Burnout in the worship leader community is not unusual. In fact, it’s almost the norm.
How many times have you been to a worship conference where the messaging went something like, “We know you are burned out. This conference is a chance for you to recharge”? We need more than a recharge. We need a paradigm shift.
I’ve been leading worship for over 25 years and while I used to live in a constant volunteer/burnout/dropout/recover cycle, I’ve found a different rhythm that’s kept leading worship a joyful expression for me. Here are five things I’ve learned that keep me from crashing.
1. Keep a right perspective
Wrong perspective leads to wrong thinking. Wrong thinking leads to wrong habits. Some wrong perspectives I’ve had are believing that “worship” was up to me (it’s not), believing that when I accomplish "X" I will have reached the finish line. But there is no finish line. Believing excellence means perfection, but it doesn’t. The list goes on.
2. Understanding my identity as a child of God has gone a long way in righting my perspective
Worship isn’t up to me; the Holy Spirit works in spite of me. It’s just a huge gift that he lets me be a part of it. Nothing I accomplish adds up to anything compared to knowing Christ and there is no end to that. Praise from people is nice because I’m doing my best to serve them, but it’s not the measure of my success. Technical ability is great but some of my best worship leading sessions have been riddled with mistakes.
3. Stay creative
You didn’t join the worship team to be a part of the world’s greatest cover band. Playing the same arrangements of the same songs with the same sounds can become a mindless chore. Sure, sometimes it’s a necessity, but injecting inspiration into your set is a way to continue enjoying it. Maybe you completely rearrange a song in a different style. Maybe you change up the setlist to allow more space for improvisation. Maybe you learn a new song. Maybe you combine scripture, music and visuals to create a multimedia piece for meditation. Being intentional about the music you are creating is a great way to stay inspired and that’s the opposite of burnout.
4. Fill the well
You’ve got nothing to offer if your tank is always empty. How can you lead a public worship life if you don’t lead a private one? Before I get going, I spend time in contemplative prayer and worship. Waiting on God, listening for His voice, and offering praise and gratitude is the most important part of my morning because it’s the well from which everything else is drawn. Take time to fill the well.
5. Lean on your team
Delegation isn't easy. What I’ve recognized is that taking all the responsibility myself actually hinders my team from growing. When I’m willing to share the work (and I mean all of it, not just boring stuff!), my team takes more ownership and gains confidence. It might make me a bit anxious to let go but it doesn’t compare to the anxiety of taking on everything myself. As my former colleague used to say, “If you do it alone, you deserve to do it alone.”
6. Pull up
If you are a skilled pilot, you’ll recognize when the plane is going down and you will pull up before you crash. I still push myself too hard at times. I still get off-center, but the beauty of getting healthy is that you gain the ability to recognize when you are becoming unhealthy. Don’t keep flying to the ground. Notice the signs before you are in crisis mode. Check-in with yourself.
When was the last time you spent some time in off-stage worship? What are you doing to stay inspired? Why are you so down on yourself after a tough worship set? Struggling in these areas might be a warning that the plane is going down.
Leading worship is a great privilege. If burnout is a regular part of your worship-leading rhythm, it’s time to find a new rhythm. Start with filling the well. The Holy Spirit has a way of shining light on things we don’t even know are living in the dark. Remember, it’s not all up to you. Press into your source and find He is all you need.
Jason Houtsma is the co-founder and guitar teacher at Worship Artistry, where he is helping musicians of every level answer the call to worship with passion and confidence. Jason has been leading worship and writing music since he was 15 years old and currently serves as Worship Pastor for Mosaic Church in Bellingham, WA.