So You’re Too Old To Lead Worship — Now, Deal With It.

photo-23I digress from my usual posts about parenting, because I’ve been seeing several internet posts on the subject of worship leaders getting forced out for being “too old.”  I know, I don’t think that’s good, either.  One would think that, of all places, the Church would want to encourage generational diversity in leadership up front, but sadly that’s often not the case.

But you know what?  That’s the way it is, so deal with it.

Complaining bitterly doesn’t do much good, and we shouldn’t plant seeds of resentment and cause division in the Body, so I decided to take some action…after a period of mourning and wallowing in self-pity, that is.  Here are some suggestions and pointers coming from my own journey as a middle-aged worship leader:

1.  Confess your own anger and bitterness.

In Ephesians 4 we read, “31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”  Perhaps the pastor and the board of elders were wrong.  Maybe you resent being replaced by a perkier, fresher face.  I don’t blame you.  However, it does no good to remain stuck in anger.  We are all imperfect people trying our best…even the senior pastor.  Let’s move towards a place of grace and forgiveness.

2.  Start mentoring

You’ve probably learned a lot in your life and what you think is common sense might be completely new to someone younger.  It’s time to pass along that knowledge, whether it be by mentoring formally or informally.  I recently became certified as a voice coach and began teaching — and I love it!  All of us eventually have to get off the stage, so the more gracefully we can do so, the better.  Why not help raise up the next generation of worship leaders?

3.  Update your sound

Be honest — is your music style getting a little stale?  If you’re still stuck in the 1970′s Jesus Movement music, 80′s techno, or 90′s grunge, it’s important to open yourself up to some more contemporary sound. Listen to some current music out there.  You might be surprised to discover songs that express worship in a whole new way.  Take some lessons and learn current playing styles for piano and guitar.  After I became a mom, I decided to take up the guitar to sound more “today” and also took voice lessons to learn the current singing style for pop music — and they paid off. This issue is not unique just to our industry; people in many other lines of work continue to improve, learn, retool, network, and market themselves.  Likewise, we should never let ourselves get complacent and out of touch.

4.  Update your look

Let’s take a good look in the mirror.  Have we let our appearances slide over the years?  Have you not been taking care of that “temple” of yours? I know it sounds shallow, but who really prefers old, haggard folks leading us up front?  We might be able to regain some youth and vigor just by losing some weight, updating our hairdo, improving our wardrobe, and getting in shape.  If you’re still sporting the 90′s permed hair and/or mommy jeans, you are screaming, “I’m over the hill!”  Sure, you want to keep it age-appropriate, but you can certainly look modern and up-to-date with a simple style makeover and maybe buy yourself a little more time.

5.  Find another venue

If after all that effort, you still find yourself getting ushered off the stage, perhaps you can find a different venue to continue using your gifts.  Smaller churches are more likely to use people of all ages and also appreciate a more “seasoned” worship leader.  You can sing for kids, seniors, prison ministry, Sunday School class, etc.  The stadium-sized sanctuary with bright lights might no longer be for you, but there’s no limit to how God can continue to use you!

6.  Remember: what goes around, comes around

Maybe all that church music war between traditional vs. contemporary music we heard about when we were coming of age was the same as the struggle that’s happening to us right now.  We thought the good times would never end…but we were wrong.  And honestly — if we continue to fiercely guard our fiefdom, then we all grow old together until the whole church literally dies off.  We must have a change of guards.

By the way, for you younger folks who just ran us off of our playground, remember this: don’t get too smug and complacent, for you too will someday be getting replaced by kids who are still in diapers today.  Mark my words.

My Son’s Piano Class Adventure

20130223-093811.jpgConvinced that I had given birth to a musical prodigy, this first-time mom decided to enroll son Joshua in a piano class when he was four. The world needs to meet this genius-in-making, I figured. I found the local studio of an internationally-acclaimed music education program and attended their informational meeting.

“You only have a small window of time to develop musicality in a child,” the owner of the studio explained. “Even smaller window to gain perfect pitch.” Oh no–it might already be too late! “Every study shows that musicianship and high intelligence go hand in hand. Almost all highly accomplished pianist is also a genius.” She failed to add that many of them are also crazy, but the scare tactic worked. I forked over a big chunk of money to sign my son up for the first semester.

On the first day of class, I marched in with my son and took my place in the chair next to the keyboard. At least one parent had to attend with the student and sit through the 30-minute class. “Thus, the parents also get some music education,” the instructor cheerfully said as we opened the instructional book which came with the colorful bag with the CD of all the songs we’d be learning. We paid for the whole package, as per the contract.

The kids sat at the keyboard which was basically a synthesizer shaped like an organ. The bench was quite high, and my son’s feet dangled midair.

“Kids, sing with me: do, re, mi, fa, so!” The instructor urged the class as she played the scale. I took a deep breath and sang, “Do, re, mi, fa, so!”

“That was good, parents. Now, let’s hear you, kids.” Evidently, this teacher has done this a few times. I changed my voice to sound like a little child and leaned over to my son whose mouth hung open in puzzlement and tried again.

“Do, re, mi, fa, so!”

I made a good ventriloquist.

The semester continued on, and we faithfully attended our lessons each week. I diligently did our weekly homework with Josh, singing or playing along with the CD of the songs.

One day in class, we had a special guest come in to play a piece. She was probably 7 or 8, and she was enrolled in the special class for highly advanced young musicians. “This class is by invitation only. We observe your children and, after two years, decide whether your child continues in the regular or advanced track,” the teacher explained. I knew right away that my son would be joining this girl someday.

She sat at the regular piano in the front of the classroom. Her feet did not touch the floor, so they outfitted the pedals with wooden blocks for her. She took a deep breath then began to play.

I was expecting her to start with Chopsticks. Instead she launched into Chopin, her little fingers dancing up and down the scale, moving her body with each measure. She closed her eyes at some point as if to truly feel the music. I couldn’t believe my eyes nor ears. Her little body was inhabited by a 20-year old concert pianist. It was almost creepy.

I was just getting into this grand piece when suddenly I was jarred back into reality by a big “thud” next to me.

“Waaaaaaah!” my son cried on the floor, wedged between the keyboard and the bench. He had fallen off the tall seat.

Great. This little girl is playing a grand piano piece, and my son can’t even stay seated.

Josh continued on with this music education system for many years until he graduated about 6 years later. He never did make it to the advanced track, but he did become an okay piano player. Today, he is marching in the band at his high school, playing the trumpet. He never developed perfect pitch, but he has great appreciation for music, especially jazz.

I, on the other hand, learned to sing my do-re-mi’s perfectly well. I also learned to humble myself and to let our kids be who God made them to be.

And that was well worth the tuition we paid!

Did I Waste My College Degree and Career by Becoming a Mom?

My alma mater, UC Irvine

I have a bachelors of science in Information and Computer Science from UC Irvine.  I don’t work in that field now.  In fact, I had only worked in it for about 8 years when I transitioned to pursue my music.  Since childhood, there was nothing I wanted to do more than music, but I didn’t think that a music degree would help me much in pop.  Besides, I wanted to be a good Asian daughter to my parents, so I got a very practical degree despite the fact that computers was never my passion.

It just took motherhood to realize that I had majored in the wrong field.

Today, I’m a full time mom with a part-time job in music.  I try to perform as often as I can, but a great majority of my time is devoted to being a mom and a housewife.  I have to turn down possible bookings if they interfere with my kids’ schedules, and I have to think long and hard about traveling for my work (which I’m doing this later this week and about which I will surely blog).  So, does this mean that I totally wasted my college education and degree?

Well, maybe…

Being a mom requires a huge variety of skills.  Never before did I wish so much that I had been a Child Development major.  I rarely paid attention to babies and children before I became a mom; I was too busy being a Professional.  My friends who studied Child Psychology and Early Childhood Education had it so much easier than I did as a new mom.  I was practically in tears each night trying to figure out how to put a crying baby down or, later, how to handle a tantrum-throwing toddler.  I was never so tortured by such a tiny human being.

When the kids started reading, I wished that I had studied Literature so I could do a better job introducing our kids to the literary world.  For a long time while we had babies and toddlers, all I ever read were People magazines and the backs of cereal boxes. Not exactly the Classics. (For the record, I am now a voracious reader of real books!)

Once the kids were eating solids and beyond, I wished that I had studied Culinary Arts or Nutrition.  I was making terrible meals which, I’m sure, will continue to haunt me as I my kids march down the road to bad nutritional health.

I have also often wished that I had become a nurse, because there were so many health issues to deal with when kids are young.  Fortunately, we did have one member of our family in the medical field, so I felt a little better here.

But the aforementioned member of the family in the medical field works long hours, so I was the one who often played catch in the front yard with our son.  He also needed to try basketball and baseball at one point, but I knew nothing about these sports.  How I wished that I had majored in Physical Science and Sports Psychology!  As the kids got older and I felt the need to keep them (or at least get them) into shape, I wished that I knew more about Fitness Education.

Everything I did as a mother, it seemed, I had to learn from scratch, scouring the internet and reading up on volumes of books.  So often, I cry out to David, “But I didn’t get a degree in this!”  Now that the kids are in middle school and high school, I wished that I majored in Mathematics, Accounting, Social Sciences, Biology, Physiology, Psychology, and Political Science and had become a certified school teacher.

But I’ll tell you two areas where my major and profession have come in handy:

1.  I set up the LAN network in our house, complete with wireless remote printing from any of our devices.

2.  I sang them lullabies and wrote a song for each of my kids.

And when I start playing the “I could have/should have” game, I recall these words from Romans 8:28:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

He has indeed redeemed even this Computer Science major Panda Mom, so I do know that nothing — not even my college education –was a total wast, after all!

* * * *

Did you go to college?  How has your major helped you in motherhood (or not)?  Tell me about it!

Practicing the Presence of God

Eternal Treasure cover art

Eternal Treasure CD

For my weekend post, I’d like to share with you a song I wrote during the Bovine Period of my life.  I often refer to my “Eternal Treasure” CD as my album postpartum.  Although this song wasn’t a top 40 hit, it expresses this mother’s heart fully and is one of my own personal favorites.  You can hear a sample of the song at iTunes or at CD Baby, but here are the lyrics:

Practicing the Presence of God

(verse 1)

She looks outside her window to watch the world go by

People doing lofty things as she tends to her baby’s cries

Well, it’s only for a season

She knows, but for some reason

Though she loves her family there’s a loss she can’t deny

Though her former days are over and things are different now

She vows to serve her Jesus in the best way she knows how

(chorus)

With her heart and soul and mind

Loving all the time

And practicing the presence of God

In her very special way

All throughout the day

She’s practicing the presence of God

(verse 2)

She thanks God in the morning

For the tiny feet and hands

Embracing them with a mother’s touch

In a way no others can

There is joy in daily living

When we’re called to do the living

In His grace and mercy

We can do as he commands

So to give back to Lord Jesus

For the deepest love she’s known

She will serve her friends and family

In the same way she’s been shown

(chorus)

(bridge)

Though her world may be so tiny

And surrounded by these walls

She will fill it with much laughter

And do her best to heed her call

(chorus)

Words and music by Junko Nishiguchi Cheng, copyright 1999 Everyday Hero Music (ASCAP), produced by John Andrew Schreiner

I’ll be back on Monday with a new post which — I hope — will make you laugh…or gag.  Not sure what I’m talking about?  Check back soon.  Have a wonderful weekend!