Passion Wins You Favor With God, And With People: A Case Study

So I have this friend. We grew up together attending the same church. We both sang in the choir practically all our lives. For most of those years I directed and taught.

She sat under my teaching for all those years. She’s an amazing singer who is passionate about music ministry. So when I would teach concepts and new things she would always be the first to embrace them. She loved God, loved singing for Him and loved anything that had to do with learning more about how to serve Him better.

Fast-forward 30 years. We’re both adults now, still working together in the choir. I’m still teaching, she’s still in the soprano section, killin’ it. Practically knowing her part before I teach it now because she has soaked up everything I taught for so many years.

Then suddenly we hear that her husband has been re-located to another state and she’d be leaving us. We were devastated of course. She was a tremendous asset.

Shortly after she got established there they found a new church. Of course she went straight to the music department. To make a long story short, she passed every evaluation and audition task they asked of her with flying colors. They were amazed by how much she already knew.

2 or 3 years later her husband’s assignment ended and it was time to move back to Texas. As they began looking for a new church home in Texas people she worked under in her old church began to send out word about her to people they knew in Texas.

One of those churches was looking for someone to head up their music department. My friend had never done anything like this before. Had no experience running a music ministry.

But guess what she did have? She had favor. Her passion, dedication, enthusiasm for learning and serving God in excellence went ahead of her and opened a door for her to step into something she never dreamed she would be doing.

My friend is now running the music department at a church here in Dallas. Now, here’s where the story comes full circle. My friend knew a lot about harmony, how to hear it and how to put it together, but she wasn’t yet where she wanted to be. She had also taken on many more duties at her church and basically didn’t have as much time to devote to it any more.

So she went to the board and ask them if she could hire someone to come in and teach songs on rehearsal nights. And whom do you suppose she recommended first? I’m going there tonight to conduct a rehearsal; with a strong possibility that I could land the job permanently. See how that works?

You don’t have to seek the spotlight. God will shine it on you. You don’t have to kick down doors. God will open them for you. You don’t have to complain about being denied opportunities. God will give you favor over people you KNOW are more qualified. All you have to do is serve God in this ministry with all your heart and give Him your best. Do it because you love it, and because you love HIM. There is a saying that goes “Your actions speak so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.” Here’s a really good full-circle example of how that can work.

Be encouraged.

Top 5 Most Liked Posts Of 2014

I mean, what kind of blogger would I be if I didn’t do one of these? Here we go!

5. How Your Musical Gift Is Like A Sweet Potato Pie (64 Likes)

4. How To Get Your Youth Choir Excited About Their Ministry (85 likes)

3. What Makes A Good Singer? Two Things You Should Work On (102 likes)

2. The First Thing To Check When The Audience Isn’t Responding (107 likes)

And the number one most liked blog post of 2014 is (drum-roll please!)

1. How To Effectively Lead Your Congregation In Praise And Worship (130 likes!)

Thanks for being a subscriber, follower or visitor of this ministry in 2014! Looking for bigger and better things this year.

Be blessed,

How To Reach Every Goal You Set For This Year (or any year)

Well, here we are gang. Well into another year. Looking ahead with high hopes, optimism, goals defined. Sound familiar? It should, because many of us were in the same spot this time last year, looking at the same goals we find ourselves NOT having attained this year.

If I’m being honest with you, that’s where I found myself more than once. Especially in business. Year after year I have made promises and said to myself “this will be my year”. But not much changed in my business. Things didn’t necessarily get worse, but they didn’t get much better.

I finally had to get really honest with myself and realize that if I wanted to really see this thing be successful I was going to have to start really putting forth an effort to learn what I didn’t know. I had to come to grips with the fact that what I had been doing so far simply wasn’t working. And the fact is, what I was doing was “not much”. More about that in a moment.

But you see I believed, like most Christians, that when God has told you to do something, or promised something for you life, it would all come automatically. Haven’t you heard people say that? “If God told you to do it you’ll know because doors will fling open for you and all the traffic lights will turn green just as you approach them and people will be showing up bringing you everything you need….” You get the idea. People believe that when God has promised you something it will come easy and without much effort on your part. However the Bible doesn’t seem to support that, does it?

The most glaring example of that to me is the children of Israel. God promised them the new land. A land flowing with milk and honey. It was absolutely, positively theirs, guaranteed. And yet even with that assurance, they couldn’t just walk in and set up camp. They had to “possess it”. They had to go and fight powerful enemies and defeat them. Yeah. It was their land, but it was in possession of their enemies. God gave them favor over their enemies, but He didn’t give them the promised land without effort on their part.

So many of us are not reaching our goals because of a sheer lack of real effort on our part. We think because we can sing, all we have to do is sing somewhere and people will flood us with offers to come sing somewhere else. And they’ll tell 2 friends, and so-on, and so-on, and so-on. And even if that does happen (and it does for some people) people who find themselves with a full calendar realize after not much time that they lack the skill, training and wisdom to keep it going.

Most of us don’t know how much we don’t know. We go about our daily lives, blissfully unaware that God has placed in front of us everything we need to attain the promise, and we are simply not “possessing it”. We are waiting for doors to fling open on their own when God has given us everything we need to simply turn the door knob and walk through.

Getting back to my own story, I came to the realization a few months ago that I wasn’t achieving success in my business because I simply wasn’t putting forth the effort to learn how to market it properly. I, like many small business owners, was simply trying stuff. Throwing ideas against the wall. Reading an occasional article. Throwing a little money at this thing or that thing. But I finally had to get real with myself and resolve to do what ever it takes to increase my knowledge. To get the training. Learn the skill-sets I needed. And I still continue to do that.

As I started following business coaches, reading about marketing and growing a business, learning new skills, I came to a stark realization. I’m gonna need to spend some money to go to the next level. I’ve simply learned all I can learn free. So I looked into the costs involved in taking my training to the next level. I know for me, that is hiring a professional business coach. I had to do the same thing to become trained to be a vocal coach, so why wouldn’t I have to do it for my business?

And the thing is, God showed me how my own mental blocks were my hindrance. He showed me that my “reasons” for not moving forward were really nothing more than excuses. One of the business coaches I had been following actually called me one day. We began to talk about the things I desired in my business and my goals for the coming year. And I began to go into my same old song and dance about how I really want to but just don’t have the money. “It’s the ultimate catch-22″, I told her. ” I know I can make more money by working with you, but I need to make more money to work with you.”

What she said to me next confirmed something God had already put inside of me but I wasn’t accepting. She said “I want you to change that mindset. I want you to stop saying “I don’t have the money to do it” or “I can’t afford to do it”. She continued “I want you to instead start thinking more along the lines of ‘ok, this is how much I need to do it’ and then start looking for ways to make it happen.” That was really powerful for me. Because I understood then that when I started putting forth the effort God would begin making ways.

Both for me and for you, reaching our goals this year boils down to adopting one word as our motivator. The word is “INVEST”. This, for me, is not just a business. It’s also a ministry. God showed me that in order to really be successful I have to be able to reach many, many more people. Doing so will allow me to be a blessing on a much larger scale. To do that I need to INVEST. I need to invest my time, my talent, my emotions, my heart and yes, my MONEY.

I can’t just show up here and write a blog twice a week and expect people to come, guys. That’s good, but it simply isn’t enough. Even for the blog to be successful I have to market it. If I don’t then nobody sees it, including people God has chosen to be blessed by it. So one of my top priorities last year were to find ways to earn that extra money I need to invest in my business/ministry. I’ve identified what that is, and now it’s time to make it happen. I’ve already planned to work more overtime. I’ve moved into a smaller place. I go out less.

I’ve decided, in other words, to invest in my ministry and my business. If you hope to reach any of your goals this year, you will have to come to the same realization. Even if your ministry is just a ministry and not a business at all, you must invest in that ministry. You must invest in yourself, your skills, your training. You must invest your time. You must, because if you don’t, the ministry cannot survive. Anything that doesn’t grow in some way eventually starts to wither and die.

So I challenge you, as my business coach challenged me, to stop making excuses and start making plans. Stop saying “I don’t have it” and start saying “how can I get it”. Change your mindset and you’ll change your results this year. That business coach told me to decided on a date I wanted to get started with her and make it my business to do everything in my power to find a way to earn the extra money I needed to start on that date.

I’m issuing you the same challenge. Don’t make the mistake of thinking because God gave you a gift, a ministry, a purpose, that there is nothing else for you to do but show up every Sunday. Don’t make the mistake of thinking your having found me out of millions of sites across the world-wide-web is just coincidence. I know for a fact it isn’t, because I fought tooth and nail against focusing my business specifically on on helping music ministries. Traditionally anything Christ-centered or Gospel-focused has a much harder time of succeeding in business, and I was well aware of it.

But God wouldn’t let me put this aside. He dropped in my spirit one day simply this: “I didn’t give you over 30 years of experience in music ministry for you to share your knowledge with just this one church and a few other people right around town.” He told me it was time to share it with a much bigger audience. And, like we always do, I went looking for proof that the audience was actually out there. I didn’t find any. I looked on Google and used their search tools to find out how many people are actually searching for stuff like this. I didn’t find many.

Yet He told me to do it. He told me you were out there, looking. But even though He told me to do this- even though I have His promise that there will be people out there looking for the training services and products He’ll bless me to provide- He helped me to understand that I’d still need to work hard, learn new things, create new skills, and spend money on this business/ministry in order to reach them.

If I don’t I never attain what God promised me. Doesn’t mean I did what He said and it didn’t work. Doesn’t mean I “thought” He said it and He really didn’t. It means He set it before me and I simply didn’t possess it. If I do my part He will do His.

So my battle cry this year- my one word motivator that will keep me on track- is the word INVEST. If I invest in myself, my ministry and my business- both my time and my money- I know that I can’t help but be successful. I’m challenging you to join me and adopt this new mindset for this year and every year. No more “I don’t have”. From here on, it’s “how can I get”. No more waiting for things to come to us. No more standing in front of doors and simply refusing to turn the door-knob. This year let’s “MAKE” it happen. This year let’s POSSESS what God has already promised us.



How your musical gift is like a Sweet Potato Pie

Thanksgiving day in America is steeped in tradition, the most important of which is the tradition for families and friends all over the country to come together and break bread. While everyone has their own favorite food staples, you’re almost sure to find Sweet Potato Pie on the menu at most gatherings. So I thought it would be a fun, visual way to look at a basic, fundamental truth regarding how all singers and musicians in music ministry should see their gift.  I’ll use myself and a fictitious friend in this little story to make it easy.

So imagine with me for a few minutes. It’s Thanks Giving day. I’ve spent all night long making my prize-winning Sweet Potato Pie. But I have to go in to work for a half a day and I don’t want the pie to arrive to the family dinner too late for everyone to enjoy. So I ask my friend to take it with her to the family dinner and I’ll join everyone later.

A few hours later at the family gathering everyone has finished dinner and is starting on the dessert table. A few people get a slice of the Sweet Potato Pie and start raving to my friend about it. “Oh my God Janice this pie is amazing!” “Girl you did your thing with this!” The complements keep coming as word gets around the house about how good the pie is. Meanwhile Janice is glowing and enjoying all the complements. Smiling and thanking everyone for the kind words. “Oh, thank you! God bless you! I’m so glad you like it so much!”

Later I arrive at the dinner after work ready to eat. it doesn’t take long for people to start coming up to me raving about how good my friend’s Sweet Potato Pie is. They go on and on about how great a cook she is, and how they’ve never had pie like that. And how I should really take some lessons from her!

I look at her and smile, but I don’t say anything. After all, I love her. She’s my friend. I would never embarrass her. But I know in my heart that SHE knows she didn’t bake that pie. She only delivered it. And I can’t understand why she wouldn’t give me the credit for it. Why wouldn’t she just say “oh thank you but actually Ron made it. I just delivered it for him”. I may never scold her or punish her or even mention it to her again. But the next time I need to choose someone to deliver something I created I’d be a lot more careful to choose someone whom I know won’t take the glory for themselves.

As singers, musicians, directors and worship leaders…whatever your gift is, we should all endeavor to think of our gifts just like that Sweet Potato Pie.  It’s not our creation. It doesn’t belong to us. We didn’t bake it, we were simply the ones God chose to deliver it to His people. So when the praises, kudos and complements come, we must always be sure to never take the credit for a pie we didn’t bake.


The First Thing To Check When The Audience Isn’t Responding

I’m a behind the scenes guy at my church. A lot of what I do shows up in the finished product that is presented on Sunday morning, but I seldom come to the front myself.  But there was this worship medley by William McDowell that I wanted the praise team to sing, and I kinda knew even before I presented it to them that I’d be asked to sing it. His voice is similar to my own so it only made sense.

So I teach the song and everything goes well. Sunday comes and we present it. I begin leading the song and right away I notice only a small handful of the audience seems to be into it at all. Only 3 or 4 or standing, maybe another few that I can see actually closing their eyes and making an attempt to worship. That’s the downside to singing with your eyes open, unfortunately. Sometimes you can “see too much” and discourage yourself.

So we continued to move through the medley and everything went well, but I was discouraged. I had people come up to me and say they enjoyed it, but I personally didn’t feel good about it. I blamed much of it on the audience, and the rest on myself. You see we used to be one of those churches who had “testimony service”. We did it for many years-most of my life, really. So even though we’ve had a praise team for several years now, many of our older saints just don’t “get it”. “We don’t know how to worship”, I told one of the young ministers who was encouraging me.

Then there was me. See Iv’e always had this inward battle about my own singing and whether it’s “hype enough” or “exciting enough”. I struggle with thoughts that my singing is “too calm” or “too boring”.  It didn’t help that our regular worship leader is a powerful anointed singer and woman of God that just electrifies the service every time she sings.

So, overall just not especially having enjoyed the experience, imagine how I felt when our worship leader sends me a text saying she wants me to do it again the following Sunday. I hemmed and haw’d and stated my case, but in the end I promised I’d be obedient. So I’m sitting there on the keyboard that Sunday playing and she’s going forth with the praise team. And just when I’m convinced the spirit is leading her another way she stops down and asks me to come up.

Any time I get up to do something I try to prepare myself mentally and spiritually so I’m in the right frame of mind and I have the right attitude. I just won’t get up in front of people with a negative spirit, I don’t care how I feel personally about what I’m about to do. I call it my 5 Second Rule Of Music Ministry.  So in the few seconds it takes me to get up to the stage I decided that this time I’d do two things. I’d make more of an effort to go deeper into the songs emotionally myself. To make sure I’m actually worshiping, lifting my hands, closing my eyes and talking to God.

But then the second thing I decided to do was to do a better job leading, encouraging and guiding the audience in worship. So right away when I took the microphone this time I began to just talk to them about worship, encouraging them to surrender all they had been through that day, even the previous week. I began to explain to them that worship isn’t something that “happens to you”, it’s something that you do.

I began to sing, this time moving my hands more, lifting them more, talking to the audience more. This time the atmosphere was different. There were many more people worshiping. Many more standing, lifting their hands. Many more who were seated were doing the same thing. The atmosphere was filled with a spirit of worship. Even when the pastor came up, which was much later, the praise and worship portion of the service was still on his mind. He began to talk about the songs we sang and the kind of worship we offered, referring to it as a “slow rain”. In fact I ended up going back into a portion of it again by his request.

So now, thinking back on it I realize that it wasn’t necessarily the audience that had the problem the first time, it was me. It wasn’t them that needed to surrender, it was me. It wasn’t them that wasn’t worshiping, it was me that wasn’t. I learned that day something I really already knew. Something I’ve said to others before. Simply, that when you stand before God’s people you have to give God your best. It has to come from a pure place that isn’t influenced or affected by what the audience is doing- or not doing.

Because the truth is even in the second performance of the medley there were still people who weren’t really into it at all. And there always will be, in every performance; for all of us. But the solution is not to simply keep our eyes tightly closed for the entire thing and ignore the audience entirely. The solution is to sing from the purest place you can, giving God the best praise or worship you can. Connect with and focus on those who are with you and being blessed. Avoid focusing your attention on those who don’t seem to be interested, and don’t take it personally. Doing so could cause you to miss being a blessing to someone else. Or worse yet, miss being blessed yourself.



Commitment Defined: How To Stay Dedicated Without Losing Your Passion

One of the most common threads among all of us that work in music ministry is the on-going struggle with just staying motivated and happy. Fighting burn-out. Dealing with the delicate balance of being dedicated to the ministry and still having a life. The whole balance thing is the thing I struggle with most, honestly. But one thing I haven’t struggled with much over the years is being on my post. consistently being at rehearsal every single time, ready to go. Consistently being on my post every Sunday morning, ready to play, direct, or sing.

A lot of people do struggle with such things though, which explains why so many choirs and praise teams struggle with absentee-ism. And even though we all tend to think so, it’s not always a willful thing for those that are guilty of it. Sometimes, I believe, it’s more about a lack of commitment. Many of us start out with great intentions to do something only to find ourselves struggling to keep our promise, or even quitting altogether.

I committed to myself that I’d learn guitar earlier this year. I was excited. I couldn’t wait to get the money to purchase my guitar and get started. Weeks later though, I found myself not practicing. It was just harder than I thought. The instrument itself was harder than I thought it would be, but more than that it was a matter of “finding the time” to commit to practicing. I placed that in quotes because, as any musician will tell you, that’s not something you find the time for. It’s something you make the time for. So is anything else you have a strong enough desire to do.

In one on-line dictionary I found commitment defined as:

1. The state or quality of being dedicated to a cause, activity, etc. (as in a teacher’s commitment to her students, or a company’s commitment to quality)

2. An engagement or obligation that restricts freedom of action. (I have a prior commitment).

Definition number 2 for me has always worked for my ministry at my church. Simply put, rehearsal nights are off limits. I’ve never booked voice lessons, taken engagements or anything else on Wednesday nights, because Wednesday nights are rehearsal nights. So whether we actually have a rehearsal scheduled or not, I’ve always treated Wednesday night as a standing engagement; a prior commitment. I view Sunday mornings the same way.

In fact I’ve been so adamant and consistent with this over the years that everyone who knows me already knows I’m busy on Wednesdays and Sundays.  And I think in order to stay committed and dedicated to anything- ministry, learning a new instrument or anything else, we have to make that thing a standing engagement. A commitment that everything else must adjust to and revolved around. When we do that staying dedicated to a thing becomes a lifestyle and a habit. It becomes automatic. Something you miss when you don’t do it.

This has worked really well for me in my ministry because not only have I made it a standing commitment but a way of life. So everything else always revolves around and adjusts to those standing commitments, because, as definition number 2 above says, I’ve taken away the “freedom” do do anything else during those times. The failure to do that is the biggest reason most people don’t stick to their commitments, no matter what they are. It’s also the reason I’m not practicing my new guitar.

When learning it becomes important enough to me to give practicing it a place of priority, I will do with it what I’ve done with Wednesday night rehearsals, Sunday morning ministry, daily posting to my fan page and weekly blogs here. I will give it a place of importance. I will make a commitment. I will set a rehearsal time and treat it as “an engagement or obligation that restricts freedom of action”. And as soon as I do, the flow of my daily life will begin to adjust around that time slot and make space for it. As we always do for the things that are most important to us.