It was Wednesday, 6:30 pm, and the worship team was tuning up for rehearsal. Fifteen year old electric guitarist Thomas wandered over to the piano where I was seated and casually remarked, “I’ve got the perfect idea for your retirement. You should get a tattoo that says ‘no regerts.’” We both laughed.
Five minutes later the eight of us were ready for Marja’s opening prayer and her walk through the coming Sunday’s morning service, four teenagers and four of us older folks with many decades of worship leading experience behind us.
Our church operates with a “revolving door” worship team: about twenty folks are available to sing or play, and from week-to-week a different combination is scheduled to lead, but one factor is constant: every combination includes 3-5 teenagers.
And this constant comes with a lovely gift: every week the tone of the team as it rehearses shapes a rich mentoring culture.
Thomas’ tattoo joke set me thinking about the dynamics of this mentoring culture, and these ponderings came to mind:
- Marja is very intentional about forming and sustaining a mentoring culture. Healthy cultures take years to develop, and this development requires patient and persevering intentionality. Children who are beginning to sing or play are given opportunities to contribute to an offertory or a prelude from time to time, accompanied by the unspoken message, “when you’re a bit older, you’ll be able to join the worship team.” Older adults (like me) have come to love playing or singing alongside young teens, and we’ve learned to emulate Marja in regularly expressing short, encouraging comments to our younger colleagues.
- The entire team assumes the teens will mature into excellence (along with the rest of us). Participating in a worship team for the first time comes with a steep learning curve. One needs to play or sing well, listen to and blend in with the sound of the whole, learn how to make sound technology one’s friend and navigate the dance between “performing” and worshiping simultaneously. I realized that the mentoring culture communicates that we are all part of that learning curve, and Marja’s suggestions for refinement are addressed equally to the most experienced and the freshest rookie.
- The assumption of excellence is rooted in a tone of deep mutual respect. I believe a foundational declaration for ministry teams is found in II Cor. 5: 16-17 – “From now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view…If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” “Respect” calls us to “re-inspect,” to see with new eyes, or, to use Paul’s language, to “regard” through the lens of the new creation. We are brothers and sisters in Christ, eyes, ears, hands and feet of his body (I Cor. 12), gifted in the Spirit and called to serve together. As a team embodies that truth, a culture of deep mutual respect takes hold.
- The rehearsal is seasoned with appropriate doses of good humor. Thomas’ “No regerts” comment typifies the banter that takes place during the rehearsal. This group likes to have fun together. One of the perennial dangers of ministry is that we who lead take ourselves too seriously. Of course ministry is serious, but taking oneself too seriously usurps the role of God as he works through our ministry.
- A mentoring culture which is led well becomes relatively self-sustaining. Over the years I’ve seen many, many young teens join the worship team for the first time. I’ve been continually amazed by how quickly they are absorbed within the vibe of the mentoring culture, but as I reflect on the above points, I’m not surprised. What a blessing it is for these teens to experience the assumption of excellence and a culture of respect, seasoned with good humor! Seeing this combined with the wise and encouraging manner Marja uses to help them “get it” is downright inspiring. In addition, most of these teens have seen a decade’s worth of other teens make their worship team debut, and they know they’re part of a long line of rookies who launched well.
And here’s the payoff: imagine listening to a thirteen year old boy seated behind a drum kit as he adds just the right percussive touches and colors to a slow and reverent number like “The Revelation Song,” knowing that he served alongside seven others to invite the people of God as they sang into the heavenly throne-room.
For some additional thoughts and mentoring models consider these resources from Reformed Worship:
- Pay It Forward: The Importance of Mentoring Musicians by Greg Scheer
- Pastors as Mentors and Coaches: Equipping Lay Leaders in Small Churches by Christine O’Reilly, Peter Bush