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Investing for the Future

Brenton Brown

Brenton Brown talks about the need to invest in emerging leaders or risk burning out.

The band is sounding great, the church is worshipping passionately, small group worship is buzzing… even the bass player is turning up on time! Surely this is the closest any of us are going to get to worship-leading bliss on earth? And yet, as the few who’ve lived in this worship-leading paradise will tell you, achieving these three goals is more than often just not enough. Even when things are going this well, there comes a point for many of us when the pressure of constant commitment and service becomes too much.

We suddenly become aware of an overwhelming need for rest which often seems to surface in a compelling urge to escape! So we either hastily leave our worship leading behind in an attempt to rescue our spirituality, or we soldier on until our body abruptly forces us to stop. This kind of thing is not a rare occurrence in the ministry and can be devastating for us personally and for the church we serve in.

All too often overload in ministry lures us into a ‘survivalist mentality’

Although this article is really about the value of developing the potential leaders around us, I’ve come to realise that the most compelling argument for this is the simple realization that on our own we just don’t have the capacity to do everything that needs doing. All too often overload in ministry lures us into a ‘survivalist mentality’ that whispers ‘if you can just hang in there until your next holiday you’ll make it’. Although this approach can be effective in the short term, its lasting consequences can tend to be serious. After a while we just stop believing that there is any other way of serving God apart from just hanging in there. And at that point we often choose to stop.

To shift the metaphor, serving God requires the mentality of a long distance runner, and not a ‘sprinter’. We’re in this for the long haul. But the truth is that we simply will not last the distance as worship leaders unless we develop people around us who can carry the load and enjoy their own callings in worship, alongside us. A survivalist mentality will tell us that we just don’t have the time to develop those leaders right now. A more long-term approach, however, will tell us that we can’t afford not to (cf. Exodus 18.14-24).

It seems to be a principle of the Kingdom that there will always be more jobs that need doing than there are people to do them. The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few said Jesus (Matthew 9.37, NKJV). So how do we do it? How do we continue to serve people in worship throughout our lives and beyond, in the face of enormous need and in the light of our own very real limitations?

Successful leadership is being able to give it away.

As with money, and all of the gifts God gives to us, He calls us to use the leadership he has given us both wisely and generously. And yet, as Stephen Covey has famously noted, the most dominant leadership-style today can be termed ‘competitive’ or ‘self-preservationist’. Deep within each of us there is a strong desire to succeed – a desire that God explicitly recognises (cf. Matt 20.26). While historically, the dominant secular model of leadership suggests that to succeed as a leader we need to hold on to what we have in order to preserve our leadership, God’s model of leadership as demonstrated through Jesus goes in exactly the opposite direction. Successful leadership is being able to give it away.

Leading those around us means helping them succeed in their own callings as worship leaders, even when it means that our own public profile as ‘a leader’ becomes diminished. This developmental-leadership model clearly matches the character of God and ultimately, as we’ve seen, it is simply more effective. As Eugene Peterson astutely observed, ‘Jesus,… restricted nine-tenths of his ministry to twelve Jews because it was the only way to redeem all Americans’. By deliberately refusing some of the more ‘immediate needs’ around Him in favour of a longer-term investment in His followers, Jesus was able to serve far more people than He could have done personally. While He may have ‘lost out’ on the more exotic and glamorous ministry trips to do this, the fruit of His leadership style is evident even in our lives today.

At least two significant challenges face us as worship leaders. The first is that often we become so engaged in the immediate worship needs that we delay beginning the process of developing the leaders around us. Saying ‘yes’ to developing leaders at certain points will mean saying ‘no’ to other ministry opportunities. There will always be need, but if we are to be effective in serving people in worship we need to break out of the survivalist mentality and plan for the long-haul. The second challenge that faces us, more often than not, is our artistic/perfectionist temperaments which seem to rear up at any hint of a possible drop in standards.

Let’s look out for the survivalist mentality inside, that can quickly stop us from being faithful in nurturing and developing the potential leaders God has given to us. Not only is it an amazing and awesome privilege we have as leaders, but ultimately it works better!

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