I was sitting at my computer one night- about a Thursday or Friday night I think- when I got an e-mail from the choir director. In the e-mail she explained that she had thrown her back out and needed me to cover for her Sunday. I joked with her a little bit, telling her she’d better get herself a wheelchair and be on her post, lol! But then I assured her that of course I’d stand in for her. Little did I know that was only beginning of what would seem like a snowball of challenging situations that would occur that Sunday.
So I get to church and there’s hardly anyone in the choir stand. As members started to come up the MOM and I realized that we had a skeleton crew for a choir. One Tenor, who was apparently having issues with his voice, about 5 Altos and NO Sopranos. The details as to why they weren’t there aren’t really relevant. The point is we had a situation. One not unlike situational challenges we all deal with week in and week out in our music departments.
My MOM and I sit right next to each other, she on the organ and myself on the keys. She turned to me and said “I guess we won’t be doing the two songs we’d planned to do”. “I guess not!”, I replied. So after a little discussion we came up with two alternates we thought we could do well with what we had.
So the time came for us to do our first selection, and I took my place in front of the choir. Ironically (and not intentionally) we had chosen to do a song called “With God I Can (get through this)”. It was a song with no leader that we thought was easy enough for us to do but still far from a “crutch song”. As I looked at the faces in the choir stand I could see the frustration and…I don’t know, fear? Anger? Hard to describe. But suffice it to say the choir was “affected” , both emotionally and spiritually by the situation at hand. It was all over their faces, their countenance. There was just no life, energy or enthusiasm there.
I approached the song as I always do, smiling and directing with the same level of enthusiasm I would any other time. But it was just not happening. We struggled and hobbled through the song, not really giving anything to it. Glaringly noticiable facial expressions beaming towards the audience that seemed to scream “I’m not into this at all”.
So I did a shorter version of it, sat everyone down and went back to my seat. It was only then that I allowed my own frustration to show with my back safely turned to the audienc. But my frustration had nothing to do with the situation we were dealing with. No, my frustration had everything to do with how we handled it.
My MOM turned to me and said “boy that was an appropriate song” (with God I can get through this). I said “Yeah but we were singing those words but our faces didn’t reflect what we were singing. “That’s why we have to sing to the Glory and honor of God”, she replied.
The experience stayed with me and really got me thinking. Usually when I start thinking the first place I start is with my own thoughts. I have a tendency to examine my thoughts and hold them accountable. I ask myself why I’m thinking what I’m thinking. Feeling what I’m feeling. I question my motives. Even my own emotions. It’s called “Introspection”. And I remembered the first thought I had when I realized we wouldn’t have any Sopranos. Now, I knew that everyone was kinda freaking out about this.
But I guess I’ve been practicing this stuff so long that I’ve just developed a different way of assessing things. So the first thought I had when I realized we’d have NO Sopranos, was: “Ok, so we’ll sing with 2-harmony instead of 3-part harmony. It’ll still sound fine. The audience could care less.” And I fully expected that we would go on to deliver the song just like we do with a full choir stand. With all the praise and enthusiasm that we would any other time. But that isn’t what happened. We allowed the situation to completely defeat us. And because we sang to the situation we completely failed to sing to the Glory and honor of God.
But the truth is this situation is not unique by a long shot. Music departments all over the world deal with these kinds of issues on a regular basis. That’s not the devil, that’s life. And usually the minute we realize that there is some kind of challenging situation at hand the first place our attitude goes is south. We become so frustrated and angry about the situation itself that the situation overshadows everything. So now we have to get up and try to minister in this negative state. And you know as well as I do that ministry just isn’t going to happen when our heart isn’t right.
So what do we do? After all, circumstances are going to continue to happen. That’s just the reality when you’re dealing with groups of people who all have their own lives, challenges and problems and yes, attitudes to deal with. So since we can’t change that, there’s really only one way to address these situations.
In my opinion every situation we deal with in our various music departments will fall into two basic categories:
1. Situations We CAN’T change.
2. Situations We CAN Change.
On any given Sunday we may find ourselves dealing with anything from several members out of town on vacation or at a confrence, key personnel out sick, unexpected work schedule changes that prevent people you counted on being present from being on their post, etc. These are all situations we can’t really do much about. But in these situations we must remember that our charge and level of responsibility to minister doesn’t change. God doesn’t deserve any less from us because we’re in our feelings about whatever challenge we happen to be dealing with this week. We must be on our post and we must give God the best we’re capable of, period. We must sing from a sincere place, and we must sing to the Glory and honor of God.
When we find ourselves in challenging situations it’s only human to react emotionally. In fact talked about that in another article, The 5 Second Rule Of Music Ministry. It’s frustrating and I’m not saying pretend not to feel it or that you’re wrong if you do.
Where we go wrong though is when we fail to move past that initial frustation, anger or whatever it happens to be for you at the moment, gather ourselves and re-focus our minds and hearts on the charge we’ve been given. When we can’t change the situation we MUST change how we see the situation. We must change our attitude.
Often because we’re “music people” we tend to forget that the audience doesn’t see things the way we do, nor do they care about all the little details we obsess over. For us, an entire section missing is catastrophic. It changes everything. We can’t minister effectively (or so we think). We’re not gonna have 3 part harmony. How dare all those people not show up! Whatever. But what we don’t realize is the audience could care less about any of that.
They don’t even know a “section” is missing. They might be able to tell you’re few in number, but they still fully expect that you will go on to minister in song and let God use you. And they don’t care if you do that with 2 parts or 3. With or without a leader. Full band or no bass player. Or no music at all. It just doesn’t matter as long as you get up there, sing from your heart, sing under the anoiting and let God use you.What they are affected by though is our attitudes. Facial expressions. Lack of sincerity, enthusiasm or any sign that you even care what’s happening at that given moment.
But what if we decided to let situations like this make us that much more determined to go on and give God our best in SPITE of the situation? Oh man, we don’t have any Sopranos. “Oh well, we’re going to use what we have and sing to the glory and honor of God andway. We’ll just have 2-part harmony instead of 3-part harmony.”
See we’re the only ones that care about stuff like that. All the audience wants is to be blessed by the music ministry. And the audience will always be blessed if we’re giving God our best from a sincere and real place. In fact the audience is MORE likely to be blessed by your ministry when they see that you refuse to let a challenging situation change your whole attitude about the song you’re about to sing, or even showing up that day.
And that’s true for any situation, whether the leader didn’t show up (ok so we’ll sing another song, or use a back-up, or sing the song without the leader), or the musician didn’t show up (ok so we’ll sing one of our a cappella songs ( you do have a couple of those for just such an occasion, right?) or we’ll simply sing the songs we planned to sing, just a cappella). You get the idea.
What I’m getting at is when you can’t change the situation you have to concentrate on the thing you CAN change, and that’s how you feel about the situation. How you choose to see it. How you’re going to react to it. But attitude is a choice. We can’t often change what happens to us but we can always change how we react to it. Resolve, no matter what, every Sunday, regardless of the situation, that nothing will stop you from Giving God your best praise when you sing that song. Know that if you do He will use your ministry in a mighty way, because perfect praise will always overcome imperfect situations.
This is already pretty long, so let’s tackle the second category- Things We CAN Change- in a part 2 blog post next week.