom you are leading.

Your preferences should always be subject to the vision and style of your leaders and those whom you are leading.

One note on maintaining a relevant style: Let’s stop pretending that we all have to lead the same way. Let’s stop looking down our noses at people who are still singing hymns or people who aren’t yet singing modern hymns or whatever. Just quit! If style is what defines us, it will divide us. Style can distinguish us, but Christ must define us.

Style can distinguish us, but Christ must define us.

Let Someone Else Lead With Cool

Great news! You don’t always have to follow all the latest trends, but don’t isolate yourself from the next generation of leaders who do. Embrace your differences and spend your energy learning from one another. Don’t shrink back from teaching them about your experience. It is valuable and useful for training others. Your styles may be different, but find common ground in foundational principles of worship leadership.

Also, don’t just tell them you think their ideas are cool. Give them opportunities to experiment. Let them push you and those you lead into new territory. I have been so thankful for my team that keeps me in tune with what is new and noteworthy in the realm of worship. Collectively, we have taken our team to a level that I couldn’t possibly have taken it to on my own.

Never Lose The Wonder

Since I heard Matt Redman’s song “Mercy” for the first time last year, I haven’t stopped crying out to God with this prayer in my heart.

May I never lose the wonder
Oh the wonder of your mercy
May I sing your hallelujah
Hallelujah, amen.

If you want to last as a worship leader, your fiercest battle will be against growing numb.

If you want to last as a worship leader, your fiercest battle will be against growing numb. You will become numb to the wonder of God and His love for us. You will find yourself in a place where you have become comfortable with your definition of God. You will put him in a box or sum him up in a song and think you have Him figured out. This is a dangerous place.

How do you keep the wonder?

You show up. Not on a stage. You show up alone with Jesus. Nearness to Him is the cure for numbness. Fight for this! The people God has entrusted to you are fighting this battle too, and they need you to lead the way.

When all is said and done, it may be that God is calling you on to something other than leading worship. Or maybe he is just calling you to experiment with a new style. Whatever the case, remember that the end of every era is only the beginning of something new. Never stay where you are when God is leading you on. Don’t be afraid of the future. Walk courageously into it. Lead on.

About The Author

Aubrey McGowan

Aubrey served for twelves years on staff at one of the largest and fastest growing churches in America. Now he speaks to pastors, Christian business leaders and their teams teaching them how to cultivate a culture of trust that eliminates disunity and frees them to pour greater resources into their mission. Visit AubreyMcGowan.com for more info.

6 Comments

  1. Doug Flather

    You seem to spend a lot of time thinking about style and look.

    Can I ask you something? Do you see a similar, corresponding emphasis in the New Testament? (hint: coolness is not a factor in the Kingdom of God)

    If your community and church body is diverse (age, gender, race, coolness) then perhaps what you put up on the platform should match, rather than seek an artificial representation of some kind of brand.

    If your worship leaders are all twenty somethings, that says more about you and your values than anything. Would it not be better to build a team with worship leaders and participants of all ages, genders, races, and degrees of coolness, so it better represents the whole community in which you minister?

    What would happen if the same line of reasoning was applied to youth ministry? Would that suggest that only 25 year olds should work with youth, and that 55 year olds are need not apply? I sure hope not.

    Reply
    • Aubrey McGowan

      Doug, thanks for the reply. I do spend time thinking about style, but it is only a part of what I believe it takes to be a great Christ-honoring worship leader. While the scriptures do not deal with style specifically, I think it would be unreasonable to think that Jesus and all of the writers in the new testament thought nothing about the style of their communication. Jesus told stories that were relevant to the context of His day and probably told them with a particular cultural style. As I’m sure Paul did with his writings.

      As far as having a diversity of style, I wholeheartedly believe in including all generations in our communities of faith. This is precisely why I made my second point. Letting younger people take the lead is a way of including their generation as well. The first point about maintaining a relevant style was specifically about being sensitive to the unique blend of believers in your community. There is room in the kingdom for it all and a relevant style that fits within in your culture is the most effective way to break down walls and bring truth into the hearts of your people through song.

      If you would like to talk more, you can email me at aubrey@hopefellowship.net. I would love to continue this conversation.

      Reply
  2. Elle

    Thanks for this insight Aubrey, it is definitely a thought-provoking article. Whilst I don’t want this to sound negative, I have a bit of a bee in my bonnet about this issue at the moment because of several recent scenarios I know of and the fact that I have just turned 30 – so bare with me please 🙂

    It seems you are obliviously conforming to the secular belief that “younger is better”. Everywhere you look in media – TV, movies, billboards, magazines, online – the idea of younger being better is rife. This is influencing church media also – music albums, conference trailers, brochures, etc. I have yet to come across any biblical evidence showing that God sees 30-plus-year olds as being old, out-dated or in need of replacing. Most of the big characters in the Bible who stayed faithful to the end – Noah, Moses, Elijah, David, Paul, Peter, etc (and I’m sure the not-so-big characters too) – weren’t phased out of their roles/ministries until they were reaching geriatric age or they were killed.

    We may live in the world but we are of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God flips worldly ideas and systems upside-down – the last become first, the poor and needy become the rich and prosperous in soul. We need to find Spirit-inspired ways of appealing to all ages/cultures, not replacing the older “models” with younger, newer “models” as the world does.

    I would say a better way of looking at this issue is that ALL ages/generations need to respect and appreciate each other – the oldies shouldn’t feel they have to conform to younger styles, but neither should the youngies feel they are stuck with older styles. The youngies have vitality and vision but the oldies have wisdom and experience. They need each other and need to work together in unity – I believe that’s God’s way.

    I’m sure you have done an amazing job as Worship Pastor thus far, Aubrey, and I’m sure you have many, many years left in you. Please don’t underestimate the huge amount of passion, wisdom, insight, experience and spiritual maturity inside of you – it is immensely valuable and the generation coming up behind you need it dearly.

    Reply
  3. DJ

    I’m really done with all these style-awareness hinted suggestions and all the strong, well thought-out reasons behind them. Lo and behold, as soon as you get up to speed with the ‘relevant’ factor, you find another shift has occured and left you behind.

    I am praying for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit on our congregations (great and small) and our worship (music) that transcends all of it.

    Love and peace.

    Reply
  4. Kelvin

    “…the end of every era is only the beginning of something new. Never stay where you are when God is leading you on.” Powerful quote! Great article.

    Style, cool, relevance… these are tough conversations in ministry to have because they are controversial, touchy and very personal. You present a very humble and honest perspective. And you sound out an important call to seek God about ones assignment and season.

    Thank you for the courage in tackling this topic in a God-honoring way.

    Reply
  5. Karen Dance

    I think the key is to include multi-generational leaders on the worship team (other responders suggested this). This means that maybe we leading in our 30’s should represent the median. The idol of ever-changing “relevance” and “coolness” will die quickly and, quite honestly, take a load of pressure off our backs concerning the future. Raise up leaders of varying ages and styles(within the context of your church’s unique DNA of course), and the body will become a lovely mélange of unified worshippers. We will then cease to look like worship leaders who are trying too hard, and begin to look a lot like believers worshipping in spirit and truth!

    Reply

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