Thoughts on worship, congregational song
and the life of the church.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Repost: Reflections of a Grateful Mentee

This reflection was originally published in the November-December 2011 issue of Worship Arts, a publication of The Fellowship of United Methodists in Music and Worship Arts. I was invited to respond to Dr. C. Michael Hawn's article "Passing on the Mantle of Leadership, or, We Are All Interim Leaders." In his article, Hawn reflects that in his years of parish music ministry and of training future church musicians at a university level, he has come to understand the importance of fostering the next generation, then stepping aside to allow them to grow into leaders in their own right. He compares this to the Old Testament passage in which Moses, having led his people through the wilderness, does not accompany them into the Promised Land, which Hawn now understands to be an important symbol for the passing on of the mantle of leadership. My piece was printed beside his, as a counterpoint from the perspective of someone who has been the recipient of mentoring within the context of church music ministry.

By the grace of God, I have had many enablers in my life. My realization of my calling to church music ministry was not an overnight occurrence, but took place in a series of small steps – little apocalypses – over the course of my youth and young adulthood. Indeed, my understanding of the nature of my vocation is continually evolving. Because of this, I have come to understand that mentoring is a deeply important, even crucial, aspect of my formation as a worship leader.

Church music ministry is a career with unique demands, and ones which make mentoring particularly important. I believe this for two reasons. First, I think that music ministry at its best is a calling rather than a job; I believe the happiest and most constructive music ministers view their position as a spiritual calling and not a fall-back, gig, or hobby. Second, I believe church music ministry is at its best one of the most musically demanding careers available. In what other musical profession would one be pressed, always at short notice, to perform with flawless authenticity works by artists as diverse as Bach, Bob Dylan, Honegger and Hillsong, not to mention the aspiring hymn-writer in the front pew, all within the space of a month or even an hour? Add to this the wide-ranging skills of teaching, organisation and diplomacy required of any church leader, and this profession looks daunting indeed.

Though there are excellent academic programmes available to train church music leaders – I am privileged to be a graduate of one of them – all of these real-life nuances of parish ministry can only be explained, I think, by a patient and passionate mentor. My own mentors have not only delighted in the diverse musical possibilities afforded by the sacred music repertoire, but opened my eyes to my responsibilities as an administrator, counsellor, tutor and friend within my community.

I have had different mentors for different parts of my journey. Like many of us, my first foray into leadership within my congregation was as a bathrobe-wearing shepherd in the Christmas pageant. Perhaps less commonly, I contributed to the greatest story ever told by playing my ukulele. My first musical mentor – my father – found a way for me to use my quirky gifts in the Christmas pageant, which taught me that my meagre talents were a welcome gift at Christ’s nativity. My next important musical mentor, and my first real church music colleague, showed me the necessity of knowledge of the field, careful planning and rigorous preparation, as well as the importance of keeping a wry sense of humour handy. My mentor during my formal apprenticeship led by example a ministry informed by varied musical traditions, while drawing on the diverse – even disparate – talents of the congregation. From this mentor I experienced music ministry at a very fast pace, found delight in a variety of modes of worship, and learned the importance of being able to transpose for horn in F on the spot. I think the best mentors in my life have been able to recognize at what point I was in my journey, and been willing to forgive my flaws in recognition of my enthusiasm and desire to learn. They have provided me with affirmation, while inviting me to push myself, to grow more fully into the kind of leader the church needs. These mentors have broken down my assumptions about both music and ministry, and provided me with the tools to build up again.

Dr. Hawn has also been an important mentor in my journey, in his capacity as my professor in the Sacred Music programme at Perkins School of Theology. While he stresses that he is not a Moses, I feel he has a unique ability to recognize when a student is on the cusp of a mountaintop experience, and has the gracious spirit needed to reach out and help him or her to the summit. I have been the beneficiary of his selfless passion for mentorship, and I know many other hardworking church musicians have also.

I have needed and will need many kinds of mentors in my journey as a music minister, and I thank God for those who are willing to share their gifts with young people like myself who thirst to serve God’s church through music. I pray that when, by God’s grace, it is my turn to mentor a future leader of the church, I will remember the generosity of spirit of those who have mentored me. It will be my privilege to enable others to serve as I have been taught to serve.

1 comment:

  1. After being the mentee, I can tell you there's nothing better than being a mentor. I've found, as a recent alumni of the MSM program as well, that passing on our knowlege and then encouraging others to lead is crazy fun and also foundation to the pastoral side of worship leadership. I also echo many of your thoughts on the good Dr.
    Jarrod J.