Panel reflects on role of mentoring in worship at Symposium

by Ryan Struyk

Shelly Hendricks started singing in church when she was only seven years old. Now the former Calvin College worship apprentice is leading her own team of worship apprentices at Lynden Christian School in Lynden, Wash.

I had the pleasure of meeting Hendricks and two other panelists to reflect on our growth and development in worship leadership and how mentors shaped our experiences. 

Paul Ryan, associate chaplain for worship at Calvin, moderated our group at the Calvin Symposium on Worship in late January 2013.

A trio of former worship apprentices

Two of the speakers and I worked under Ryan as part of the worship apprentice program at Calvin: a year-long worship leadership training position in which students are mentored into becoming better worship leaders and gain hands-on experience by planning and leading daily chapels and Sunday evening services. 

Tracie Wiersma, a Calvin worship apprentice from 2008-09, started her worship leadership journey in high school. “Unfortunately, at that stage, I had almost no training and was just throwing together songs I liked and thought sounded cool,” she said. 

While attending Calvin, Wiersma learned about the principles of worship as well as the practical details that go into planning a worship service.

“Through guided leadership, I had the chance to practice all of these things in real services and learn from a few mistakes before taking my own congregation,” she said.

Wiersma now works as the worship coordinator at Princeton Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Nate Glasper, Jr., another panelist, also found his calling in church leadership. He serves as the worship leader at Grace for the Nations Church in Grand Rapids, Mich.

“I always watched others lead and desired to do the same one day when I grew older,” Glasper explained. “I knew that I had leadership qualities in me even at a young age.”

And while Glasper and Wiersma had found their niche in church leadership, I had just finished my year as a worship apprentice, but wasn’t planning on pursuing a career in worship leadership.

Principles we often gloss over

As I told the group: “Even though I’ve been leading worship since I was in middle school, my training and mentoring at Calvin has helped me become a more principled and more skillful worship leader,” adding that that a visit to a local Antiochian Orthodox church during my training had helped widen my perspective on worship and that while that visit exposed me to an entirely new style of worship that emphasized different principles than I was used to, it also really helped me focus on the importance of principles that we often just gloss over. 

But, as Hendricks reminded us, sometimes, even with an intentionally planned service, the logistics of worship leadership can present difficult situations. She recalled that right before a Sunday evening LOFT (Living Our Faith Together) service was going to start at Calvin, the computer crashed and song lyrics could not be projected on the screen. 

“I spent the whole first part of the service calling out the words of the songs one line at a time,” she said. But Hendricks received good feedback from fellow students afterwards, teaching her that it’s important to be ready for anything in worship leadership.

Mentees becoming mentors

But worship leadership isn’t just about the congregation, Wiersma explained. Sometimes the mentees can become the mentors, and Wiersma seeks to model that principle with a transparent leadership style.

“I share my thought process on song orders and transitions. I explain how each section fits into the service as a whole,” she said. “I try to sneak in teaching moments, like sharing the importance of including lament in our services, or reminding my singers to have inviting and expressive faces and postures.”

And while worship leadership can often become a list of practices to master, Glasper shared that his mentoring experience influenced his own faith first.

“My pastor and mentor always encouraged me to develop a personal relationship and personal worship time with God so that I can confidently lead my congregation based on my personal experience,” he said.

“I’ve learned that worship is a lifestyle and not just something we do within the four walls of our church building,” he continued.

Focus on the person before the task

That resonated with my experience: mentoring focuses on the person before focusing on the details of a task. Mentoring is about shaping identity. Lots of people can learn how to organize a rehearsal or put together a service. The mentoring piece is something that shapes who you are above what you do.

And Wiersma, once a mentee, now finds herself a mentor, shaping others’ experiences and faiths through worship leadership. “I encourage members of my worship team not only to learn new tips and techniques, but more importantly, to renew their passion and enthusiasm for excellent worship leadership,” she said. 


Ryan Struyk is the Chimes online editor for the 2012-13 school year. He's a junior studying math and political science, with minors in journalism and music in worship. Being a journalist means being both student and teacher of the world, and that’s why his job is the best one out there.