Be A Leader Who’s Always Growing

I’m always amazed when the Lord chooses to speak to me with a very direct word from one of His saints. Often the person who speaks a word of encouragement into my life probably doesn’t realize the impact a few simple words has. Regardless, I’m thankful for the word I received last night.

As I was leaving rehearsals last night, one of my choir members drove by me in the parking lot as I was heading out of the church and rolled his window down and said, “you’re doing a great job, Will. I’ve really seen you grow over the last few years.” My first reaction was, “I appreciate that; I love having you in the choir.” As he drove off, I thought about what he just said and my first thought was, ” WAIT! You’ve noticed ME growing?” The reason this startled me at first was because over the last 6 and half years, my role has been to grow our music ministry…and that the Lord has. We’ve seen tremendous growth in our numbers, spiritual focus, and musicality. There is much chatter about how the Lord continues to build His church here. However, it never occurred to me that anyone would notice my own growth. Somehow I had forgotten that the demands of a music ministry of 60-70 when I arrived are certainly not the same now that we have 240. While I knew the Lord has brought this growth, I was reminded last night (convicted, really) that my personal abilities were not the reason we grew. My supposed “advanced” leadership skills and “maturity” were not why we grew. Nope! Thankfully, the Lord has grown His church anyway AND grown me to meet the challenges of that which He has called me to.

As I’ve thought about the encouragement to me over the next several hours, the Lord revealed to me how I’ve grown personally in my spiritual life and my ability to lead effectively both on an off the platform. Those simple words of encouragement have allowed me to thank the Lord for the journey over these last several years. Maybe you the reader need this same encouragement, so here are a few things I’ve realized that God has shown me that I think have helped me grow:

  1. Delegate. As our program has gotten larger, I know I cannot do everything. Identify and invest in key people to do things you cannot (or not able) to do.
  2. People are everything. People first. If this is hard for you–get care group leaders and have them help you—but stay tuned to your people’s needs.
  3. Communicate Effectively. Communication takes various forms, but it’s essential that you keep all in the loop. Again, if you’re weak in this area, enlist help from others…but don’t leave people out of the loop.
  4. Plan Ahead. Have a plan for each season and year. Be ready at rehearsal with a plan of where you want to go. An effective teacher always has a lesson plan. Study your scores so you may anticipate problems. If you’re blessed to have strong musicians, they’ll know when you’re unprepared for rehearsal.  Don’t be lazy! I’m convinced laziness is one of the roots to why pastoral musicians are asked to leave churches. 
  5. Demonstrate Value. I cannot stress this enough. Make sure every person feels like they are a contributing member of your group. From the weakest musician to the strongest, be sure each has an integral role (although not always equal role) in worship leadership.

This encouragement has reminded me that I have NOT arrived! My journey is not complete. The Lord is refining and growing me more into His image for His glory. God is continuing to equip me for the road ahead. May I serve with excellence, faithfulness, and humility.

Using the Gradual Release Model to Develop Next Generation Leadership

One of the core values of any intergenerational church should be developing new leaders. While all generations are valued and important, perceived value must be shifted during the development of new talent and leadership. Often seasoned leadership must take a “back seat” to let emerging leaders develop the necessary skills and traits to be able to lead forward. However, each person (the “teacher” and the “student’) still have valuable roles, albeit at times different generations will be more visible than others.

Because we value all our generations in worship so much, we regularly schedule time for our children and youth to share their gifts and talents in worship leadership. It’s an intentional process. We don’t just teach them music performance, but also the importance of modeling worship behavior for congregational participation. For our students that show great musical potential and feel the call of God to vocational ministry, we work hard to invest in them specifically. We accomplish this by using the “Gradual Release Model,” developed by Pearson and Gallagher in 1983. This model (seen below) does exactly what the term suggests, it allows the “student” to assume responsibility as they get more opportunities to serve. Ultimately, it is our prayer is that the Lord will call some from our church to vocational music ministry and because they’ve been leading throughout their lives, they will already be equipped to lead elsewhere.

Obviously, the role of the “teacher” changes as the students are developed. This “passing the torch” approach is not without its difficulties. Obviously, the budding leadership still needs guidance along the way, especially if something the emerging leader does something that might be perceived as a mistake or cause embarrassment to themselves or others.

Here’s a practical example of how we are using the Gradual Release Model. One of my personal piano students has a desire to use her gifts further in accompanying for choirs and worship services. Currently, we’re using the model with her and using our Youth Choir to give her a safe place to test her wings. Our pianist for the Youth Choir is an excellent mentor herself. This fall, we had my student sit in on rehearsals and watch our pianist at work. During rehearsals they would discuss important things such as playing parts, anticipating director’s movements/gestures, playing techniques for a choir, etc. (Focused Instruction). By Christmas they had moved to Guided Instruction, both sitting at the bench, working together. They even played a four-hand accompaniment to one of our songs for Christmas. Since January, they’ve entered the Collaborative Learning phase. Our student has learned the parts and accompaniment to one of our songs and she is taking “lead” in the rehearsal on that tune. Our pianist is sitting with her and helping make sure she doesn’t miss anything and is successful, but it’s basically the student playing for me. By the end of the Spring, I hope that we’ve moved her more and more to her to the Independent playing phase where she becomes our pianist for the Youth Choir by this fall.

This process helps the student be successful, but also keeps the pianist and me on our toes as we strive to make clear what we need from our student. It’s a gratifying process, especially if the student is quite good and practices before rehearsals! The value we place on investing in next generations will be evident as we develop new leaders who will “carry the torch” after we are unable to.