Maximizing Defining moments in your ministry

ID-10094994If you’ve been serving in music ministry any length of time- especially in a leadership or “simi-leadership” role, chances are you’ve had something happen that changed your view of where you are. Something that made you say “wow, I wasn’t ready.” Or “Oh wow, if I had known how to do this or that, we would have been able to do this or that”.

I may not quite be making sense here just yet so let me give you a couple of examples. I often talk about my dear friend Monica, the minister of music at my church, and the lifetime of friendship and service we’ve shared working side by side in the music ministry there.

One year on the first rehearsal of our huge annual Family And Friends rehearsal with a house full of participating visitors, I walked up to the front of the room to begin  teaching my first song. I was waiting for my band to begin playing like they always do, but they were struggling with the music.

After several uncomfortable minutes of that I suggested we go to another song. It was pretty-much the same thing there too. I was NOT happy, and I shared that very candidly with the guys later. I can’t believe, I told them, you guys had me out there like that in front of all those guests. Monica has shared with me many times since that incident that she vowed from that moment on to never ever be caught not ready for another rehearsal. And she hasn’t.

I recently shared with my followers on the fan page a story about how, after years of saying I can’t play and sing at the same time, a situation that the devil was using to try to undermine the ministry of the praise team forced me to have a similar epiphany. There I was, sitting there with the talent and ability to fix this issue simply by DECIDING- because it’s always our choice whether or not to do what it takes to go to the next level in our ministry- to start putting forth the effort to start singing and playing. It was a defining moment that caused me to make changes that have helped the praise team thrive and become more and more powerful each Sunday, it seems.

Recently our choir director accepted his call to the ministry. Shortly after, and without any notice at all, he decided to step down, leaving us scrambling for solutions. Well everyone knows I direct, but everyone also knows that I teach 4 groups, play for everybody along with the band and everything that comes along with preparing for all that.

I was frustrated, to say the least. But even when Monica told me the news I decided (after I exercised my 5 second rule of music ministry, lol) to just be positive about it. But I’m human, and I was feeling frustrated and a little overwhelmed even. So much so that I actually sat out one Sunday to get my spirit right ( let’s just say sometimes it takes more than 5 seconds).

While I was out though, God began to show me things. You see Monica’s daughter Tiffany was in the choir for years and had left. She recently came back, joined the choir and the praise team and has been an important and productive member since then.

And it just so happens that Tiffany is an awesome, anointed, energetic director. So I’m thinking about all this and as I’m doing so God is showing me that He was in the plan from the beginning. That He was going to use the two of us working together to reignite a fire and enthusiasm in the choir that had been missing for a while.

These are just a couple of examples but I could go on and on. Because defining moments are always happening. In music ministry and in life, God always presents us with opportunities that show us very honestly where we are. Then He just kinda waits and watches to see what we’ll do.

It is at those moments that we can choose to be victims, blame others, make excuses, be negative. Even when we’re absolutely justified in our feelings,  there is usually a path God wants us to take that would put us on a direct course to a higher level of service and excellence in music ministry.

It is never without sacrifice. More time. More learning. More stretching. Being pushed out of comfortable places. But when we allow God to show us ourselves in these defining moments and then take steps to maximize them, God takes us higher. A year ago you couldn’t have told me I’d have my own dedicated microphone in front of the keyboard and I’d be singing and playing through much of the service. Or that I’d actually be excited about directing again in ADDITION to everything else I already do. But it’s not me I’m excited about. It’s what taking these steps will mean for my personal ministry and how positively they will impact the ministry I serve in.

Well, Tiffany stepped right in with only days notice and has been doing an amazing job as director. This past Sunday though, was the first Sunday that we both directed. It was one of those things I think everyone felt but nobody had verbalized yet. The paring of these two was going to be a good thing for the choir and God was in the plan.

After church we looked at each other and gave each other a high five. “I think we make a good team”, she told me. I smiled and said “This is the new era, T. We got next.” “We got this”, she said smiling back at me.

Have you had a defining moment in your own ministry? How did it change you? Leave a comment below. I’d love to hear your story.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“I’m not feeling it.”; What to do when you don’t like the song

Do it anyway.  Thanks for reading.

Sincerely,

Ron

A big part of me was tempted to post this article just like that. Partly to see what kind of response I’d get and partly because honestly that’s how I feel sometimes. It’s no secret, or at least it shouldn’t be, that you’re not gonna be crazy about every song that comes to you in music ministry. As a leader there will be some you don’t like as much. As a director there will be some you love to direct and some you don’t like directing. As a musician there will be some you just don’t like, period. Everybody gets that….right? I mean, we get that right?

Certainly none of my savvy, intelligent readers expects that every song will touch their very soul and send them straight to heaven. Even if it is Gospel/Christian music. It would simply be impossible for every song to please every member of any music ministry. But we still have a job to do every Sunday, don’t we? So the question becomes how much do you have to “feel” a song before you can do it? Do you have to like every song you’re asked to do before you’ll say yes? Do you have to be in a great mood, fresh off a fantastic day, well-rested with no personal issues, all your proverbial traffic lights showing green? Um, no. You don’t. And if you’re saying no to songs for anything other than the reasons I’m about to list below, then I hope to change your outlook by the end of this article.

First let’s establish what I’m NOT addressing so we have that clear up-front. There are some songs out there that are just not right for you. Not lyrically sound. Not doctrinally sound. Just plain wrong for your group or your audience. All music and no message. I don’t feel those either. So let’s take those out of this discussion before it starts.

But this phrase “I’m not feeling it” is used a lot in music ministries all over the world when none of the situations above exist. It’s used in reference to great songs with powerful lyrics, great music and dripping with spiritual anointing. It’s used in reference to songs that are perfect for your choir, your praise team, your voice. So who’s using this phrase and why? Quite frankly, it’s often used by people who really don’t have any really good reason for saying no to a song other than the fact that they just don’t want to do it for whatever reason.

I won’t try to list all the possible reasons people say no. I’m not in a position to say what’s a valid reason and what isn’t, you know what I mean? But here’s the thing. If you find yourself saying this or something like it frequently when you’re asked to step up and do something in your music ministry; whether it’s leading, playing or directing a song you’re not crazy about, then chances are you’re using the whole “I’m not feeling it” thing as an excuse to avoid doing what’s asked of you for personal reasons.  Every music ministry depends on it’s more gifted members being willing to step up and do what’s asked of them if they’re able. That is, after all, why you’re being asked to do whatever it is that’s being asked of you.  Because the ministry needs you. It’s also why you were given the gift in the first place.

To continue to decline or refuse to do songs that you know in your heart you’re perfectly capable of doing for not much more than your own selfish reasons is simply a sign of spiritual immaturity. And frankly, to continue to do so is to play a very dangerous game with God where your gift is concerned. Romans 12:1 speaks of presenting your body as a living sacrifice because it’s your “reasonable service”. In much the same way, when you’re a part of a music ministry and God has given you special gifts and abilities that He didn’t give other people, it is your reasonable service sometimes to step up and do a song that you many not be “feeling” or crazy about for the sake of that ministry.

In over 30 years of teaching songs I have taught literally hundreds. You think maybe I ran across a few of them I didn’t care for? Of course, constantly. But I personally take great pride in making sure that when I’m up in front of a group teaching a song there is no indication of how I feel about that song personally. I teach with a lot of energy and passion and enthusiasm when I like the song, and just as much when I don’t. Because the fact is, I understand that if I didn’t it could have a profound effect on the group’s attitude as a whole.

Think about it for a minute. What if, for example, every time your choir director or your musician(s) didn’t personally like a song or just didn’t feel like it, they simply refused to teach/direct/play it? How crippling would that be for your music department? Think of your favorite song by your all-time favorite artist. Have you ever thought about how many times an artist has to perform a song that has become a hit? Over and over again, hundreds of times?  You’re being naive if you think they’re excited and feeling it every time.

The point I’m trying to drive home here is that in music ministries we need EVERYBODY. And when you’re asked to step up and do something that’s why you’re being asked. Because we need you.  And if I can really keep it real with you, if we had someone else to ask we would. Because honestly, begging people to come forth gets really old really fast. Listen, don’t be that person, ok? You don’t have to be excited about every song. You don’t have to necessarily like the song. It’s ok if you’re tired, or you had a long day. We all did. God placed you there and gave you that gift for a reason.  Always remember music ministry isn’t about you. It’s not about me. It’s about God.

Image courtesy of chrisroll FreeDigitalPhotos.net

7 powerful scriptures for next level thinking

I often think about my business and my ministry here at The Music Ministry Coach. What is my mission, or calling? Of all the things I teach and write about, I wonder, what is the central thought, message or idea that keeps resurfacing? As I think back over the different articles I’ve written, teaching I’ve done, posts on my Fan Page and even things I regularly do to help me stay on point in my own music ministry, I see one thing that keeps coming up again and again.

Thoughts. Thinking. Mindset. Attitude. For me, this is the hub that everything I teach and write about music ministry stems from. You can see it showing up over and over again in blogs like  3 Powerful Steps to an anointed music ministry and The 5 second rule of music ministry . A while back a dedicated an entire article to the subject of taking your music ministry to the next level by adopting a “next level mentality”, I called it.

Many years ago, sitting in an unemployment office with no job, I found myself alone at the desk of one of the agents that worked there. She had gone to retrieve paperwork or something. My eyes started wondering around for something to entertain myself while she was gone, when I spotted something on her wall that would change my life. It was this:

In a Sunday school session one day we were talking about the mind and healthy thinking, and I mentioned this Charles Swindoll piece and the importance of positive thinking. The instructor disagreed with me that Christians should practice positive thinking. He believed that doing so somehow negated or weakened our dependence on God.

But positive, healthy thinking is very much a biblical principle. One that gets a lot of attention in the bible in fact. There are far too many of them to include them all here, but I’d like to share with you 7 of the most powerful scriptures regarding positive, healthy thinking. Keep in mind as you read these, a couple of things:

1. Very often when you see the word “heart” in the bible it’s meaning is synonymous with “mind”, thoughts or memory.

2.  These scriptures are great for meditating on as you seek to renew your mind for higher levels of service in music ministry, but they will elevate every area of your life you apply them to.

Just hover your mouse over these scriptures and the text will appear.

Phil 4:8

Psalm 19:14

Proverbs 4:23

Phil 3:13-14

Acts 24:16

2 Cor 10:5

Psalms 51: 10

Can you really  improve your music ministry by changing how you think? Absolutely.  I’ve heard from more than one person who shared with me that their whole view of music ministry has changed since they connected with me. Others have told me they’re suddenly excited again about serving God in the music department. Still others are more determined and encouraged than ever before, just from reading the blogs, posts and e-mails. People who were on the verge of leaving have decided to stay. People who were content where they were are now seeking new levels of service to God in their music departments. People who thought they couldn’t do certain things are now realizing that it’s not what you “can’t” do, it’s what you “don’t know how” to do. And since we can do all things through Christ, anything you don’t know can be learned.

Much like the deliberate renewing of the mind that is expected of every new believer, there is a renewing that happens in your mind when you become determined to adopt a higher level of thinking about everything you do. And scripture shows us that what we spend time thinking about becomes a part of our heart. It’s the key to happiness and success not only in music ministry but every aspect of your life.

The “5 second rule” of music ministry; Use this to quickly move past any negative emotion

As Time Goes ByIf you’ve spent any time at all serving in music ministry, you know that you’re not always excited about everything you have to do. You don’t love every song you have to sing. You’re not thrilled about every engagement. Sometimes you’re not even all that happy about certain people and what they do, say, sing, etc. Let me give you a personal example.

When I first came to the front in my music ministry, it was as a choir director. I didn’t ask for the position, I was sort of “drafted”. But even at that young age of around 15 or so, God had already placed such a love of music in my heart I was happy to serve in any capacity. Over the years though, I started doing many other tasks with the choir, and other gifted directors came up behind me.

To make a long story short, I seldom direct anymore, because I have other roles and responsibilities. My main roles now in my music department are that of voice instructor and keyboard player. Still though, there are times when I’m called upon to direct. To be honest, when I am it always irritates me a little. It’s easier for me to deal with if my director simply can’t be there and needs me to have his back. But it’s really irritating to me if he IS in fact there and just not prepared or doesn’t know the song we’re about to sing for some reason.

In both situations, the source of the irritation for me is the same. It’s not that I don’t enjoy directing the choir anymore. It’s not that I don’t want to help out. I love my music ministry and I believe the sole reason I have any musical gift that I have is so it can be used to help the ministry. What I don’t like about it though, is that any time I have to direct it pulls me away from the keyboard. That’s frustrating for me because I’ve prepared myself to play the piece. The band has prepared for the piece as a unit. What I have NOT done is prepare myself to direct the song. So I’m at a bit of a disadvantage, the band is at a bit of a disadvantage because we all depend on each other, and it’s just a mild irritation all around.

This is one small issue that kind of bothers me, but it could be any number of things for any member of any music department- or any ministry for that matter. In music ministry, often it’s something as simple as not caring for the song we’ve chosen to sing that morning. Whatever it is that you find personally irritating at any given time though, has to be very quickly dealt with. You must have a way to quickly-often within seconds- deal with your personal issue with the song that’s been chosen, or the fact that you’re being asked to lead it again for the 100th time, or the fact that you PREPARED to lead but the song selection had to be changed and now you’re not singing after all that practice….I could go on and on here, but you get the idea.

We need something for those negative emotions that pop-up seconds before we’re about to stand before God’s people. I don’t think many of us really understand how even things as small as facial expressions have a profound impact on the effectiveness of our ministry. If you allow negative emotions, feelings, dissension, irritation or disappointment to remain in your spirit while you’re up ministering to God’s people, then the truth is you’re not ministering at all. You are, at that moment, completely in self.

Nothing matters about what’s going on at that moment except you, your emotions and how you feel about whatever is happening at that moment. That’s something that can’t be hidden from the audience or from God. As someone who is always out front; whether it’s in front of the entire congregation or simply in front of my own choir at rehearsal, I knew I needed a way to deal with something like this quickly. So I developed my own music ministry “5 second rule”.

You may or may not be familiar with the 5 second rule regarding food. But there’s a running joke here in the United States that says if you drop a piece of food on the floor and it’s there for less than 5 seconds, it’s ok for you to pick it up and eat it (lol). Well, as I kept being asked to direct the choir-usually with virtually no notice, I had to find a way to deal with the irritation I felt, and do it in the few seconds it took me to rise from the keyboard and walk over to the director’s spot. That little mental routine became what I now call my 5 second rule.

I had the opportunity to work with a choir a few years ago for about 2 months. The choir was simply paralyzed and unable to move forward with their ministry because it’s ranks were full of people who were simply refusing to do things that they could in fact do that would help the ministry move forward. There were people who could direct that wouldn’t. There was one who could play that wouldn’t. People were singing in the wrong sections for their vocal range because they didn’t like the section they belonged in.

God impressed upon me to share with them the way I deal with directing when I don’t want to, so I began to explain my 5 second rule to them this way;.

“There will always be things you don’t want to do. Songs you don’t want to sing, whatever. We’re only human. But you have to remember that the music ministry is NOT about you. And when it’s time to sing, you must set aside everything you’re feeling that IS about you, and focus on ministering to God’s people. You can’t allow any kind of negativity in your spirit when you’re up in front of God’s people.

Now, I wouldn’t dare stand here and tell you not to feel it. We’re all human and I’m not sure we could avoid it if we wanted to. But here’s what I do when I’m asked to direct and I don’t want to. I give myself 5 seconds to feel whatever I feel. Acknowledge it, pout about it, say it ain’t fair, whatever. From the time I’m told until the time I raise my hands in front of the choir is all the time I’m allowed to let it be about me. Once I get to that director’s spot, that’s over. I take a deep breath, blow it out and say to myself, “ok this is not about me anymore.”And it isn’t. It’s not about us, what we feel or even our right to feel it. Not at that moment.

It’s about God and it’s about ministry. So from that second I raise my hands I’m committed to giving God everything I have in that song. In fact many members of my choir would be shocked to find that I ever feel anything but complete joy about directing. Because that’s all they see when I’m in front of them. The same is true when I’m teaching a song at rehearsal, whether it’s my favorite song or one I really don’t care for at all. They’ll never know how I feel about it based on my outward emotions, facial expressions or lack of enthusiasm.

It doesn’t matter how I feel about the song, or directing, or anything else at that point. Because none of it is about how I feel. So from now on, that’s what I want you to do. Whatever it is you don’t like, you have 5 seconds to feel it. Once it’s time to minister though, it’s not about you anymore. Remind yourself of that every time you feel a negative emotion right before you’re about to minister in song. Just say “5 seconds”. Then get over it and give God your best.”

 

 

How to deal with difficult members as a music ministry leader

181/365 We Are Not AmusedI was just asked this week by one of family members on my Fan Page about leading through difficulties. Now, I’ve been in music ministry for over 30 years, but whether or not I’ve actually been a “leader” is debatable. I’m often referred to as one of the leaders because I’m always up front teaching songs and such. So while I’ve had my share of experiences and encounters with personnel challenges (both as the leader dealing with the challenges and the person creating the challenge,( lol) I wanted to be sure I gave my friend the best answer I could.

The first thing I do when I’m about to write a blog is draw from my own experience. Often that’s enough for me to write an article I think has enough real, relevant content to be a blessing to the reader. In this case I didn’t think I did, so I wanted to do a little research before I answered my friend. What I came across was a great article on the subject that I was really encouraged by. I’d like to share that with you today.

The author’s name is David Santistivan, who writes a blog for worship leaders and musicians. David wrote a blog on the subject entitled Rudeness In The Ranks:  How Do You Handle Difficult Worship Team Members?  In the article David offers 4 great tips for dealing with difficult team members. Not only is the article a great read, but other readers have added even more great content to the conversation via their comments.

So be sure to click the link above and head on over to David’s blog. If you leave a comment be sure and tell him you learned about him here on The Music Ministry Coach.com. For even more help with your worship/praise team check out Praise Team 101 .

Be blessed!

Dear musician, Dear Critic (2 open letters)

2008.11.12 - The letterDear Musician,

You’ve been on my heart lately. I hope it’s ok if I just talk to you for a minute from there. You see as a music lover and a musician myself I understand what it’s like to be you better than anyone. I know what it’s like to love your craft so much that you spend hours, weeks, months and years enhancing and perfecting it. But I also know the other side. The unfortunate, ugly side. I know that often the same people who silently criticized you for not being up to standard often openly rebuke you once you’ve reached that level of excellence.

I know that other musicians who haven’t reached that level often criticize you of not really being sincere. Playing for self-glorification. Using your gift for personal attention and fame. See, it’s easier to do that than to support and enjoy the gift of God working through you. It’s easier because to do that would mean admitting that you’ve simply worked harder, been more dedicated and practiced more than they have. And that’s very hard for some musicians to admit.
I can only imagine how it must feel to hear someone lambasting you in a round about way over the PA system, apparently for no other reason than because you play with a high level of excellence. I know that you often get criticized because you get so many accolades for your gift. People follow you, become groupies almost. You don’t ask for it, you don’t seek it. But you do get criticized for it.

I want to encourage you, anointed musician, to continue giving God your very best. I know the talk is hard to hear. I know it’s discouraging to hear you peers hate on you. But TD Jakes said once, “favor ain’t fair”. People will talk. People will give their opinion of how sincere you are, or whether you do it for the attention, or for show. But the thing is, nobody could possibly know that but you and God.

So since you know that He knows your heart, be sure that your heart is pure. Play for Him, and only for Him. Accept no glory for what God does through you. When the Complements, Kudos and praises come, take no credit. Deflect them all to Him. Remain humble and always be a team player. If the spotlight is cast your way, make sure it is God who focused it on you and not you yourself.

I’ll be praying for you as you continue to serve God with your gift.

Ron

Dear Critic,

There is something that has been bothering me a little and I hope you’ll allow me to share my heart with you respectfully and in love.  I’ve been at a few church events that you were at also, and I’ve heard you speak pretty passionately about some musicians that were there. You had some pretty tough things to say. I’m not here to say you were wrong, by any means. I believe with all my heart that a musician should play to the glory and honor of God. I believe it should NOT be about show, and I believe that every musician playing in church needs to be doing it as his ministry and service to God,  period. Not for any glory or fame for him.

So my problem isn’t necessarily what you say, but how you go about it. At the end of the day, none of us know from the outside looking on where a musician’s heart is. And I think it’s wrong to assume that every musician who excels to a  high level though hard work and diligence should automatically be labeled as fake, or not sincere, or doing it for show.

But that’s not even the worst thing for me. For me, it’s the public way we tend to do it. Criticism like this is often said in a very public way, over PA systems and from podiums; often with the musicians still there. You never use names, of course, but it’s usually pretty obvious. To me this is a very sad and unfortunate element of our culture. It does not seek to teach or edify in any way, only to tear down. If your heart is in the right place, why not go to the musician privately if you think there may be an issue with his focus or true motivation? Why not offer a word of prayer or an understanding ear as you speak to him about your concerns in love? Can we stop using public forums to tear each other down and criticize each other?

Finally, I would ask you to do one other thing. Just like nobody could really know the true heart or motivations of the musician (unless you know him personally) only you and God know your true motivation for the criticism. You see, it’s a fact that most criticism musicians get comes from other musicians who play the same instrument. And the fact is, many times the musician doing the criticizing has not reached the skill level of the musician he’s criticizing.

If you’re not a musician but you feel the need to openly criticize and rebuke one, I urge you to ask yourself why. Deep in your heart, are you doing this out of concern, or is it to get a reaction from the congregation? Only you and God know. But I pray the next time you find yourself in the same situation you would pray for guidance before you speak. I pray that you would choose to act with compassion and understanding rather than malice or hatred. At the end of the day, the only reason to publicly rebuke a musician or anyone else, is to draw attention, glory and praise to yourself. And that’s kinda what you’re criticizing the musician for….right?

In love,

Ron