School of Music


Doctor of Worship Studies (DWS)


Donald Ellsworth


Worship, Aging, Transition, Succession, Professional Development


Liturgy and Worship | Music | Religion


The tenure of a long-serving worship pastor is affected by many variables, but few are as impactful, challenging, yet unexamined, as the pastor’s age. In this historical research study, the researcher assesses the best strategies of professional development necessary for aging worship pastors as they transition for lasting relevance and honorable succession. This study focused on the necessities of cultural engagement and people development as a means to maintain, among other things, platform credibility and leadership reproduction. Historic rationale and precedent was established through the examination of principles of age-related recalibration, transition, and succession from the researcher’s own experience, as well as those of selected worship pastors who would characterize their final decades of ministry as fulfilling, and some who did not actually survive. Included in this study was the applicability of the advanced leadership levels of Production and People Development as defined by John Maxwell. Results show that attention to these advanced leadership levels best position worship pastors for graceful transitions and successions. Comparisons of the cognitive impact of aging were established between musicians and non-musicians. Results reveal that musicians outscore non-musicians on a composite measure of cognitive control, suggesting that sustained music training is associated with improved aspects of cognitive functioning in older adults. Analysis of suggested best practices will provide direction for transition and succession that will result in positive outcomes.