This is going to be a loaded post, but I feel like if I don't get this out I'm going to explode.
I've been leading worship for over 7 years now, and felt called into full time ministry in college. I switched majors to music, volunteered as the worship leader for my church, and for Campus Crusade. I spent most weekends volunteering for various things, etc...
After college got my first job at a fairly large church. After a year and a half I was burnt out. It was 3 services, all stylistically different, and I had to work 40-50 hours per week while living off 15,000 of an annual salary. I tried telling myself it's for the Lord, and the money doesn't matter, but debts piled up, and I was always exhausted, and I couldn't handle it anymore so I quit.
I decided to leave and try to go back to school and focus on a career outside of ministry so I could support myself in this economy, while volunteering as a worship leader for another church. I spend 2 years working for a company I liked as a temp. I performed very well, and was offered a job by one of the senior managers that was going to be available within a few months. Time goes by and they have to start cutting more temps than expected, and another boss comes in with bogus charges that I misused the company computer to access websites unrelated to work (when they were) and so I was let go before the job my other supervisor had offered me was available, and there was nothing I could do about it. I spend several months unemployed and homeless. I finally get a job managing a restaurant, making 4 dollars an hour, getting paid under the table, and working horrendous hours, but it's the only job I can get.
I finally decide to leave, and move back home with my parents for a while as I was tired of the homelessness and falling further into debt.
I manage to get another job in San Francisco as a worship leader. same pay circumstances but less work. Unfortunately I haven't been able to get a second job, despite the hundreds of applications and networking I've been doing this last year, and now the church is cutting my position so by January I won't be making anything. In addition, the "demand" for worship leaders is so high I was asked to volunteer lead at Friday prayer services, a Saturday service, and another Sunday night service for various churches and ministry groups. I did this a few weeks and damaged my voice so bad I now have nodules that won't go away without an expensive surgery I can't afford, so my singing ability is greatly diminished.
I was attending an evening service at another church. Their worship leader (young kid right out of bible school) asked me for music theory and piano lessons. I worked with him for a year than he steps down to focus on his band, so I apply for the open position, finally thinking I might have a shot at a full time gig at a church I really loved being at, and was passed up for another young kid. (No, I'm not teaching this one).
At this point, I feel done. I'm almost 30, and sad to say the job that has paid me the most was a student campus job. I feel like I wasted 40,000 on a degree that is completely useless now. I have no means for going back to school, I already have mounting debt I can't pay, and I regularly get passed up for full time worship leader positions by younger less experienced candidates who turn around and ask me for music and piano lessons because they don't know enough about music.
I tried doing this with a positive attitude, right now writing this I feel guilty because I know in my head and heart this shouldn't be what worship is about. The sad thing is, my foolish devotion to this supposed calling has left me completely unprepared to work in anything else, and for whatever reason, churches that can afford a full time music director won't hire me, and despite the amount of energy I've focused into trying to get work (any work). The networking, the staffing agencies, job fairs, the endless hours I've spent submitting applications, nothing seems to work. This has been going on for almost 6 years, and now that in the next couple of weeks I'm looking at being unemployed and homeless with no job prospects of any kind... I'm feeling extremely resentful. Resentful for ever thinking God wanted me to do this. I'm resentful that these were my 20s, they were the worst years of my life, and while I worked like a dog, putting in 40-50 hours every week, I have nothing to show for it other than useless skills that can't get me any job anywhere. I'm angry at God for taking me down this path, angry at myself for following. I want that time back. I want the 40,000 back for school. I don't know how else to express this. It probably sounds self centered, ungrateful and snobbish, but that's where I'm at in life, and at this point, I just don't have faith in God's providence for a job, and I don't know what else to do.
Sympathies. Don't feel guilty about ranting here, this is us.
This may sound like a slim possibility, but there is such a thing as a multiple-hat music ministry. It's what I did my entire life (though it may be a vanishing breed). Larger churches (200 and up) sometimes need a person to be a pastor -- assistant, Christian Education director, youth leader, visitation, evangelism, and other -- which is ideal for a music person, because you generally want to get involved with the entire congregation anyway. Churches which offer the part-time position get you and your enthusiasm "anyway"; but there are some which have some reason to desire full-time staff. Being "full-time music" is pretty much a pipe dream, and if you get such a position, it will, not maybe, it will be 70-80 actual hours a week, unless you're a master delegator.
I graduated with a degree in organ performance from a major university, and my teacher was a world-renowned organist. Still, the only "opening" I ever saw was at my prof's cathedral, and it was part-time. Full-time came through an evangelist whose daughter was the wife of a pastor in another state. We've had three such moves during our life (pastors can resign or die, too). God can work these things for good, though - the realtor in our second town was also a major person with the Christian school, and my wife (who never got a master's due to our moves) suddenly had a job. Such miracles typically appeared when we were jobless, feeling utterly miserable and who-would-want-us. All of this happened after I was 30.
Now, churches are just barely looking for musicians. With Contemporary worship, you don't need trained musicians. They often don't want trained musicians, and many have been trained by modern culture to resent the college-educated.They don't need technicians -- kids 15 years old can work the stuff better than you. They need leaders -- people who care for others, who can find the hidden abilities in people who are afraid to use them. You have to convince them that they are more important than your degree, or your abilities. You have to be able to wear iron pants as you walk the fence between conflicting cultures. People who can do this are valuable to any church -- some are even willing to pay well for them.
The problem, though, is sadly real. Many churches -- especially those in the liturgical traditions, who still highly value educated musicians -- are losing membership and financial support. Those who are gaining are often in the "grass-roots" variety, ministering to the poor or "unchurched". This is a very good trend in many ways -- hopefully, it's creating a church which looks more like a Jesus church! But for those who have invested money in a professional career, it's a tough row to hoe, when our country is in economic depression as it is today, and looks to be for the indefinite future.
Matthew, you've told me of the heavy workload. In effect, you've given over half your time as a volunteer -- extra hours, out of your heart, to help the people to sing and play their instruments well. Anyone with a strong and pure desire to help people is going to end up needy and depressed -- and ultimately, joyful. I've had the surgery, too (at age 63), as well as lifelong debt, only recently paid, and not through my ability to pay (Mom died). I tried resurrecting a dying band program (never having directed one), and got a trophy and not enough sign-ups to keep the band going this year.
The riches you will receive through a lifetime of helping others with music are intangible. They consist of thank-yous from little old ladies whose eyes tear up when they hear Bach well-played, or from a teenage girl who you wrote whole notes for a cello part so she could play with the praise band, and now she wants you to perform her wedding, which is six hundred miles away and the pay is a plate of turkey and ham and lots of love and seeing old friends. Bach got fat; he "made it" through unbelievably exceptional talents. But when he died, they said "good riddance" at his church board, which resolved to hire "a teacher, not a musician" for the next guy.
Matthew, this is truth. The idea is not to get you down! We are a community of suffering, us Christians, and as we grow and mature into Christ, we will suffer more. You've suffered from the lie that "a degree will get you a job." Others in this discussion may offer you more concrete hope; I can do little but offer a few crazy stories and pray for you -- but I give you my best wishes as you make decisions about your future.
Thank you for your honesty Matthew. It makes me more aware to be encouraging to all the people I know
that are involved in church ministries. I notice your favorite Bible verse is I John 4:18 That is a good one.
Matthew, please don't be discouraged. It took me a full 5 years of fasting and praying, going from church to church only to be turned away, before God finally gave me His blessing on leading worship. And now I am attacked so often by satan using other people that I sometimes feel like giving up. I do this for the love of my savior. And, it's very hard. But there is no doubt that what I am doing is His will. He confirms this thru other people and sometimes in the oddest ways.
Sometimes what we think is His will is actually our will. Submit totally to Him. Let Him lead your path and love what He gives to you. You can't go wrong. And, maybe you weren't in the right place. Maybe that perfect church is just around the bend. Sometimes the greatest blessings are gained thru our tears and heart break. If I am not being attacked in some way every day, I will start questioning myself and what I am doing. That is the way I know I am being obedient to my Savior.
God bless you. Pastor Patty Wyatt
First of all I think any church that expected you to do 40 - 50 hours per week for less than a half-time pay was expecting way too much and was irresponsible. They were taking advantage of you in a very disrespectful way. It would be different if you were an intern or filling a position for a short term, but that is woeful. It would be better to have a secular job and put in 10 - 15 hours per week of worship leading for free.
You will be embittered for a long time if you expect God or a church to get back your $40,000 for school. You made that choice and now you will have to make the best of it. Accept the responsibility or you will be blaming God or a church or someone else. That is a burden that you need to lay down at the cross and let go and move on. Sorry if these are hard words, but God did not set you up for failure. You have a future. You may not get paid doing what you love to do. So do it for free.
I totally agree. I work a full time job as an RN,and spend at least 15-20 hours weekly on my worship services. I do not get paid, but the blessing God is pouring out on myself and my family are awesome. I didn't even think about being paid because I love God so much, I don't expect money because I know He rewards me in other ways. And when I get to Heaven I can't wait to see what He has in store!! I'm not saying it's wrong to be paid, but if He wants me in this full time, He will provide the way, not me. Saying that, that time is coming soon. I can take early retirement in 3 years. Then all of my time will be devoted to my Savior.
Thank you for all your comments, harsh or not. I just needed to write out everything as I've been bottling this up for a while.
It's nice that some people can volunteer, and have the time and luxury to do so. I enjoyed being a volunteer, but the problem was I allowed myself to be sucked into being a worship volunteer at the expense of developing skills to survive in this economy. I know that was my choice, but now I'm making new choices to fix that situation, and in order to do so I have to cut off being involved with worship altogether. I don't have the heart, the time or will anymore. I can't keep doing something at the expensive of my own well being. (literally, I can't sing, my keyboard was stolen, etc..)
Being involved with church over the last 6 years has destroyed more of my faith than built it up... It destroyed my well being, it destroyed my parents marriage and bankrupted my family. Church has taken a lot from me, and I'm making choices to keep it from taking any more.
Thanks for closing the loop on this... I hope that, instead of turning your back on the church entirely, you'll just make a point of going and finding a whole new one, with some people who can be supportive as you go through the process of turning your life around. And just sit down with your new pastor and explain, "I've been a WL in the past, but I just cannot do that right now..." and if the new pastor can't accept that, then you haven't found the right new pastor yet...
"The skills to survive in this economy" are tough to come by, whether you're trying to pursue a career in worship ministry or not. I hope you find a direction that works out for you, that helps you get back on your feet and going again. And don't forget that you have developed some "transferable skills" in this whole process - the ability to work with and lead people, the ability to handle multiple situations at once (even if you did "burn out" after a while). Musical skills, of course.
One other suggestion: take some time, buy yourself a notebook (just a paper one) and spend a little while writing down all the things you did, learned, accomplished... what would you do differently if you found yourself in the same situation again? Don't dwell on it, but just ask yourself... what did I learn from this situation? And then put it behind you and figure out where to go from here...
Best of luck, and, once again, don't feel bad about dumping on us. Most of us here have been through burnout in one form or another, and questioned whether we're on the right track or not. And I'd imagine that almost everybody who has tried to make a career out of worship leading is kinda terrified by the current economic situation right now.
I'm late in the discussion but pray this reaches you. I understand your desire to close the door on church. My husband and I spent the last 20 years serving in a church that chewed us up and spit us out. So I get it! I pray however, that you will make the distinction between God and church. You can close the door on church, but please don't close the door on God. Church is a highly imperfect place, made up of very imperfect people.
You can allow yourself to take a step back from church but also allow yourself to take a step closer to God. Whatever you end up doing to make a living, seek Him as your guide. I am praying that this is the beginning of a fruitful journey for you. I know Jeremiah 29:11 is a much quoted verse but that doesn't make it any less powerful.
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
May God bless you!