As part of my job here at CCLI, I get to interview the writers and artists that visit our office. (Yes, I know. I have the best job in the world!) Typically, my last question is, “Any final thoughts for our worship leaders and teams?” Their responses are always insightful. But so far, no one has yet said what I would say. If I were to interview myself, here’s how I’d respond:

“Be good at something else. Good enough to make a living at it—even if you don’t think you’ll need to.”

“Be good at something else. Good enough to make a living at it—even if you don’t think you’ll need to.”

Everyone’s path is different, and I don’t want to burst anyone’s bubble. But I have a lot of reasons for my response, and they’re probably best illustrated by telling my own story. And relaying the stories of others.

I grew up in church and around church music all my life. I remember playing piano at our “little country church on the edge of town” while my Dad led hymns. I also love writing, and I earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications from George Fox University. After college, I was a copywriter at a couple of different ad agencies, then I became the Communications Director at a church, where I was also a worship team member and backup worship leader.

I remember dreaming about the opportunity of being a full-time worship leader. That would be the ultimate! A few years later, the dream came true, when a team of us decided to plant a church. For a while it was the ultimate – and then, it wasn’t. After five years, and numerous behind-the-scenes “church stuff” episodes, I experienced a fatigue unlike anything I’d ever experienced or imagined.

Thankfully, God was gracious, and He opened the doors to a couple of other Marketing positions, until finally the ultimate door opened – a marketing role here at CCLI. That was 16 years ago, and I’ve treasured every moment since.

What’s heart-breaking is to read and hear stories of worship leaders who have no other training or marketable skills (and often a wife and small children). They have found themselves in a situation where their worship leader role has turned sideways, and they are stuck, with seemingly nowhere to turn.

Even the full-time leaders who are in good situations talk often about the dynamic that exists when they are solely dependent on leading worship “well” to put food on the table. It’s a vulnerable place to be, and if you haven’t noticed, turnover happens. Sometimes, a lot.

To get a realistic sense of the worship leader positions available, each January, CCLI conducts an annual survey of our churches. We asked the question, “If your church has a Worship Leader/Music Pastor-Director, what is the position?”

Here’s the response breakdown:

15% – Full time (paid, on staff)
26.8% – Part time (paid, on staff)
40.4% – Volunteer
17.8% – We don’t have anyone like that

All this to say – have a backup plan. Have something else that you’re good at. In Acts 18:3-4, Paul made tents with Aquilla and Priscilla for a season, while every Sabbath he spoke in the synagogue.

Here’s the current chapter of my story. I play keyboards every week and serve as the volunteer music director on our church’s worship team. I sing harmonies and I’m thrilled to support our full-time Worship Leader any way I can. He’s one of my best friends, and he’s amazing at what he does. He absolutely deserves what the church can pay him… and then some. But honestly, for me, I love the feeling of being able to tithe and contribute into the ministry rather than needing to receive from it.

That’s my story. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Great article and advice. I started as a volunteer at my church for many years and even as I got older didn’t necessarily envision a life in vocational ministry. In my early 20’s the leaders of my church said they sensed a calling on my life and encouraged me to consider coming on staff at church at some point. Short story is I did eventually end up on staff part time and it’s been 10 years. I am also a guitar teacher and studio owner on the side and even in my church job I have grown to do a lot more more than leading a worship band, planning services, managing technology, etc. Developing other skills that can be helpful in or outside of a church job is a very good idea.

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