There’s a biblical phrase that comes to mind every time I think about being in a state of great anticipation or excitement that I find hard to contain. It’s found in Jeremiah 20:9 where he spoke the often quoted phrase “just like fire, shut up in my bones”. But Jeremiah wasn’t excited or happy when he said it. He was actually talking about all of the bad things that happen to him when he speaks about God, and how that even though he desires to avoid speaking of God to avoid those things, he finds that he simply can’t hold it in.
For me, I think about that phrase after a great rehearsal where we’ve really worked hard, perfected the song and are excited to present it to our congregation. Over the years I’ve often compared the process of learning a new song to that of a minister’s preparation to bring the message on Sunday morning. When our hearts and minds are in the right place, the two are very similar. Music ministry, after all, is the message and the word of God in song; or it should be if we’re choosing the right song and focusing on the message as our main motivation for choosing them.
That being the case, a choir or praise team should go through a similar process a minister goes through when preparing to deliver his message. A minister consecrates himself. Prays that God use him as a vessel to deliver a word to His people. A minister has a study somewhere, where he goes to prepare for his message. He digs into it, searches the scripture for understanding, gets that message into his spirit. In the process of doing so the message begins to resonate with him on a personal level. God begins to speak to him and give him things that he knows will be a blessing to the congregation.Then he organizes and formulates his thoughts so that he can deliver them effectively to the congregation. He knows he must be prepared or he won’t be able to deliver the message effectively. By the time Sunday rolls around a minister is often burning with anticipation to deliver that message because he knows how much it’s going to bless the people of God.
When we’re approaching music ministry correctly we should be experiencing something similar. I said to my sanctuary choir once that when we come to rehearsal what we’re doing is not unlike what the minister does when he goes into his study. The sanctuary choir stand, practice room or wherever it is that we rehearse, becomes our “study”. The process of learning and perfecting the song(s) is our way of preparing our message to be delivered to God’s people. When we get up on Sunday morning, that stage or that choir stand becomes the pulpit or podium from which we deliver that message to the congregation.
Often the difference in an anointed music ministry and a ministry that simply fills a spot on the program is the attitude and mindset that ministry takes toward every song and every rehearsal. Some of us are still missing the whole “MINISTRY” part of music ministry. Many of us are choosing songs because they’re popular, or contemporary, or older, or have a great beat. So we often miss the fact that some songs just don’t say much lyrically.
Other times we’re so focused on “the words” and “the parts” that we miss the message. I think that’s a challenge for many music ministries (both choirs and praise teams) because we don’t fully understand that every song really is a mini-sermon. We don’t get the importance of understanding and connecting to it spiritually in some way, and we don’t fully understand or appreciate the importance of preparation to the effective delivery of that message.
There was a song once that the choir really liked but I didn’t feel we “got it”. There was no fire or enthusiasm at rehearsal. And even though it was a very simple song- the kind we learn in 10 minutes at any given rehearsal- we struggled, stumbled and really never got to that level of excitement and fire that we often reach with a new song at rehearsal. Sure enough, the first time we did it, it absolutely tanked. We missed marks, guessed and fumbled our way through it and it went over like a rock.
At the next rehearsal we went over it again and it was much of the same thing. So I said to them, “look guys, we’re either connecting with this song spiritually or we’re not. We either get it or we don’t, and if we can’t find a spiritual connection with this song then we need to scrap it. There’s no way a song this simple should be giving us this much trouble. Not every song is for us to do, and we son’t always understand why. But we have to do songs we can connect with spiritually so we can minister.”
So I told them at rehearsal that we’d try it one more time and if we don’t get it, we’re scrapping the song. Right after my little speech we went over the song again and the difference was amazing. There was excitement and energy at rehearsal. Whether it was my little speech or the thought of losing the song is still a mystery. But suddenly everyone was engaged, enthusiastic and on fire. And that next Sunday, you could feel the anticipation.
The message we missed was finally burning in our spirits, like fire. We couldn’t wait to deliver that message to our congregation-PROPERLY this time- from a different place than when we did before. We did, and it went over great. But it proved to me that it was there all along, and we had simply been missing something in the process of preparation. Sometimes it’s the wrong song. Sometimes it’s the right song at the wrong time for US. Often though, it’s our own mindset that keeps us from going to that next level.
So in summary, I believe if want a powerful, anointed ministry that you’re excited to deliver week after week- one that burns in you like fire the way Jeremiah’s message burned in him, you must:
1. Choose songs for the message.
Listen closely and critically to the lyrical content of songs and make sure they actually have a real message. Don’t neglect the importance of a strong musical arrangement though. Even a good message when coupled with an awful arrangement can fall flat. Just make sure though, that the arrangement alone is not the reason you’re choosing the song. Forget about how current or how old a song is. It is irrelevant if the message is powerful. Don’t sing a song just because it’s new. Don’t avoid a song just because it’s old.
2. Consecrate and Connect Spiritually.
We must approach rehearsal and ministry prayerfully. Pray together at rehearsal. Pray that God uses the ministry to bless His people, and that everything you do is for His glory and not your own. Then seek to find, understand and connect on a spiritual and personal level with the song(s) you’ll sing. If we’re choosing songs with powerful messages, then even if you don’t like the song personally you should still be able to find something in it that you can internalize and connect to in a personal way spiritually. It is very important that the song means something to your choir, group or praise team as a group and not just individually. It’s also very important that you’re able to recognize when a song simply doesn’t register with you as a group for whatever reason and be willing to table or scrap that song altogether.
3. Change the way you see and approach rehearsals
Many choirs and praise teams don’t show much enthusiasm at choir rehearsal because for many of us we’re dragging ourselves there after long days at work. We’re tired. And honestly, we just don’t see it as much more than “rehearsal”. This is absolutely a mindset/attitude issue.
Our results change dramatically when our attitude and mindset towards rehearsal changes from “rehearsal” to “preparation to minister to God’s people”. When you begin to see rehearsal as preparation to deliver a word from God to His people, it takes on a different meaning. The work of perfecting a song can be something you dread or something you enjoy and see as a necessary part of effective, anointed ministry. It can be one more thing you have to drag yourself to, or it can be a spiritual and emotional lift that gets you through the week. The difference lies in how you choose to see it.
There is nothing like being at a rehearsal where you’re excited, energized and spiritually ignited by the songs you’re rehearsing. That’s when you know you “get it”. But that’s a choice, and something we must decide to do if we want to have a ministry that is anointed and a message that burns in us like fire.