When Are You Too Old To Lead Worship ?

I just celebrated my second over-50 birthday, time to retire from worship leading, right?

When are you Too Old To Rock ‘n’ Roll, Too Young To Die ? [Totally random link to the song by Jethro Tull , 1976 performance, and a bonus link to their 2008 performance]

Time to be put out to pasture?

My favorite worship blogger David Santistevan  has few posts on this topic, most recently How Do You Connect Older Musicians With The Younger?  “The old and the young, can’t we all just get along?”

And this posts asks:  How Do You Engage A Younger Generation In Worship?  Good question. Deserves some thought.

“They don’t hate you. They just have a hard time with your music.” 
“Your musical style is dated. Not intentionally, it just comes with age.”

Sad but true. Sometimes.

Vickie Beeching  cracked me up with this “you’re too old”  riff:

“10. Decide not to have a plan for what to do when you’re too old to lead worship:

You decide you want to be a worship leader for the rest of your working life. You ignore the thought that perhaps it’s important to let a younger generation take the baton from you. And that in music, often younger people can provide something more current and ‘hip’. But you decide you’re there forever! Hence why you shoot down any upcoming talent. You wear clothes way too young for you, and decide you’ll be the peter pan of the worship world. After all, God has called you to this! Why would you ever need to transition into something else? Who could EVER replace you?!… “

So when are you too old? Can you “age out”?

<Insert rant here:

Sure, if being youthful and in-style matters. Funny how they don’t say senior pastors  are too old once they’re over 45. Just the music guys. And it’s worse for music girls…

Why in God’s name should the church have the same value system as the entertainment industry? Young = in. Old = out. Now that’s a great witness …

End of rant.>

A better way to frame the “Are you too old” question is this,

“What is the right role for this season?”

It’s more than an age question, it’s an effectiveness question.

Is worship leading by definition a young person’s game? Like playing pro sports or being a rock star?

Not in my opinion. It’s more related to the vision and purpose of your church.

Is the church called to be an urban hipster outreach? Then the leaders need to be a good fit to that purpose.

Is the church called to represent the people of God as  “one big happy family” ? Then the leaders need to be a good fit for that purpose.

Sometimes the calling or vision of the church changes, or the calling of the worship dude or dudette changes. Sometimes you need to change.

It’s time to change when …

  1. You’re no longer effective in the role.
  2. People aren’t connecting with your leadership.
  3. You don’t love it anymore, but you’re hanging on to the gig for the wrong reasons.
  4. There are others ready to lead and they are not being given the opportunity.
  5. The Holy Spirit, or your intuition, says your season is up.

Nothing lasts forever.

Here’s my advice to older worship leaders.

Serve. Give yourself away. Raise up the next generation leaders. Include them. Give them opportunity to excel. Pass the baton. Here’s four practical strategies.

  1. Develop a succession mindset. There is no success without successors. Be intentional about mentoring leaders who can take your place. Then give them the keys to the car.
  2. Invest in teaching children (and youth) about worship and giving them kid-friendly, positive worship experiences. This is so important.
  3. Merge the generations on your teams and platforms. See this interview with Kent Henry for inspiration. Also on a regular basis, have the youth lead the whole church.
  4. Do specialized training like a weekend intensive or a youth worship band camp, like the School of Rock Worship.

Question: So what do you think? When is someone is too old to lead worship?



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25 thoughts on “When Are You Too Old To Lead Worship ?

  1. I have to admit, as a fellow 50-plusser, to having given this some thought. I actually had an experience where I called a pastor who had posted that his church "urgently needed" a worship leader. When I called, the first thing he asked was "How old are ya?!" I said "52." He said, "I don't think that's gonna work." I asked "What are are you looking for?" He said, "25…" I thank God that I simply said, "Ok, good-bye."

    The great ending to this is that when I got back into my office, I sent an email to him with my resume attached which simply said if you need a clinician or guest worship leader here's my info. He did email an apology which was cool. But he also ended up calling me to fill in for a time of transition.

    So I would add that as part of training up the next the generation (which is something I've been convicted of myself as well), being a guest or transition worship leader. Our years of experience are particularly helpful in those situations.

    Thanks for the post and the links to some other articles on the topic. 🙂

      • I am actually there as a 3 month Interim Worship Leader. I lead a "Contemporary" (me and my guitar) for their early service and a "Traditional" (hymns, Gaither, etc.) at their 2nd service.

        There is a fair amount of coaching that will, as God leads, be helpful for them since they are recovering to some degree from a church "split" (more of a departure really) over church control and, to some degree, worship style.

        I don't know if God has reassigned me to them for a longer term, but I do know that my experience can be helpful to them.

        • That's awesome Bobby. I understand that experience myself. Would love to hear what you're learning along the way. Thanks for commenting!

  2. Words of wisdom, my (old) friend. I *may* have just gotten a little bit older recently and have thought about this a lot. You are one of my main mentors for teaching how to bring younger generations along and as a result it's been a large part of my leadership in Florida and now Colorado. I think there's old and there's "old." It's largely a state of mind- I have leaders in my life and know musicians who are way past some arbitrary date set as "prime" and yet they still speak to me in powerful ways. I'm hoping that's me for a while to come, but I also hope that I bring some younger leaders along to take my place!

  3. Moses was over 80 when he led the Israelites out of Egypt. His OLDER sister Miriam, the prophet, was the worship leader when the waters of the Red Sea closed over the Egyptian army. Not only was she the worship leader, but she led a celebratory dance.
    From Ex. 15:21-22 Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women followed her, with timbrels and dancing. Miriam sang to them:

    “Sing to the LORD,
    for he is highly exalted.
    Both horse and driver
    he has hurled into the sea.”

    So, over 80 seems to be quite scriptural. Probably upwards of 90.
    And probably there need to be a lot more 90 year old women doing singing and dancing in the assembly.

    If you want to be scriptural about it.

    • Ha Ha! Susan this is awesome! Come on, let\’s get biblical! The timbrels (tamburines) are problematic though, ask any drummer….

  4. I love the way you so eloquently mention that you're 52 without saying you're 52…"I just celebrated my second over-50 birthday". Awesome.

    I think that someone is too old to lead worship when they can't retain a thought…mid sentence. When we moved to Florida and were looking for a church home, we stumbled on a small congregation where the pastor could not make out the words in the Bible, and was stuttering and fumbling through the message. He looked uncomfortable, but was surrounded by a group of people that loved him and what he had to say.

    It's hard to make a distinction as to when a leader needs to pass the torch, but only God can say when it's time to move in another direction. We, however, chose a different church to call home!
    My recent post Michael Jordan Taught Me How To Budget

    • Ha, thanks Scott! Gee, Ive lost my thought in mid- sentence … but hey it\’s the ADD generation ….

      Great to see you here, thanks for commenting!

  5. What does too old really mean??

    Now, given that those older desire to pass on what they know and have experienced and desire to move the church forward, here is what some pastors really mean by "too old" when they state it or hint at it..

    – We can't afford you. (Younger means cheaper.)
    – You know too much. (Yep, you have heard that idea before from a pastor)
    – You put up with less crap. (Your convictions are stronger and politics don't scare you enough).
    – You are secure with yourself. (Manipulation just does not work on you anymore or the pastor is more insecure than you).
    – You might relate and sound modern, but I'm in a mid-life crisis and need someone younger than me to make me feel young again! Besides, the "market" (media, magazines, conferences, worship industry) looks younger.

    REAL ISSUE: We have set up an attitude that what came before is irrelevant because we do not know how to pass it on. That is the issue–evangelical revolt, not revival every 1/2-generation. Pastors, gatekeepers, church boards and worship pastors all need to foster "the next" but not always at the cost at what is. Please.
    My recent post Worship Leader Chronicles: Six Outrageous things I did in church!

  6. Hey Rob….Good advice…. I’m just a few years ahead of you… last week marked my 40th anniversary of entering full time music and ministry (I’ll be 59 next week and I’ve seen over 250,00 people come to the Lord, travelled to over 60 countries and worked in a number of great churches and ministries) … I’ve been blessed to have raised countless young men and woman into full time ministry and I’m still working on many… the end is not in sight yet but I’ve wondered when it would come. I’m singing and leading better than I ever have and can still beat everyone on staff in squash, tennis and biking… (I’m not getting older, I’m getting better) but I know that won’t last forever.

    I still have a lot of goals ahead of me.. and I’m so encouraged by so many of the old rockers and singers still out there.. Paul McCartney (age 71), Bono (age 53) and Tony Bennett (age 87).

    God has an individual plan for all of us.. My advice is to keep growing, keep learning, stay in shape, change, adapt, learn from the young and spend time with the Lord daily (I spend the first couple of hours every morning with the Lord and His word).

    Moses was 120 years old and he was still in great shape… I think his secret to youth was how much time he spent in the presence of God and he also walked every where he went.

    Let’s see what happens in the next 10 years… Serving God is exciting and God is faithful.

  7. I’m 55 years old and serve in the church in a retirement area. Average age of our worshippers are 75 and up. There are two traditional services and I lead the one Contemporary Service with the praise band. Attenders at the Contemporary Service are 55 to 75 years of age. I would love to pass the baton to someone younger and mentor younger worship leaders but there are not any younger worship leader type people at my church. Surprisingly there is a youth group of about 15 to 20 teenagers but none of them are musical nor cared to be. I think a large part of that is because Music Arts have been taken out of schools and kids don’t know much about playing instruments or singing anymore. Even most of the people in our praise team are in their sixties. I’m not sure how to bring up the Next Generation of musicians when they’re not attending my church.