By Randi Perez Helm
I can remember beginning to feel uneasy when I entered my forties. Not in my day-to-day life, but in ministry.
Ever since I was a teenager, I had been involved in music ministry. I can remember intently listening to artists like Amy Grant and First Call. I’d learn the chords and lyrics by ear and then sing my heart out at the piano. My church home growing up embraced the arts, particularly music, as a form of ministry and outreach. It used contemporary top-20 hits to complement service themes and help create a culture of curiosity, a “seeker” environment that welcomed people regardless of where they might be on their spiritual journey.
The worship atmosphere was modern and creative. Integrating music, media, monologues and/or even dance was a common practice. I thrived in that environment and was given the opportunity to utilize and develop my abilities.
As I grew up, I kept up with current music, secular and Christian, because I loved music.
Eventually, I married, had children, moved to a different state, and joined a different church that also embraced modern styles of worship. I still regularly planned and prepared the worship experience as one of the worship leaders. This included leading all the teams involved. I enjoyed creating and participating in these worship moments but once I had reached my forties, I started to feel insecure.
I noticed a void of middle-aged people on the music teams. Some had left because of busy schedules. Others had different reasons. One woman, in her late 40s, shared with me she felt she was aging-out because she didn’t have the talent of the younger generation. One man, in his early 50s, expressed his anger and hurt feelings because he wasn’t being scheduled very often. He was among the church’s founding members and an integral vocalist in the first 15 years.
But more often than not, when I led worship, 80% of my teammates were under the age of 30.
Having a youthful image and sound is often equated with contemporary, modern, and seemingly relevant. While a certain skill-level is necessary to learn, stay current, and maintain a modern sound, this contemporary worship style has a vibrancy that is often misinterpreted as having a “cool” factor. Apparently, being middle-aged isn’t considered cool.
This dysfunction in worship ministry soon became even clearer to me.
One Sunday, a staff member from the church, around my age, jokingly asked how I felt about being the oldest person on the stage that particular weekend. I was getting the impression that others noticed the age gap too. It made me question if my relevance as a leader was slipping. I found my self uncomfortably self-aware. I understood the draw for younger people to participate in leading the creative efforts in the church; I understood the argument that perhaps a younger worship team or pastor would have an appeal with a multi-generational crowd, more specifically the under-30 crowd.
But I also sensed God’s affirmation that I was exactly where I was supposed to be, through the voices of church leadership and trusted people.
So I leaned in, even with the tension and fear. I wrestled with my insecurities but also believed God was asking me to continue. I started asking how I could improve and grow as a worship leader. It led me to diversify my skills. I began coaching vocalists, local worship directors, pastors, and music teams, encouraging them to develop their skills and practices. I’ve worked with everyone from teenagers to 60-somethings.
I have had more than one conversation with a middle-aged musician wondering if he or she still had to something to offer. Over time, God began revealing ways to respond to this question.
In Acts 3, the Church is in her beginnings. Peter speaks passionately to a large crowd quoting Joel: “’And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour our my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams’” (Acts 3:17 ESV).
The Spirit of God being poured out on the young and the old.
God does not differentiate. He does not discriminate against age. His plan is for all to participate in his work.
I have to admit being a middle-aged woman who leads modern worship has its challenges, but this verse challenged me too. It’s God’s idea for us to stay available to him our entire life. We have to learn how to adapt, let go or lean in, and have courage. Maybe the perception of what is or isn’t relevant in a contemporary style church also needs to expand, and he is using middle aged people like me to push the boundaries.
My life has continued to evolve. My kids are branching out, and my husband and I are eager for new adventures and growth opportunities. I attend a new church where I don’t lead worship, but I continue my coaching and worship-leading ministry with a variety of local churches either as a guest or in an interim role. I still wrestle with insecurity, but as God gives me opportunity I lean in.
In addition to trusting God’s call on our lives, asking ourselves honest questions helps us move from insecurity to wholeness and action:
- How do we keep developing our skills and gifts at middle age?
- What happens when our church no longer requires our service?
- What do we do with self-doubt and feelings of being insignificant or obsolete?
- How do we learn to transition to something new?
- How do we learn to loosen our grip on things that we must let go of, things that are maybe letting go of us?
What fuels and liberates our purpose is our ability to face our fears and insecurities and allow Christ to soothe our wounds and clarify our identity. Embracing our age and stage in life allows us to discover and cultivate our best self for the sake of Christ’s church.
I’m a creative who is finding the second half of life has far more twists and turns than expected but is richer and fuller than I could have dreamed. I live in the Midwest with my husband, and we have two kids in their twenties. My work as a worship leader, vocal coach, and writer keep me humble. If you long for beauty and significance in the ordinary life, check out my blog, www.randiperezhelm.