Article: Worship: Relationships & Responsibilities
Worship: Relationships & Responsibilities
I am so thankful to Jenny and Neil from Altrincham Baptist Church for their honest and practical advice for worship leaders / couples who are balancing relationship, responsibilities. I pray this article is an encourgement and also a conversatyion starter on how we all can serve one another.
Being involved in a ministry of worship is a great privilege but isn’t always easy. Being heavily involved in any ministry can raise opportunities and challenges, particularly when you have a partner or spouse that isn’t also involved in the same ministry. How you support one another and navigate the ups and downs and seasons of life, can make a huge difference to how you serve God and each other. As a (comparatively!) normal couple, we have reflected on our experience (so far) and hope and pray that this might be helpful to you in whatever stage and season you find yourself in. (Neil’s thoughts are in italics)
I (Jenny) sort of stumbled into worship leading about ten years ago as part of a very small church in Dublin, Ireland where I grew up. As the church and worship team grew, I went from backing vocalist to worship leader and found myself spending more and more time on all the different elements of the role. On top of my day job as a secondary school teacher! So life was very very busy, yet so fulfilling. It was a blessing in a way that I was single during this period, and while I had hoped that God would bring someone special in to my life, I struggled to see how I would ever have the time for a relationship.
Then I met Neil, and even though he wasn’t directly involved in the worship team, I always knew he was praying for me before the service, and was happy to listen to new ideas, song choices and arrangements. There was a mutual appreciation for new worship songs and albums even though he’d say himself that he isn’t musical! We were very careful not to let our relationship take time away from my preparation and planning for worship leading. We were quite disciplined with our time and had a pretty set routine of when we would spend time with each other and when we wouldn’t (which sounds a bit over the top, but we found it helpful, particularly as we were both busy people!).
We would spend most Sundays together, so Neil often came to band practices. Before long he ended up doing PA which was a massive help. As Neil was still quite new to the church, it was a great way of him getting to know people. Neil also went along to support me at a youth conference where I was part of the worship team. He soon got involved in the prayer ministry team there. It was great for him to be so involved in other areas of church life, even though the wasn’t directly part of the worship team. ’ As a partner or spouse of someone involved in worship ministry, there are so many ways that you can be supportive during practices, whether that be helping to get the music out, making a brew for the worship team, checking song projection words, or inputting the lyrics for new songs or simply praying during the practice; it’s always great to have an extra pair of hands.
While we were going out I (Neil) didn’t really appreciate how much time Jenny put into leading worship – she did most of the planning at home on nights we weren’t together.
I’d go along with her to practices before services, which I didn’t really think anything of at the time, but having talked about it for this article, Jenny said she found supportive. I also found myself going along to events that she was involved with that I wouldn’t otherwise have done. This was mainly to support Jenny, but I also benefited from it – it never hurts to spend time in God’s presence, and I grew through attending them. When Jenny stayed away overnight for band rehearsals for events, it gave us some independence from each other to do our own things.
After we got married, it came as quite a surprise to me how much time Jenny spent preparing for services! We hadn’t lived together before we were married, so I hadn’t previously seen all the time Jenny put into song selection, admin, organisation, etc as she’d been doing it on evenings we weren’t together. That took some adjusting for me as I’d only previously seen the Sunday side of the role.
When we got engaged in Ireland, a couple that we didn’t know very well turned up one day and gave us some money to bless us. Jenny had talked about wanting to learn the guitar to help take her leading to the next level, so with a lot of help from someone who knows a lot more about guitars than me, I used the money to buy her a guitar. Five years later, whilst she’s not yet Brian May, she’s improved lots and is starting to play while she leads, rather than just sing.
I (Jenny) was blown away by this, that Neil would invest such time and effort to help me develop the gift that God had given me to lead His people in worship. It meant a lot that he knew how significant this was for me, and had obviously been listening carefully to me and what I aspired to for God. Being supportive doesn’t have to involve buying an instrument (he’s only done it once!), but I appreciated him trying to help me reach my potential in what I felt God had called me to. A different example would be a time when I started to experience severe headaches whenever I led worship. I remember one Sunday when I had a packed day of worship activities, Neil was away and I became very ill. I felt very strongly that it was spiritual attack and although I knew that God was with me in it, I missed having Neil’s support that day; I know he would have reassured me and interceded for me.
Worship is quite a high profile ministry, and congregations often like to share their opinions (positive as well as negative) with the worship leader.
I (Neil) felt part of my role was helping Jenny to take on board positive feedback and encouragement in a healthy way, giving the glory to God, rather than allowing her ego to grow. Equally important was helping her to process negative criticism by discussing what was valid and could be used by her to help her grow, whilst encouraging and supporting her when the words were unhelpful or unfair.
Neil had to move back to England for work, and God had very clearly been speaking to me and preparing my heart to move away from Ireland. So I moved to England, leaving my teaching job, my friends and family, and my church where my role as worship leader had been a big part of my identity. We got married, and God began to show me that my identity was in Christ alone, and not based on the things I did for Him. After a period of visiting potential churches, we discerned that God was calling us to worship at the church Neil had attended before he moved to Ireland.
God very clearly opened a door for me as a worship leader there. The first few months of leading were extremely difficult, particularly for me, but also for Neil as he supported me and prayed through it all with me. Getting to know people on the team personally and becoming familiar with their musical capability took a long time. I was also unfamiliar with many of the songs used by the church, and so choosing songs that I was confident enough to lead while encouraging the congregation to engage in worship was a tricky balancing act.
Before we got married, I (Neil) had been quite involved at our church for a few years, serving as one of the volunteer youth leaders. Within a few weeks of starting to lead worship, Jenny had a far higher profile than I’d ever had – in fact one person who’d been at church for a long time introduced himself to me and said “Oh you’re Jenny’s husband!”. Whilst I was glad she was settling in and people were clearly getting to know her, comments like that kept me feeling more humble than I probably wanted to be!
A couple of years ago, we were going through a very prolonged and difficult time while trying to buy a home. During this time we became pregnant with our first child, which was a real glimmer of hope in the midst of a long period of disappointment and frustration. However, at ten weeks, we sadly miscarried. To say it rocked our faith is an understatement, and we really struggled in our relationship with God at this time.
I became very angry at God, and completely lost my desire to worship him.
When I did open my mouth to sing, no sound came out. I wondered how I would ever worship again, let alone lead others in worship. I felt like such a hypocrite. I had led worship for years, encouraging God’s people to give him their praise even in difficult times. I had sung the words ‘Blessed be your name, on the road marked with suffering…’ hundreds of times, but for the first time I didn’t believe it or mean it. I had some weeks without leading, so I had the space and time I needed to process what had happened. Gradually I came to understand that God was crying with us in our pain. A friend sent me a song ‘Steady Heart’ by Steffany Gretzinger and Amanda Cook. Initially, it made me weep, but in time I became able to sing the words “I can't see what's in front of me, still I will trust You”, and so worship went from being a real difficulty for me, to something that helped me to move on. And He has, I believe, made me a more authentic worship leader, who understands what a sacrifice of worship looks like. I would hope that next time we experience heartache, I would remember that Jesus is always on the throne regardless of our circumstances.
I (Neil) think I process things differently to Jenny, so difficulty in worshipping wasn’t the thing that I was most focused on; I was struggling with God in different ways. But being an important part of our shared faith, worship and how we related to God in the situation was something we discussed and prayed about at the time. I was particularly thankful when Jenny was incrementally able to engage in worship, and she told me she felt she was making progress in that.
We now have a beautiful little boy, who would not exist were it not for the miscarriage, and so we are thankful for how God has worked everything out for good (Romans 8:26-28).
Practicalities of having a baby!
The last 18 months have probably been the time that have required the most sacrifice – there have been many times where duties as Daddy have meant that I haven’t been able to do things or go to things that I’d have liked to as Jenny has been involved in worship. I really enjoy getting to spend quality father-son time with our little boy, as that doesn’t often happen. It’s a real blessing. But that doesn’t mean that I always have a joyful heart about it, and sometimes I resent Jenny going out while I stay home. But it won’t always be necessary, and I have to see it as service – by doing it, whether joyfully or not, I’m releasing Jenny to use the gifts I know she has been given and serve others. And she does the same for me too.
I have found juggling my roles as worship leader and Mum quite difficult!
The three months that I had planned to take off from worship leading after our son was born turned in to six months, but in hindsight this was probably a God thing. Our baby absolutely deserved my attention, but at the time I just wanted to get stuck back in to leading as I was afraid that I would somehow lose the gift that God had given me. But he has been so faithful and since starting back has really been shaping me, and has put great mentors in my path that I’ve learnt so much from.
I have found that the way I walk with God has changed a lot and I now have to be more creative with how I do time with God, recognising that He is with me all the time, even in the mundane tasks. I now don’t have hours on end to pray into and plan worship for services, as our son is (rightly) so demanding of my time and attention. So my desire to be organised and have song lists out well in advance is now replaced by frantic emails of apology to band members for the lateness of the song lists; not how I’d like to do things, but the reality of life with a small child! There were some logistical issues too; successful and unsuccessful naps in the vestry during band practices, and arranging who was going to be on baby duty as Neil and I both tried to serve in different ways on a Sunday morning. We’re really blessed to have an amazing children’s ministry at our church and don’t have to stay with our son in his group during services because there are enough leaders. He is also very sociable and has, so far, been happy to be left with other leaders. This has released both of us to be fully involved in services.
I still feel that I am learning and growing as a worship leader, whilst learning how to navigate the time constraints that my stage of life brings. Whilst I (Neil) am still learning how I can best support, encourage, and release Jenny into her ministry. We’re both still learning as we go along, and probably learning lessons and having experiences that many before us over the years have had to learn: we don’t have it all sorted out, and it’s far from perfect, but we’re thankful for God’s faithfulness and amazing grace in us as parents and in our relationship with Him and each other as we try and serve Him.
Jenny & Neil Breton