Four Ways to Mentor Worship Leaders
Four church leaders describe how they train and mentor worship leaders in their contexts. They try to identify gifts and to make room for everyone no matter their immigration status, age, or gender.
As the following examples show, there’s no one perfect way to develop worship leaders. It depends heavily on relationships and context. You can use wisdom from elsewhere to craft a worship leader mentoring model that works in your congregation or educational institution. You can find many of these resources online or in a library.
Laura Feliciano: licensed local pastor in the United Methodist Church (UMC); quarter-time appointment with the Hispanic/Latino Ministry in Michigan Conference of the UMC. (A conference is a regional body of churches.)
La Nueva Esperanza UMC, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Mentoring context: La Nueva Esperanza (LNE) means “the new hope.” The congregation has about eighty members, with an average attendance of sixty. Members come from Mexico, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Honduras, Costa Rica, and the United States. Their faith traditions are mainly Pentecostal, Catholic, and Baptist, but a few are new converts. Worship services are somewhat bilingual, but many adults are most comfortable speaking and reading Spanish.
Mentoring model and goal: Feliciano says the goal is continued spiritual growth, greater understanding of Methodist polity, and more people who can serve on the worship committee and as worship leaders.
“We’re hoping to get committed lay leadership so we can keep renewing our committees and worship leaders. According to our Book of Discipline, we need specific committees, and each needs to elect leaders for three years. Every year, someone should step off and others should come on. But we don’t have enough trained people to be elected. The same few people have been serving for three to six years as liturgists, reading Scripture, collecting offerings, and working with our challenging technology resources. Those serving for more than three consecutive years need a chance to rest and renew,” Feliciano says.
In April 2019, a trainer from the UMC Michigan Conference led thirteen LNE members through ten hours of training in the basic course for Lay Servant Ministries. They used the Spanish-language version. “It included topics like who is a leader, discovering your gifts, discovering your call, and some of the ministries you could be serving in the church and beyond,” Feliciano says.
In June 2019, she brought ten LNE high schoolers to the UMC Michigan Conference's Hispanic Youth Leadership Academy. That same month, two trainers from the UMC National Plan for Hispanic/Latino Ministry led a smaller group at LNE through ten hours of Encuentro I (Encounter I). “It covers organizational ministry, both in the mission of the local church and beyond church walls. I think people in both trainings were surprised to learn about the UMC's nonstop social justice work performed globally,” Feliciano says.
Key insight: Church plants and immigrant congregations often draw people from widely different cultural and religious backgrounds. They may come into a church with divergent assumptions about Scripture, music, sacraments, prayer, clergy and laity, and how churches should run. Starting with the basics of church organization helps people understand how and why they do (or don’t do) certain things in worship. Denominations often have excellent resources that can be especially helpful in small churches with low budgets.
Blessing and limitations in this context: UMC conferences often offer trainings in Lay Servant Ministry. Those who complete a basic and advanced course can be certified as a Lay Servant.
English speakers can choose from several advanced course topics, including leading worship as liturgists, leading prayer, and preaching. Many of these English courses are available online. “At the conference level, most of our people who completed the basic course can’t take an advanced course because none have been written in or translated into Spanish. Regarding training from the National Plan, we hope to be able to offer Encuentro II later this year.
“Even with the trainings currently available for lay people in Spanish, there’s still work to do to get more of them involved at advanced levels. In churches with an immigrant presence, you can easily find undocumented people. Without immigrant legal status, it’s harder for immigrants to get involved in some social justice ministries beyond the church walls,” Feliciano says.
Recommended resources: The UMC National Plan for Hispanic/Latino Ministry offers resources in English, Spanish, and both languages together. The United Methodist Church has even more Spanish, Korean, Portuguese, English, and multilingual versions of resources for training lay servants and planning worship.
Nicole Saint-Victor: director of multicultural engagement at Trinity Christian College; co-director of worship at Living Springs Community Church; working toward a master of divinity degree and ordination in the Reformed Church of America (RCA)
Living Springs Community Church, Glenwood, Illinois
Mentoring context: Living Springs is a large, multicultural, multi-income RCA congregation in suburban Chicago. It is part of a new classis focused on multiplying and reproducing churches. (A classis is a regional body of churches.)
As co-directors of worship, Nicole and Greg Saint-Victor work to connect volunteers of all ages in intergenerational worship. Each year, they directly mentor twenty-five to thirty youth and adults and indirectly mentor fifty to sixty-five people by sharing mentorship with other leaders.
Mentoring model and goal: The goal is for everyone, from the youngest to the oldest, to actively participate in worship together. The worship directors do this by mentoring ministry leaders who in turn mentor the children, youth, and adults in their ministries.
“Worship is supposed to be all of life, and we’re supposed to do it together. We are to read Scripture together, trust God together, be community together. If kids are sent to a separate room to ‘hang out’ while their parents go to worship, then youth aren’t being formed as the adults are. They won’t feel invested in worship. For youth, that means more than having an annual youth service,” Nicole Saint-Victor says.
Over the years, the Saint-Victors have worked slowly through one-on-one conversations with ministry leaders to discern which messages are sent about what worship is. They’ve talked with lifelong members of their church and looked back through its files (bulletins, programs, orders of service, etc.) to discover what has changed and why.
“What are we saying in worship that is formational, that becomes habit, that when we speak it is about God’s people responding? Worship directors and music directors aren’t the only ones who can mentor. If your congregation includes school music or drama teachers, then ask them which students they already know have gifts or interests in certain areas. You can ask parents and other teachers to help students memorize a part of the liturgy. They’ll learn very quickly. Then, when you come together, you explain why you are using a certain song or liturgical element at a certain place and in a certain way,” Saint-Victor says.
Key insights: “If there’s a different vision of worship for every age group within church, then it all crumbles. We use the arrows model for understanding each worship element: God speaks to us (arrow down); we speak to God (arrow up); we speak to each other (two-way horizontal arrow). The children’s church format is similar to the worship service in the main worship space. Even our first-graders can tell you that if we’re gathering for worship, then it’s an arrow up because we’re responding to God’s invitation.
“Also, for me, a best practice is not to tell people what they’re good at. Instead, get to know them and then ask unique questions about their gifts and what draws them to particular worship roles. Sometimes a young person seems drawn to a role that they don’t have the maturity to articulate yet. I like to tell them yes, but wait a little bit to work through the process. A young person who wants to be a worship leader might need to learn to be a lead worshiper who follows the God who invites us into worship,” she says.
Blessing and limitations in this context: Because the congregation believes in accepting everyone's gifts, it regularly has youth playing their instruments in worship, children’s church teaching a song to adults, and fifth-graders writing prayers of confession.
“As worship elsewhere trends toward concert venues and the performance model,” Saint-Victor says, “we’ve intentionally committed to make room for all ages. We also work to honor our congregation’s multicultural character in a way that's authentic.”
Recommended resources: “The Nairobi Statement on Worship and Culture really shifted my heart,” Saint-Victor says. “Over two years I took it apart piece by piece to see how it forms people across denominations and belief systems.” She has also used portions of the following books and read them with volunteers: Worship Sourcebook by Carrie Steenwyk and John D. Witvliet; Worship Words by Debra and Ron Rienstra; Discerning the Spirits by Sue A. Rozeboom and Cornelius Plantinga Jr.; Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church by Laurence Hull Stookey.
“Readings in African American Church Music and Worship, Volume 2 by James Abbington keeps me connected to the rich contributions from the African-American community. And I thank my friend and brother Jeremy Simpson (pastor of Engedi Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan) for his willingness to share his experience and musical gifting with me,” she says.
Dale Sieverding: director of worship (overseeing liturgy and music) at St. Monica Catholic Community
St. Monica Catholic Community, Santa Monica, California
Mentoring context: The parish has 10,000 households totaling some 18,000 members, seven weekend masses, and six liturgical committees. “About a third of our community turns over every five years,” Sieverding says, “so we have to continually reinforce and tell people anew about our mission ‘to form loving disciples who will transform the world.’ About 39 percent of members are age 44 or younger, which is younger than average for Catholic churches nationally.
“We’ve been working to strengthen hospitality across the parish. Our pastor has asked that we have people of all ages and demographics to serve in the liturgy as musicians, lectors, eucharistic ministers, hospitality ministers, and acolytes. We also need all ages and demographics on our liturgical committees so we can hear how they hear the prayers of the liturgy and what joys and hopes, sorrows and dreams they bring with them to liturgy.
"We view our parish as an extended family, called together and sent forth by worship, liturgy, and eucharist. St. Monica really puts resources into worship, which is at the center of our community’s life,” Sieverding says.
Mentoring model and goal: St. Monica aims to welcome and engage every member toward deeper participation in worship and parish life. Sieverding says every staff member’s job description requires them to invite, recruit, train, and mentor volunteers. Volunteers in every ministry are called to do the same.
Sieverding sees his actual job as director of worship, hospitality, and engagement. “My work with our staff of twenty-five, including priests and pastors, is to ask questions about how we are working to engage people—for example,, ‘Who is sitting at the table when you make decisions?’ and ‘Who is proclaiming the Word [reading Scripture in public]?’”
He encourages staff, ministry teams, and teachers in the St. Monica campus elementary and high schools to use ICNU (I see in you) conversations and invite potential liturgical ministers into a four-step process.
“We look intentionally for people’s gifts, interests, and strengths and invite them into liturgical service based on their strengths. Then we say, “I’ve seen you welcome people to our community and . . . I think you have a gift of hospitality, outreach, faith formation, teaching, speaking, singing, or a heart for justice,” Sieverding explains.
Sieverding teaches liturgical ministries leaders to mentor others through these steps:
- Watch me do it. To join the team of seventy-five lectors, one would go to two trainings. About half of those who start the first training continue through the second training and onto the roster. “Not everyone can proclaim the Word of God to a thousand people. Some self-select out,” he says.
- Do it with me. The Eucharistic ministry team includes those who distribute communion elements at mass and those who bring communion to people who are ill or in nursing homes or rehab centers. After training, a potential Eucharist minister might go with a seasoned one to pick up elements and bulletins from church, drive to the parishioner or nursing home, and offer communion.
- Let me watch you do it. Each mass has three Scripture readings by non-clergy. “When we have trained new lectors, we assign them to two other veteran lectors who can help in the mentoring process. They arrive twenty minutes before Mass so the new lector can ask questions about the procession or lection. Afterward, the veterans offer affirmation, feedback, and advice,” Sieverding says.
- Do it on your own. After being trained and mentored, liturgical ministers are commissioned to serve. They begin looking for others to invite into the process.
Key insight: “If young people are not helping to lead worship, that’s a problem. It means that they’re not invited or don’t see worship as a space for them. Over the last seven years, we’ve been really intentional about bringing all ages to the table. We’ve developed a tradition that people of any age can be lectors. Eucharistic ministry is open to qualified people age 16 and up. Our current parish council chair is part of our Young Ministering Adults (YMA) group, which is for ages 21 to 39. Having a young adult as parish council chair speaks volumes,” Sieverding says.
St. Monica Catholic Community sees hospitality as key to engaging people more deeply in worship and in liturgical ministries. Every serving ministry—whether in liturgy, pastoral care, youth ministry, or local or global outreach—has a hospitality committee. “We always remind new members that they are now part of St. Monica Catholic Community, so they can and should welcome others. In every ministry, everyone is invited to look for people who can minister as well as live out the Word,” he says.
Blessing and limitations in this context: “As Roman Catholics, we think of priests as the only worship leaders. However, the musicians, lectors, hospitality ministers, and sacristans (who set up everything behind the scenes) all contribute to worship. With so many Masses, we have lots of room for people to serve,” he says.
Recommended resources: Sieverding recommends the book Living Your Strengths (Catholic Edition) and related video clips to help adults and youth “do what they do best in their church and vocation.” St. Monica uses Ministry Scheduler Pro software to schedule volunteers and Gallup Member Engagement Survey to inform mentoring strategies.
Geoff Vandermolen: director of vocational formation; ordained minister of the Word in the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA)
Calvin Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Mentoring context: Vandermolen oversees a program that annually matches more than thirty students with mentors from a variety of church and ministry contexts. Seminarians are matched for in-context learning assignments in these ministry settings for a total of four semesters. Vandermolen provides pastors with access to “their” seminarian’s psychological assessment and Birkman strengths assessment. Mentoring pastors commit to meet weekly with mentees to work on goals, strategies, and assessments.
“My investment is in ongoing conversations with mentors. If a student consistently misses deadlines, then a mentor has a conversation about the student’s character, based on data. There are ongoing conversations about what we see in you, excellent or not. A mentor might say, ‘You don’t yet have the emotional intelligence to interact well with teams. Do you realize that this is how you come off to people in this situation?’” Vandermolen says.
Students also mentor each other through peer-to-peer groups because good worship leadership and pastoring depend on being able to correct and hear each other. Students learn contextually, too, through being engaged in a local church for four semesters.
Mentoring model and goal: “We talk about vocation as primarily cultivating character, leadership, and heart. It takes more than skills to be a worship leader or preacher,” Vandermolen says.
Through one-on-one mentoring, students become aware of who God created them to be so that through the Holy Spirit’s power they serve from that identity. “We ask, ‘Do you know who Jesus redeemed you to be? Are you okay with that, or are you dissatisfied with what God is doing in you?’ If you can accept God’s call, it's freeing. If not, you'll be a slave to how you look.
“Almost every student wants to be a fantastic preacher or worship leader. But maybe God called you to do pastoral care or write curriculum for discipleship. The reality is that most of us with an M.Div. are average preachers. With studious work and prayerfulness, however, we may discover that God has gifted us to give exceptional pastoral care,” Vandermolen says.
Key insight: “Godly worship leadership requires humility. The Holy Spirit births the church, gives gifts, works through leaders, and sanctifies them. The apostle Paul often says that Christ followers need to be in humble step with the Holy Spirit. We talk about all this quite openly with mentors. They help mentees learn through failures. We regularly pray with students as a community; that involves the mentor, mentee, and other seminary staff. Sometimes increased self-awareness will lead a student to switch degree tracks or leave seminary.”
Blessing and limitations in this context: “We’re only limited by the prejudices of churches or denominations that ask only for white male seminarians who speak English as their first language,” Vandermolen says.