The Necessity of Development
In my early years as a worship leader, much of my development came from watching other leaders. I would observe other worship leaders that I respected and try to mimic what they did. What I thought was a great approach turned into a ministry that looked polished on the outside but lacked depth and honesty. I had never been personally discipled or developed as a worship leader and it showed. I didn’t truly know how to be a pastor to individual people in a local church.
So, after nearly a decade in full-time worship ministry, my family and I packed up our home in Dallas, TX and moved 3 hours away to Austin for me to begin a residency at The Austin Stone Community Church. My time in Austin has been one of the most fruitful seasons of ministry in my life. I have grown to love the members of our church and have grown as a leader who seeks to “equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Eph. 4:12-16).
Once I arrived at the Austin Stone I realized how life-giving being “developed” really is. Faithful friends who were committed to seeing me grow stepped into my life and helped me learn. I am a product of their ministry. Now I have the amazing opportunity to take what I learned from them and serve others in my current role overseeing our worship residency program.
As I was developed in our residency, and now as I oversee it, the following four facets of development have proved to be essential for us at the Stone.
1. FOCUS ON CHARACTER OVER COMPETENCE
For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 2 Peter 1:5-7
Chances are that, as artists in the church, our tendency will be to focus more on our skill than on our character. We can probably all agree that it’s much more fun to sit down and practice guitar than it is to practice spiritual disciplines. But this is what God has called us to cultivate––not only personally, but also in the people we disciple.
Whether your church is big or small, whether your worship team is huge or just a handful of volunteers, God is always more interested in the inward character than in what someone brings to the table externally. 1 Samuel 16:7 says, “man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” The eyes of the Lord always see the condition of the heart.
Practically, this can play out in a variety of ways. I have found that one of the best approaches to evaluate someone’s maturity is to observe their willingness and faithfulness in the smallest of areas of service.
For example, if someone comes up to you at the end of a service and wants to be involved in your worship band, one of the first responses shouldn’t necessarily be, “sure when can you serve?” but rather “that’s great! How about you stay after service with us and help roll cables and take down the stage?”
The point behind this is to test someone’s character because if the person asking doesn’t have the humility to even roll instrument cables and serve, it is likely that he/she shouldn’t be trusted to lead God’s people in worship on the stage. At least not right now.
As leaders, we must focus on character over competence because that is the same heart God wants His people to have––especially the leaders of His church. Now, I’m not saying to not focus on competency. We should pursue excellence in our craft as artists in the church––just not at the expense of godly character.
Just as you would practice your instrument, practice being godly. And push your team members and the worship leaders you're developing to do the same in the way they lead and in the way they serve.
2. DEVELOPMENT DEMANDS DELEGATION
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus… Philippians 2:3-5
We should want to give to others what we most desire for ourselves. The word that comes to mind when I think of that idea the word RELINQUISH. More than flippantly dropping something out of your hand, relinquishing something is allowing that thing to be released to a place where it can have a profound impact. Think of this in the context of Jesus. He had everything, He was co-eternal with the Father in Heaven.
Yet, He chose to relinquish all He had by giving of Himself so that mankind would have a way back to the Father. We as believers now have a way to flourish because of Christ’s redemptive, sacrificial work.
That’s what you’re doing when you’re leading a team and you consider others more important than yourself. You are relinquishing control and letting go of things you consider valuable so that others may flourish.
One of the biggest pieces of development is delegation. Think through your weekly rhythms, weekly meetings, services that you lead. If you are currently developing someone, invite them into those things. Then, take it a step further by letting them lead or have ownership in those tasks. Some of the greatest memories of my development journey were when I was given a particular task or opportunity and my supervisor trusted me 100% to carry it out. It took a lot of hard work, and I would say that in certain situations I was apprehensive, but I felt confident because my supervisor saw that I could handle it.
You will NEVER develop people the way you want to unless you are willing to relinquish control in order to let others flourish. Consider others more important than yourself by delegating to them in order to develop them. Using people to get tasks done isn’t enough; use those tasks to help “get people done” in their development journey.
3. PROXIMITY IS INFLUENCE
I’m a father of 3, and one of my favorite things to do when I get home is to lay down on the floor and let my kids jump all over me. My daughter creatively calls this chaos “wrestle-time.” I love it because I get to spend time with my kids, but my kids love it because daddy is now on their level. He’s a part of their world now.
I’ve learned through the years that to have any influence in your ministry, you need proximity to the people you lead. You have to get on their level, and not just in a ministry sense but personally. People don’t just relate to the things you teach, they want to see you live your life.
To illustrate this, my desire is to have the greatest influence over my kids. I want them to know and follow Jesus. I want them to love others and know what it means to serve. To do this in our home is going to require much more than just my wife and me teaching them these truths with words. Ultimately, they need to observe how we live our lives. We’re by no means perfect, but I want my kids to see us striving towards loving Jesus and loving others.
The same approach goes for the people that you lead week in and week out. You will influence a person’s life when you sit across from them at lunch more than in an email or a text message. We get upset when people decline or don’t respond to our weekly Planning Center Emails, but are we getting to know these people in our ministry? Are we hearing their stories, are we entering their world and understanding the many things God is doing in their life?
These moments go far in building influence. So ask yourself today, what kind of influence are you building on your team and with those you develop? Chances are if it’s not the kind you’re wanting, then you need greater proximity to them. And not just on Sundays or rehearsals, but in their lives. It’s these little moments that can forever help shape the health and influence of your worship ministry. Have proximity to the people you want to influence––like Jesus, who entered into our world to love and lead His people.
4. GIVING AND RECEIVING FEEDBACK
This last section is probably the one that we lean on most heavily in terms of development at the Stone, and honestly one that has most shaped me as a worship leader. Giving constructive feedback, in my opinion, is the absolute best way to develop someone.
Over the last few years, I’ve found more and more people, especially in the church, where this is not true of their ministry. Feedback is just not part of their regular rhythm. Unfortunately, I believe this is the case for two reasons:
To help demystify this term, feedback should be thought of through the lens of a surgeon. If you had a large tumor in your leg that needed to be removed a surgeon’s first instinct most likely wouldn’t be, “well, I’m just gonna chop off your leg and get this over with.”
Instead, a surgeon is meticulous. He’s going to carefully take his scalpel, cut open the skin at just the right spot, remove the tumor by carving out only what needs to be cut out, and sew you back together.
In essence, the surgeon finds the root of the problem, points it out, and goes after that one thing so it doesn’t spread to other parts of your body.
Feedback works the same way. While we aren’t “chopping body parts off” so to speak, we are meticulously and very carefully pointing out what doesn’t need to be there and removing it. The entire goal of feedback is to make someone better, not to tear them apart.
Proverbs 27:6 says it best: Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.
I call the enemy “multiplying kisses” the American Idol Effect. The popularity of that show was built on the mockery of seeing people get up in front of all of America and sing what they thought was awesome, but in reality was not good at all.
Somewhere along the way, someone, or multiple people, failed to say: “maybe you could improve in these areas, let me show you how.” The silence from not giving feedback allowed that person to keep going down a destructive and embarrassing path.
But wounds from a friend can be trusted. Whenever I first started receiving feedback on my worship leadership I remember being floored by it because most of the things I was hearing I never knew and had never thought about. The sad part is that I had been leading with some of those bad habits for almost a decade! Every time I would receive feedback it definitely cut me, but I wanted to press into it because I knew the person it was coming from was caring for me by saying it.
Give feedback to your people in a loving, encouraging way that cuts them but in the end, shows them that you are for them.
Also, expect to receive feedback. It’s a healthy part of life and ministry and in the end, it is for your good. Be a leader that craves feedback, and when you do, know that you’re being shaped into a better leader and shepherd.
In the end, we should have the confidence to give and receive feedback to those we’re developing because we rest in the truth of the Gospel. Just because we hear something that cuts a little doesn’t change at all what the Father thinks about us. Our identity has been given to us and is held by Jesus Christ. This should help us crave feedback more because as we get better at pressing into areas we need to grow in we will also get better at pressing into Jesus and trusting Him with it. And that’s ultimately all that we need.
DEVELOPMENT IS NOT AN OPTION
When my wife and I were looking into a season of residency I was on the verge of burnout. Looking back on it, without that season of development I don’t know where I’d be. My point is, sometimes all you have to do is say “yes” to developing someone, and it might change their life.
Jesus saw kingdom potential in people, and He sought to cultivate it. The moment we start turning our eyes towards ourselves in saying, “I can do this in my own strength. I don’t need others,” is the moment that our ministry starts heading towards failure. Look around you, find the people who are in your midst, and move towards intentionally developing them. Then go do it, test their character, delegate the things you see as most important to them, have proximity to them, give them feedback, and trust the Lord with the outcome. It is immensely crucial that we value development in our churches, for the glory of God.