Looking Back and Looking Forward

by Cliff Duren ~

I’m sitting down to write this article on the eve of my 39th birthday. Yes, that’s right. I’m 366 days away from kissing my 30’s goodbye forever. Some of you are thinking, “30’s?! Sonny boy, I kissed them goodbye ages ago!” … while you fresh-out-of-college types are thinking, “Man, that guy is old!”

No matter the age, I’ve always found that birthdays remind me to look back and look forward. I take a short look back at the past year … all that happened in our family, all that happened at church, creative opportunities I was able to be a part of, etc. April and I have 4 kids who are changing every day, it seems. Just looking back one year takes my breath away sometimes when I see how they’ve grown. I remember laughing earlier this year as our oldest son, Mac, vertically surpassed his mom as a young as an 11-year-old. However, fast forward a few months, and it’s not so funny anymore as I see this giant 12 year-old catching up with me way sooner than I thought he would.

I also look back past the 1-year mark and think about the last decade or so. That especially seems to be the case this year with my final “30-something” coming up tomorrow. New state, new ministry position, new friends, new opportunities, a domestic adoption … the list goes on and on. Social Media is most likely causing all of us too look back more often than ever. About 4 or 5 days a week, it seems that some memory pops up on my Facebook feed. Those pics have just about brought me to tears a few times … back when our kids were babies … back when April and I were in our 20’s!

The “looking forward” part continues to evolve as the years go by. I can remember being in my mid-20’s and making a list of some goals I wanted to achieve by the time I hit 30. Most of them were ministry or career-oriented. I still do that now. I’ve been thinking this past week about anything else I want to intentionally tackle before 40 comes knocking. I’m not going to tell you what those goals are, because that’s too much accountability (kidding … well, kind of). Looking forward has always been my favorite. I love to think ahead, plan ahead, calendar ahead, work on new things, etc. I spend way more time looking forward than I do looking back.

The part that’s evolving is this. These days, when I look forward, I find myself thinking about the 50 or 60-year-old Cliff looking back. Let me explain.

In my 20’s, I was coming up with goals of things I wanted to accomplish, but I wasn’t always considering the role those goals would play in my life and ministry as a whole. I just knew that these were things I wanted to achieve. Now, as I look forward, I find myself thinking, “When I look back 10 or 20 years from now, what will mean the most? What will have had the greatest Kingdom impact? What will matter after I’m retired? What will matter after my earthly life is over?”

I’m not even talking about being remembered after I’m gone (this is getting way more morbid than I intended … sorry!). I’m talking about having an impact that will last … and impact that will multiply.

As a worship pastor, here are a few things that come to mind when I look forward and think about impact:

Future worship pastors. Who am I investing in that is gifted and called by God to lead worship? Am I giving them opportunities to exercise those gifts and that calling? Am I making the investment of spending time with them? Do they feel like they can ask me anything?

The idea of mentoring has looked a few different ways for me personally. Sometimes it’s formal (for example, having an intern for a summer), but most often it happens organically. It’s a student who feels called to lead worship. It’s a young worship pastor in his first church that needs someone else’s perspective who’s been there before. Currently, I meet a Station Hill choir member each week who senses God calling him to be a worship pastor. We’ve led together before. He fills in for me occasionally. He observes and takes notes during choir rehearsal and then we meet for breakfast the next morning and talk through those observations.

How much does this investment cost me or him? Nothing but time. Well…time and breakfast, I guess, but you get the point. And even then, that time investment in the scheme of eternity will be a drop in the bucket compared to the potential for impact. What if he does the same thing in a few years? As time goes by, this initial 1-on-1 experience multiplies time and time again.

Obviously, this is not a new idea at all. Moses invested in Joshua. Paul invested in Timothy. Jesus invested in the disciples. I choose these 3 examples for this reason: none of these men were related to the men they mentored. These are not king/prince scenarios where the father is passing the baton to his natural and rightful heir. In these situations, this is a leader seeing potential in someone and then intentionally pouring his life into theirs.

Mentoring is kind of like becoming more holy. It will never happen by accident. You won’t unknowingly invest in someone to that level. Like pursuing holiness, it requires time and intentionality. I’ve seen some folks shy away from mentoring because they don’t know how to get started. I understand that. It’s an odd conversation to walk up to someone and tell them they need to be mentored! I do believe, however, that God will bring people into your life if you’re desiring to invest in others. Also, it might just be that you need to identify someone and say to them, “I see so much potential in you. God has given you a great gift. Could we meet sometime and talk more about that?”

Future adult worshipers. The choir & instrumentalists at The Church at Station Hill are like a family to me. I love every rehearsal and worship service we have together. As their worship pastor, my present investment in them is so important, but it’s not the only group of people who need my focus and attention.

I’m convinced more than ever that the children and students at Station Hill need that same level of intentional investment as well. As worship pastors, how we invest will look a lot of different ways. The main point is that we invest.

Here are some examples of what this looks like for us at Station Hill. Our students have a weekly opportunity to lead worship with our adult worship choir. It takes an investment of time for them to come to an extra rehearsal (not to mention an extra time commitment for our adult leadership team to serve as section leaders), but the results have been completely worth it. Seeing our choir loft filled with ages ranging from 6th grade to senior adult has made a tremendous impact on our weekly worship services. In addition, our student worship pastor does a great job giving students an opportunity to lead with him in student worship.

Likewise, our children have opportunities to lead worship in Kids Worship and in our main worship services many times throughout the year. The presentation varies. There are times when our kids choir will lead on their own and there are times when they join the adults for a multigenerational worship service. No matter the presentation, I’m convinced that these types of experiences are shaping them and preparing them to serve and lead as adults.

Jay Strother, my pastor, often says, “Our kids are not the church of tomorrow. They’re the church of today.” It’s so true. I love the picture of our kids on stage leading their parents and grandparents in worship. God is preparing them, but he’s also using them now!

Well, I’m about out of space in this article, but thanks so much for being a part of my birthday reflection time this year. I’m praying for you all as you lead week after week. God has placed you where you are for a specific reason, to minister during this specific season of life, and to invest in specific people … an investment that will last.

Brentwood Benson Arranger, Cliff Duren
Brentwood Benson Arranger, Cliff Duren

About the Author: Cliff Duren is the Music and Worship Minister at The Church at Station Hill, located in Spring Hill, TN, a regional campus of Brentwood Baptist Church. He is also an arranger and orchestrator for Brentwood Benson focused on creating choral resources for the church. Cliff is married to his college sweetheart, April, and they have four children, Mac, Sydney, Elijah, and Emma Kate.

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