If you’re going to stay, be dedicated

“If you’re going to stay, be dedicated”. No, that’s not what I’m telling you. It’s what God told me Sunday evening, driving home from an engagement with the choir. He didn’t say it in those words exactly. Sometimes He doesn’t have to say anything at all, you know what I mean? It’s just that heavy feeling of conviction that you get sometimes. Suddenly things become clear and you get an epiphany without anyone saying anything at all.

Such was the case Sunday evening driving home from a musical where our choir was scheduled to sing.  People were missing. Important people. Musicians. Our director. Tenors. But I was there and Monica, my dear friend and minister of music was there. So I could stand in as director and other musicians there could help her out with the song. And we had a choir.

We  were first on the program. We go up, I stand in as director, Monica plays for us with help from other musicians that were there, and everything goes fine. You must be thinking at this point “sounds like everything worked out, what’s the problem?” You’re right, everything did.

But in the hallway after we exited the choir stand Monica came up to me and said “I was so scared, Ron. I thought I was going to have to try to direct and play in front of all these people. I didn’t see you back there.”

Again, I was there to direct, we had all the choir members we needed and everything worked out. But I couldn’t feel good about it because as soon as Monica came up to me and expressed how upset she was before she found out I was there, it’s like God slammed into my head every instance I had put her in that position before by not being there myself like others weren’t there that time. Even if everyone else was.

You kinda have to be familiar with the traditions and practices of Pentecostal/Church Of God In Christ denomination to really understand how often this situation occurs. In the COGIC denomination it’s very common for these “evening services” to occur several times a month, either at your own church or at someone else’s.  You go to your regular Sunday morning service and serve, get out for an hour or two and then you’re back for a second service, usually dismissing around 7.

So music departments are constantly on the go and constantly going to second services. They make for some very long days. Over the years I’d become jaded with the whole thing to the point I was starting to wonder if it was time to switch denominations. But I didn’t feel like I was hearing that from God. I felt like it was my own frustrations with denominational traditions and whatever else I decided to have a problem with.

So rather than leave over it I decided I would simply find my own balance. I’d go to these extra things when I felt like it, as long as I took care of home events. Over time I became known for NOT going to engagements away from the church and was simply not expected to be there.

I hope you’re getting a better picture of what’s going on here and why this particular Sunday ended up being a defining moment for me as far as my ministry is concerned. You see, today I had made up my mind I was going; first because it was a special request of our pastor that we all be there. Secondly I’d really been trying to make an effort to simply be more faithful about going to outside engagements.

So I was there, and thank God I was. But God wasn’t about to allow me to feel like I had come in and “saved the day” or something, no. When my friend of over 30 years walked up to me in that hallway, looked into my eyes and told me how panicked she was in the seconds leading up to  mounting the choir stand…knowing she didn’t have her band there to help her and thinking she didn’t have a director either…I thought of all the other times she must have been the only musician. Even worse though, I thought “what if I hadn’t came today?”

Our drummer and bass player were arriving as we were leaving the parking lot, over an hour late to the engagement. I was angry. But really all it did was heap more coals onto my own head.
I felt so much personal conviction in that car driving down the highway. I didn’t hear any voices, guys. I didn’t think the words. I didn’t hear a small still voice in my head. I didn’t hear my conscious talking to me.

I just knew everything at once. I knew that whatever issues I was having with COGIC and the way they do things, as long as I was going to stay I was simply going to have to be more dedicated. It’s funny because we had a meeting at work one day about a bunch of changes and all the challenges they were throwing at us.

The regional manager put it this way. “I understand that things are tough. I’m dealing with a lot of stuff I don’t like and I’m not happy with. But at the end of the day if I don’t like it I can walk. I can vote with my feet,” he said. “But as long as I decide to stay I understand that I OWN it.”.

That’s what I felt like God was telling me in that car, without saying anything to me at all. If I feel like it’s time for me to go then I need to pray about it, get confirmation and start looking for a new church home. But for as long as I feel like I’m supposed to be where I am, I need to be dedicated. I need to own my position and all the responsibilities that come with it. Regardless of how I feel about anything outside of that music ministry, that’s my job for as long as I “own it”.

About halfway home I sent my friend a text message that read:  “I’ll be there from now on, Monica”.

How to never miss another rehearsal

One thing that often plagues many must ministry groups, whether it’s a choir, praise team or even the band, is a absentee-ism at rehearsal. For some music departments it’s not uncommon at all to have so many people out that the songs that were on schedule to sing simply can’t be done. Members missing rehearsal can really cripple a music ministry in so many ways. But hey, life happens doesn’t it? Many people do in fact have what they feel are legitimate reasons for being out on rehearsal nights. Perhaps you may even be someone who misses rehearsal often.

Don’t worry, I’m not here to condemn or judge. In fact my goal is to first encourage you and then offer some advice that has helped me to have an almost perfect attendance record over a span of some 30+ years. I can count the number of rehearsals I’ve missed in all that time. It’s not that I’m not busy, or tired. It’s not that I never get offered other things to do. But we’ll talk more about that in a bit. First I want you to know that you’re very important to your music department. Even if they fail to ever tell you or make you feel like you are, you are NEEDED. When you’re not there, your absence is felt. No matter how big your organization is, I want you to know that they need you.

Many habitual rehearsal-missers aren’t missing rehearsal to be vindictive or spiteful. They aren’t doing so to intentionally put the music ministry in a bind. Many people are just busy. But when you love something enough it will get a special reserved time slot in your life. Many people consistently miss rehearsal simply because they haven’t given it such a place of importance. Don’t get me wrong, you can absolutely sincerely love singing in the choir. But rehearsal? Not so much.  Who knows why? It could be any number of things. But if it’s something you desire to change there’s something you can do.

I mentioned earlier that in over 30 years in the music ministry I can count the number of times I missed a rehearsal. But it’s not because I’m never busy or never have other things I need to do on rehearsal night. It’s just I’ve given rehearsal night a place of high priority. All of  our rehearsals happen on Wednesdays. So I have, for years, simply dedicated Wednesday nights for rehearsals. That means no matter what someone is asking me to do on a Wednesday, it’s already booked. I don’t teach voice lessons on Wednesday. I don’t accept engagements on Wednesday. I don’t set appointments, plan dates, watch tv shows or anything else on Wednesday. Nothing short of an emergency or serious illness causes me to miss rehearsal.

If I wanted to know the things that were most important to you in your life, I wouldn’t have to ask you. Just let me follow you around for a while. It will become obvious after only a few days. Because those things will be the things around which all other aspects of your life have learned to revolve. If you’re someone who really loves to work-out, for example (yes, those people exist..I know right?) it’s not just something you do. It’s a part of you. It’s a part of your lifestyle. As such, everything about your daily routine has adjusted to give that time a priority in your schedule. If you’re someone who has decided to join the music ministry at your church, then rehearsal night has to have the same priority in your life. Whatever night rehearsal falls on at your church, you must make that night a standing appointment on your calendar. Consider it already booked.

You do that for two reasons. First, you do it because when you decide to be a part of a ministry you do it with your whole heart. Secondly though, you do it because you understand that your music ministry needs your presence to minister effectively. Whether you’re hearing it all the time or not, you have to develop a mindset that when you aren’t there, you’re missed. Your absence places hardships on others in your section. People depend on you. This one thing alone has been probably the single most driving force that makes me go the extra mile to always be on my post. It’s not an arrogance thing. It’s just what you do when you care about something.

So if you’ve decided to be in the music ministry, I challenge you today to decide to make rehearsal night a priority. Make it a hard, fast, long-standing appointment that does not get missed, moved or trumped for anything short of an emergency, illness or something of that order. Do this for a few months and, like everything else that is important to you, your life will learn to adjust, make room for and revolve around it because it has been given an elevated status of importance to you.

Want to see growth in your music ministry? Stop using this word today.

I was watching one of those weekly shows once where they open with the end of the episode, then they take you back and show how that moment came to be. I’m gonna do that today, just because I think it would be a more interesting read.  Ok so it’s Sunday morning, about 8:30. I jump on my fan page and post this long status update. It starts getting responses almost right away. People started liking it and commenting on it. It really resonated with everyone.

Now let’s rewind a few months. We’ve only had a praise team for a short time. We’ve struggled, had personnel changes, challenges with leadership, schedules, etc. But recently our former worship leader, a minister, stepped down to focus on preaching. The new worship leader was appointed from our own ranks, an extremely talented and anointed woman of God. We began working together and positive change started happening almost immediately. We all had the sense God was about to begin using the praise team in a mighty way to affect change in the way we worship God on Sunday mornings. So naturally the devil got busy.

We only had 2 tenors, and one of them was now gone, leaving just one.  He’s an amazing, powerful lead vocalist who leads most of our choir songs that need a male leader. But like many very talented lead singers, he has always struggled with vocal harmony. Well, to make a long story short the devil began using this one small thing to dismantle and unravel everything we had accomplished and hinder us from moving forward. It was really causing us to struggle as a whole. I knew I had to do something to move us past this, and I knew I was the only one who could.

I started toying with the idea of leaving the keyboard and singing with the praise team on Sunday morning. But each time I discussed this with the band we simply couldn’t bear the thought of not having the keyboard involved in the musical arrangements. Keys are such an important element in the sound of worship music. During these conversations someone would almost always mention me playing and singing from the keyboard, but I had been so adamant for so long that I “couldn’t”, that now when anyone mentioned it, they did so almost as a joke. But I had reached a point where I knew in my heart that was the only option to get us past this so we could move forward into where God was trying to take us.

So just this past Wednesday night at rehearsal, after again struggling most of the night and still not really able to perfect the harmony, I knew it was time for me to step out of this comfort zone and stop saying I can’t do it. God had given me everything I needed to move us beyond this hurdle and I simply was unwilling to do it. Why? Oh I had my reasons. Good reasons. We all do. But none of them mattered at the moment. Suffice it to say that I knew singing and playing was something I could in fact learn to do if I just practiced it. But it was easier to just continue saying “I can’t sing and play”.

But when you’re continually unwilling to step out on your own, it’s just like God to put you in a position where you don’t have a choice. That’s exactly what He did Wednesday night. Our one tenor was going to be leading one of the new songs, leaving us with no tenor at all. And there was nobody I could move to tenor without leaving someone else short. So God just spoke to me, quietly and in my own voice like He does, and told me…”you can sing this and play. These songs are easy enough. You sing tenor from the keyboard.”

I knew at that moment there was no more excuses. So without any protest or argument I just asked for a mic at the keyboard. We did the songs in a few minutes, God came in and moved at rehearsal and I knew then that I’d be doing it permanently. After thinking about it the rest of the week, contemplating all the time I had wasted saying I can’t do it and where I could have been by now; after all the weeks we’ve struggled and NOT sang songs because we couldn’t get the tenor part right; I felt almost responsible in a way.

I thought about it the rest of that week.  Sunday morning I got up with all this on my mind and that voice spoke to me again. In the middle of sitting at the keyboard I got the overwhelming urge to go to my fan page and post something about what was about to happen, all that God had been revealing to me about the word “can’t” and how much it has been hindering me from moving forward- and thus hindering the whole praise team. So I just sat down and started typing. What my followers saw Sunday morning was unscripted and unedited. It was this:

The praise team is doing all new material this morning, and one of them will be led by our only tenor….which means I’m gonna have to sing and play at the same time today (gulp!).
Singing and playing is something I’ve always had a problem with, and I used to say when the subject came up “I can’t sing and play, you’re gonna have to choose one!” And we’d all have a chuckle about it.
But my own tendency to be introspective made me have to stop saying that, even jokingly. Because honestly it wasn’t true. I can sing and play…if I practice doing it. So it’s not that I’m physically not able to sing and play. I just haven’t cared enough or had enough of a reason to apply myself and learn.

The funny thing is, it’s really just a matter of practicing it. Getting used to doing them both at the same time. That’s about as hard as switching to your weak hand for all of your writing. But you see how important what you say is? “I can’t” is a phrase that plants a seed in your spirit that convinces you of just that. But when you change that verbiage to something like “I haven’t learned how yet” or something similar, everything changes. Now something your mind was all too happy to use as an excuse before has been changed to a very honest truth that holds you accountable. Now every time you talk about that thing you have to face the truth that it’s not that you can’t. You just haven’t really tried yet.

 

“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

True or false: A music ministry should never “perform”

I haven’t heard anyone debating this lately, but among many church circles it is often said that Christian musical entities should never “perform”. I’ll say right off the bat here that I do understand the heart of the people that say it. But I think all the fear, disdain and general rejection of the notion of performing (as opposed to ministering) is based largely on a mis-understanding or misinterpretation of the meaning of the word itself. So in this blog I want to do two things.

First, I want to give you a very clear, definitive answer of not only the word “perform” but the word “performance”. Once we have that we’ll take a closer look at the whole “performance” thing, how it relates to music ministry and why I think the whole thing is really much ado about nothing. First, let’s get the definitions out of the way.

per·form

 [per-fawrm]

verb (used with object)

1. to carry out; execute; do: to perform miracles.
2. to go through or execute in the proper, customary, or established manner: to perform the ceremony.
3. to carry into effect; fulfill: Perform what you promise.
4. to act (a play, part, etc.), as on the stage, in movies, or on television.
5. to render (music), as by playing or singing.
6. to accomplish (any action involving skill or ability), as before an audience: to perform a juggling act.
7. to complete.

per·for·mance

 [per-fawr-muh ns]

noun

1. a musical, dramatic, or other entertainment presented before an audience.
2. the act of performing a ceremony, play, piece of music, etc.
3. the execution or accomplishment of work, acts, feats, etc.
4. a particular action, deed, or proceeding.
5. an action or proceeding of an unusual or spectacular kind: His temper tantrum was quite a performance.

 

If you take a closer look at the definitions for the word “performance” you start to get clues of where all the hoopla about the word came from. In the first definition you see another word mentioned that we don’t like; “entertainment”. You see, somewhere way back in history someone decided Christians should never be entertained or find anything entertaining. So for many people who dislike the word perform being associated with music ministry, there is this notion that if you say you’re going to perform, you are suggesting that your offering will somehow be fake, or less sincere…for “entertainment” and not ministry.

As I said in the opening paragraph, I really do believe people who say this have their heart in the right place. However, when you take a look at the definition for the word “perform” you really start to understand that there’s nothing sinister about the word nor the notion of “performing”.  Stripped of all the extra implications and other stuff, to “perform” is, quite simply, the act of getting up and doing something in front of a bunch of people. It’s that simple. There is nothing sinful or fake about it. Even if it happens to actually make someone smile or laugh.

Here’s the one truth I want you to take away from this. Absolutely everything we do in the delivery of the word of God through music is part of what makes it a “ministry”. That is why everything we do needs to be done at the highest level we can aspire to. If ministry really is the goal, we must understand that the presentation, or”performance” of it is a critical part of effective ministry.  Often a message is only going to be as powerful as it’s messenger’s delivery of it. You’ve seen enough outstanding preachers AND bad preachers to verify that is true.

It is for that reason that we leave our homes and families, drive across town to church in the middle of the week and practice these songs. Learn musical arrangements. Memorize lyrics and harmonies. If we are never to perform, then why would we even need to do all this? Why not just show up Sunday morning and make it all up? Why should we spend all this time learning and perfecting these songs if it’s really true that we should never “perform”?  Because if we did it would most likely be a chaotic, disorganized mess, that’s why. So, just as the dynamic preacher studies and prepares himself for his message Sunday morning we prepare and rehearse and perfect our songs so the “performance” of them will minister to God’s people in a powerful way.

Heck, call it something else if it makes you feel better. Some people say “render” selections, for example. At the end of the day though, it’s really no more than getting up in front of an audience and “delivering/rendering/espousing/ pontificating (lol, whatever) the word of God in song.  You can even say “minister in song” if it sounds better. But even if you say that you’re talking about the performing of those songs in front of an audience. The two really can’t be separated.

So the whole ” a choir should never perform” thing  didn’t make sense to me the very first time I heard it. But I didn’t bother to debate it or argue  about it. And I don’t suggest you do either. Just know in your heart of hearts that it’s not about what you call it, it’s about why you’re doing it.

Image courtesy of “Stuart Miles”FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The one big drawback about passion

I suspect this will resonate with groups of all sizes and types, but I think choirs and praise teams will relate most. One of the most frustrating things about group music ministry is the unfortunate task of dealing with all the different personalities, quirks and idiosyncrasies of people. To call it challenging would be an understatement, wouldn’t it?

But if you’re a part of a choir, praise team or other group music ministry, you know exactly what I mean. The lack of enthusiasm. Tardiness. Absenteeism. A less than positive attitude. In a word, Apathy. The sad truth is not everyone that is a part of any given group is necessarily there for the right reasons. But I think that’s a lot less common than perhaps we think. Many people join the music ministry because they love it, but have simply been there so long that they aren’t excited about it anymore, as I described in Music Ministry Auto-Pilot, it’s a routine that has become routine.

We must also understand that not everything is as obvious as it seems. We often don’t know why a person is constantly late, missing rehearsals, generally apathetic, or whatever the problem may be.  And I’ve found over the years when you have such things happening across the group as a whole it’s a sign of a bigger issue or issues. The group as a whole may not be happy with some aspect of the way the ministry is administrated.

I’ve been talking about passion and love for ministry here lately and how they both intertwine. It is the life-blood of every ministry. Without it a ministry can’t be effective or, in my opinion, anointed. But here’s something I want you to really pay close attention to and understand, especially if you’re in a leadership position.

Passion cannot be mandated.

Let me explain what I mean by that. You see, the typical reaction to wide-spread apathy in a group is one of frustration. After all, this stuff should be obvious by now. This is music ministry. We know this.  Right? So leaders who find themselves dealing with these kinds of issues can sometimes react in a rather scolding manner. We start addressing the issues at rehearsals. And even though we often use all the right language, scripture and teaching, often it all comes across rather combative. Sometimes it even comes across like scolding. I’ve been guilty of this a lot, I won’t pretend otherwise.

It’s hard not to. Believe me I get it.  But the thing is, you can never get someone passionate about something by forcing it down their throats or beating them over the heads with it. Your motivation for doing so may be absolutely born out of passion, but the approach is often all wrong. Passion cannot be mandated. It can’t be forced upon people. It can’t be an ultimatum. That doesn’t negate the need for boundaries and established rules by far. But we’re talking something that goes beyond just showing up when you’re supposed to and doing what you’re supposed to do. We’re talking about enthusiastic, passionate participation in a ministry.
That kind of passion can only be shared. Shown. Lived outwardly in front of people. When it is experienced that way it is felt. Seen. Understood. And eventually, caught. I’ve come to understand over the years that the more passionate I am about my own service, my own position, my own ministry- about everything I do related to music ministry- the more it changes people’s attitudes around me.

I’ve always been known around my church for my love of the music ministry. Being passionate about it. But it seems here lately that reputation has grown even more. Not because I go around saying it though. I just am. It shows in the way I play, the way I sing, the way I direct. I can’t help but show it, because it’s just in me. And so these days when I speak to the choir or praise team about issues or challenges, the conversation is different. My tone is different.

It’s still deliberate, still one of authority, still adamant. But nowadays when I talk to my praise team about the importance of perfecting our sound, it’s coming less from that place of frustration and more from a place of  “I so want you to feel the way I feel”, or “when you begin to really understand this the way God gave it to me it’s going to transform this whole experience for you”.

I talk about how powerful and anointed our ministry can be. I talk about the importance of knowing our songs,  just like I always have. But now instead of negative language about “not sounding a mess” or “getting up there messing up” or “half-doing it”….you get the idea….I find myself instead talking about how powerful it is to be absolutely sure of every note and every word of a song. I talk about how freeing it is to sing without any fear or doubts. How it frees you to really worship God and feel His presence in a much more powerful way. I talk about how it affects the audience, and changes the atmosphere, and makes the people more receptive to the word of God.

But these days I don’t just say “we have to do it, it’s important”. I talk about what a wonderful feeling it is when God uses us mightily that way. I speak from a place of love and passion that they can see, and hear, and feel. Passion  expressed, shared, lived outwardly, is caught. It’s embraced. I’ve been doing this a very long time, so I know how all this sounds. I know it’s easier said than done, and I wouldn’t sit here and try to convince you that I always get it right.

But I do know that the more passionately I approach ministry from every angle-especially conversations about it- the more of it I see creeping into others around me.