Music ministry auto-pilot: 6 signs you may be losing your passion

Music ministry auto-pilot: 6 signs you may be losing your passion

Routine:

a:  regular course of procedure

b: Habitual or mechanical performance of an established procedure

 

All of us have these, don’t we? It’s only natural, after all. Any one thing or group of things that you do on such a regular basis that you don’t have to really think about the process anymore will eventually become your “routine”. If I asked you to describe a typical day, you could certainly do it without hesitation. In fact most of us can include specific days and times that  events happen on a daily basis, like clock work. This is not a bad thing, really. A routine gives our lives order and helps us be productive. It helps us carry out the list of daily things we all need to get accomplished, and do so in a productive way. So, a routine in this sense is a good thing.

So, when is a routine a bad thing? When you remove that little “a” in front of it. Then the word takes on a different meaning, doesn’t it?  When something goes from being considered a routine to just being “routine”, something important has been lost emotionally. Many of us can easily find ourselves in this place with our service in the music ministry. After all, the process of rehearsing and then performing songs for the Sunday service week after week is very repetitive. Often without realizing it you can find yourself simply going through the motions.
Many of us find ourselves having slipped into this state of music ministry auto-pilot, if you will. It’s a place where you may still enjoy being a part of the ministry, but it doesn’t mean quite what it did to you before. Now you just do it because it’s a part of you routine. You go to rehearsal on (insert rehearsal night here), you sing on Sunday. That’s what you do. Because that’s what you’ve always done. Only now, what was once part of your routine has somehow slipped into becoming “routine”; meaning mundane, lacking any real passion or enthusiasm.  Sadly, for some of us it even deteriorates to the level of becoming a “chore” . It’s something that happens so gradually that it can and often does sneak up on us before we’re aware it’s even happening.
Here then, are 6 simple “warning signs” that you may be losing your passion for the music ministry. Signs that what used to be an exciting, passionate way to serve God is slowly becoming more like definition “b” above: A “habitual or mechanical performance of an established procedure”.  

(that becomes more powerful to me every time I read it. There’s definitely something for me personally in that definition).

1. You see your service in the music department as your “job”.

It’s one thing to see your service in music ministry as something you owe to God for blessing you with the gift of music. It’s another thing though, to be in a place where you see it as your job in a natural sense.  Those who do actually receive monetary compensation for their services must be particularly careful to guard against this. This mentality will keep you dedicated and faithful to your position, but it will rob you of your passion and spiritual connection to the music ministry. Whether you’re getting paid or not, when you see your ministry as your job you will start to treat it as your job mentally and emotionally. Which brings us to the second sign:

2. You find that you don’t think about the music ministry except when you’re headed to rehearsal or Sunday morning services.

Most of us try to keep our personal lives separate from things that we “have” to do. Like work. When you start feeling like that about singing or playing in the music department, your feelings are starting to change.

3. You seldom feel the Holy Spirit when you’re singing or playing, except maybe during the performance of new material.

You sing or play every week, and you do enjoy it. But you find yourself just carrying out the mission of the day. Your service in the music department is more about providing an atmosphere for others to praise God and much less about you praising Him.

4. You find that you no longer like older songs that you used to love when they were first introduced.

A song that spoke to your heart and ignited your spirit when it was first introduced should on some level still do so. After all, songs may get old, but the message doesn’t change. If you find yourself becoming frustrated when the music department does older songs, you may be headed towards “definition B” above.

5. You don’t tend to express a lot of enthusiasm or excitement during performances, even when being coaxed to do so by the director or worship leader. And you feel like others who do are being excessive or “over-the-top”.

You find yourself being more and more reserved during song performances than you used to. You often kinda resent it when leaders are pushing and encouraging you to show more excitement and enthusiasm while singing/playing. This is often a sign you’re gradually slipping into music-ministry auto-pilot

6. You resist or find irritating, any kind of changes to the way things are normally done in your music department

We’re all creatures of habit, that’s a fact. But because music ministry is in fact a very repetitive thing that’s easy to get “comfortable” with, leaders are often seeking ways to bring new excitement and fun to the department by making changes. People who never want to see or participate in any kind of change outside of the norm are often in a very comfortable state of  “complacency” about their music ministry service.
The gift of music is a very special one. One that God doesn’t give to many people. It’s a honor and a privileged to serve Him with the gifts He gave us. But the reality is, like everything else we do week in and week out, it can become “routine”. We can get to a place where we sing the songs without really thinking about and paying attention to the message. A place where you’re there every Sunday because that’s part of your Sunday routine.
Take a good look at the list above. Do any of them fit you personally? What can you do personally to break free?  Have you been in this place before? If so, how did you get your joy and passion back? Leave a comment below and let me know.


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

Enthusiasm in ministry; where do you get yours?

Enthusiasm in ministry; where do you get yours?

This may very well be one of the shortest articles you’ve seen from me. And I’m going to end it with a very powerful question. But first, let me ask you something. Who or what gets you excited when you’re singing in the choir or on the praise team? Maybe you’re just a member of the congregation who finds that it’s hard for you to really get going spiritually without that extra push from (insert your favorite motivator/worship leader/singer(s) here).

I’ve worn about every hat in my church’s music ministry over the last 30 years of serving. I’ve been a tenor in the tenor section, the drummer for a short time, the choir director. Now I’m on keyboards. Through all of those years though, I’ve almost always held the position of voice instructor. As such I’ve conducted hundreds of rehearsals and taught hundreds of songs. For many years I taught them then directed them.

Music ministry has always been my passion. My calling. My ministry and my offering to the God I serve. As such, I have a tendency to approach everything I do in music ministry with a great deal of energy, enthusiasm and excitement. I’m “animated”, lol. I often joke with the other band members that if you were to watch me play keyboards with no sound you’d think I was waaay better than I actually am, the way I bounce around over there. I approach directing the same way, whether I actually want to direct or not- and I usually don’t (there’s another message for another blog right there). Naturally when I’m in front of people they respond favorably to that. When someone is excited about what they do, it kinda makes you excited too.

Some people though, have trouble getting excited any other way other than “catching it” from someone else. Over the years as I participated in various conversations about one person’s style or ministry or level of enthusiasm vs. another.  Something I hear people say quite often is some variation of the following:

It’s hard for me to get excited or motivated unless the _______ is excited. When they’re on fire that pulls it out of me. That’s why I love it when Bro. Joe_____________ (insert your favorite thing you love to see Bro. Joe do; whether it’s directing, playing an instrument, singing).  Bro. Joe is always so energetic, and he really makes me want to give more”.

Ever heard that one or something like it? Ever said it? Sure, most of us have. This is a very common thing heard among choirs in reference to the choir director. But it could be any group or activity that has a leader of some sort who just always seems to bring it out of you and take you to that next level spiritually.

So here’s the question I’d like you to think about today as you contemplate your own music ministry, your own walk, your own level of excitement about what you do. If  it’s true that you get your motivation, your desire, your excitement and your enthusiasm from Bro. Joe, and you find it hard to get excited about what you’re doing if he’s not approaching his own ministry with enthusiasm and energy, then…….

Where does Bro. Joe get his from?  In other words, what or who is is motivating, boosting and exciting the person that you’re getting yours from?

When you can honestly answer that you will never have to depend on Bro. Joe or anyone else for yours again.

Ephesians 6: 7-8

Complements, kudos and praise; how the bible teaches us to handle them

If you’re a regular reader you know how adamant I am about the importance of practicing, rehearsing and perfecting your music ministry until it’s the best it can be. In my blog Talent Vs. Skill Vs. Anointing; does God really care? I made a pretty compelling case using several scriptures that yes, God cares very much what music ministry sounds like.  But after doing the work, studying and improving their craft, practicing endless hours to achieve a high level of skill in ministry, many anointed singers and musicians find themselves struggling with the outpouring of praise and adoration from well-meaning people.

Indeed, once a certain level of proficiency in music ministry is attained, it is entirely possible for not only for the musician/singer, but the ones giving the praises to become a little confused about who is being praised. People mean well when they shower complements upon musicians, of course. Many of them even use all the right words when they’re giving you kudos. Words like anointed are often used by people who are complementing someone’s singing or playing. But whether they realize it or not, most people have a tendency to praise the person more than they are praising the God that is working through the person.

Even the best of us can get caught up in all the praise when it’s always coming at you. We are, after all, human. But the good news is God always gives us a way of escape when we go to His word. In scripture you can find several instances where the bible teaches and gives examples of the importance of deflecting such praises away from ourselves toward God, the source of all good things.

The book of Daniel chapter 2 told the story about  Nebuchadnezzar, who had been troubled with dreams he could not interpret. After hearing news that Daniel had the gift to interpret dreams, the king sent for him. When the king asked Daniel in vs.26 if he could indeed interpret his dream for him, Daniel could have easily just said “Yes, I can interpret your dream”. But look at his answer in vs.26-28:

27 Daniel replied, “No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about, 28 but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries. He has shown King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in days to come. Your dream and the visions that passed through your mind as you were lying in bed are these:

Verse 28 is so powerful to me. Daniel basically said “no, I can’t but God can through me”. It’s an amazing example of how scripture teaches us of the importance of deflecting praise away from ourselves and back to God. Jesus Himself during his time on earth constantly deflected praise away from Himself and back to God ( Luke 18:19 is just one example). Paul can also be found deflecting praise away from himself, as well as John the Baptist.

Still though, we need not be rude or condescending when people are saying good things about us. If someone complements your playing, directing, singing or any other aspect of your ministry, to respond with kindness and humility is just the Christian thing to do. But it is also very important to take one more step beyond “thank you” and deflect that praise to God. I have a friend who is an amazing vocalist, and just a beautiful person. But complement her all you want and you’ll never get her to accept any of the credit. “Thank you, it’s nothing but God.” or “to God be the Glory”, or “it’s not me at all, it’s all God” are all things she says whenever someone praises her singing.

That’s really what the bible is teaching us. One thing that makes music ministry such an attractive target for the devil is it’s propensity for vanity. It’s very easy to get puffed up and start “believing the hype”, as it were. After all, you did the work! You fasted, prayed, worked, toiled, and rehearsed. You deserve some praise, right? Sorry, but no. And if you think so, that should be your first clue that you’ve done it all for the wrong reasons. The bible warns very strongly against doing anything- whether  it be praying, fasting, giving or anything else- strictly for the praises of, or to be seen by men (Matt 6;1, 6;5, 6;16).

So while it is important to perfect your ministry, the ONLY reason to do it is so that God gets the glory from it. So when people start lavishing the complements and praises on you, make sure that you deflect those praises away from yourself. Make it a point to always tell people that it’s not you, but God working through you. Failing to give God the credit and the glory for His mighty gifts can often come with terrible consequences,  as Herod found out in Acts 12:22 .

So the word of the day concerning the praises of men on your music ministry is..DEFLECT!

How to put the “ministry” back in your music ministry

How to put the “ministry” back in your music ministry

A few hours ago as I started preparing myself to write today’s blog article, I started by doing what I always do. Thinking about the various facets of music ministry and wondering which one I’d focus on as my topic. But for some reason this time I found myself starting to think  about the word “ministry” itself. The word “ministry” is used so often in the church that I wonder sometimes if we really think about it’s real meaning any more.

Ministry, for many of us, has simply become that word we attach to the end of the title of any group doing anything in an organized way in a church. It’s music. We’re doing it in church. So that makes it “The Music Ministry”. We all refer to that large musical group we participate in at church as “the music ministry”. But I wonder if we really understand what that implies.

So I thought today it would be interesting to actually look at the word ministry separately and just get a good solid definition. In an article on the subject I found on GotQuestions.org the author wrote:

“Ministry” is from the Greek word diakoneo, meaning “to serve” or douleuo, meaning “to serve as a slave.” In the New Testament, ministry is seen as service to God and to other people in His name. Jesus provided the pattern for Christian ministry—He came, not to receive service, but to give it (see Matthew 20:28; Mark 10:45; John 13:1-17).

In another article I found on Kruse Kronicle the author defined it very simply this way:

ANYTHING done in service to God is ministry…….Ministry is ANY work done in response to God’s call

Taking the essence of what the word Ministry means then, and applying it to music ministry, we start to get a better understanding of the gravity of what we’re called to do. I spoke at a choir annual one year and I talked about the fact that even though only one person wears the official title of “Minister Of Music” in most music departments, every person that is a part of the music ministry is in fact a “minister of music”.

Think about that for a minute. Think about yourself as a “music minister”. Not in the sense that you’re in charge of anything, or that you play an instrument, teach, or direct. Only that you serve God and others in His name, through music. Yours is an individual ministry that is part of a larger ministry (the choir, praise team, band), who is part of an even bigger ministry (the church you attend).

That means everything you do, say and think in relationship to your service to the music department encompasses what you now think of as “your ministry”. It changes your thinking in some pretty profound ways, doesn’t it?

And yet the truth is, if we really honestly consider the real meaning of the word Ministry, we understand that as believers we are all called to be ministers. That’s true in every facet of our lives, in everything we involve ourselves in; inside the walls of the church or outside. My very life is my ministry. My service to God and to other people in His name.

It’s a pretty powerful way to think of yourself. Maybe even a stretch in some cases. But I can tell you from experience that every time you think of anything you’re doing that way, it automatically causes you to adjust your thoughts. To set your own bar higher. To strive for a higher level of excellence. Suddenly it’s very difficult to think about just you anymore.

Serving with gladness; finding contentment without the spotlight

Spotlight BeamI’ve served in the music ministry for most of my life. God has blessed me with with many gifts, several of which naturally cause me to gravitate to the front. But believe it or not I find my greatest fulfillment serving behind the scenes. Honestly though, that’s not the case for many people in music ministry. Quite often a member of the choir, praise team or other group develops a very strong desire to be out front in some capacity. Sadly though, that opportunity is not always afforded to everyone that wants it.

There could be any number of reasons someone who wants to come to the front may not be allowed to. It could be that the position or task is just not the best fit for the person for whatever reason. Sometimes it’s just a personnel issue. But the enemy seldom allows us to see things as they really are. Especially in music ministry, where the gathering of so many different personality types, egos and agendas make it an easy target.

Sadly, even in the most innocent of circumstances the devil can make a person believe there is all kinds of hatred and favoritism at work that is keeping you from being allowed to lead a song, or direct, or serve in whatever leadership capacity you’re seeking. We could go back and forth at length about the particulars, and I could give a list of all the possible reasons you’re not being given the opportunity you believe you deserve. I understand that it’s frustrating. It’s hard to have the desire to serve on a higher level and feel like you’re being held back. But honestly, it is seldom as it seems, my friend. The devil knows that music is one of the most powerful and effective tools God has given us for the building and edification of His kingdom. So he is always seeking ways to sow discord and division by playing against our own vanities.

The truth is, you will always be an easy target for his tricks and manipulative ways until you find a place of contentment in your service. To thwart the efforts of the enemy you must get to a place where you are completely happy and satisfied just serving in the music ministry. That’s easier said than done, I know. Because it takes some serious renewing of your mind. One thing I’m always teaching on some level or another, no matter what aspect of music ministry I’m talking about, is understanding the bigger picture. How your efforts contribute to the success or failure of the ministry, and how the ministry as a whole affects so many other things and touches so many people.

It’s learning to look beyond your own limited field of vision. This is the secret of those who are always content no matter what they’re doing in the music department. I know people who can sing until the hairs on your neck stand up. They are accomplished leaders and soloists. Their names around our church are synonymous with really good singing. And yet if we go for months without ever calling them down front to lead, you’ll see them smiling and singing and praising God right there in their section.

You can only reach that level of pure contentment in service when you really understand how important every single person is to a music ministry. You see my friends I just mentioned know that even when they’re just singing in their section they’re making a very important contribution to our ability to serve effectively as a unit. But being happy in the background goes even deeper than that.

The bible tells us in scripture after scripture to avoid doing things to be seen of men. Or to be praised or glorified of ourselves. Look at this example:

Collosians 3-23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving

This is just one example of a theme we see recurring throughout the bible. A message of being content in your service and not seeking to be seen or praised by men. To reach that place of contentment in music ministry you have to see the importance of what you do as an individual to the success or failure of the music ministry. I spoke at a choir annual one year and I referred to this concept as “The Ministry Of Me”. I told the choir that year that even though only one person wears the official title of “Minister Of Music”, every single person that is involved in a music ministry is indeed a minister of music. It’s a very sobering and powerful thing to think of yourself that way. Not just as a “member” but a minister of music. What you do is not “just” singing or just playing. It’s ministry. It’s YOUR ministry, and your calling right where you are.

Just like the ministers who sit on the pulpit but never bring the message, every person in the music department plays a critical supporting role in it’s success. If for some reason I became unable to play keyboard tomorrow I’d sure miss it. But the very next Sunday I’d be up there in the Tenor section rocking it out and singing to the glory and honor of God. I’m a leader too, but I go for months- sometimes years- without leading a song. And I’m completely happy and totally content with that. Because you see, when you have a deep, unwavering passion for music ministry, you just want to be a part of it. If your reason for being there is genuine that’s enough to make you happy. I encourage you to seek that place of contentment.

By the way, I know another young lady who, for many many years, has sang alto for our choir. She has never wanted to lead a song. We’ve asked her many times over the years. But she was much more content just singing alto. Only she doesn’t “just” sing alto. She’s one of the strongest, most consistent, most reliable, most depended on altos up there. And every Sunday you can find her singing right there in the alto section, her hands going up, tears flowing, completely and utterly happy without the glare of the spotlight. And it is because of her years of happily serving God, never seeking leadership or accolades, that God favored her and elevated her to the position of choir president.

She runs the whole choir but you’d never be able to pick her out if you didn’t know her. Because every Sunday she’s standing right there where she’s always stood. In the choir stand, singing alto, hands going up, tears flowing, completely and utterly happy…without the glare of the spotlight.

 

Why some music ministries never get better

Today I have a video blog from you. In all my videos I speak from the heart, unscripted. So you will often see the most raw emotion in my video blogs. Such is the case in today’s video, where I talk about something very dear to my heart. That is the complacent attitude of many church choirs and praise teams-even some bands. What is the mental state of your choir or praise team? Are you stuck in a rut, unwilling to move out of your comfort zone to take your music ministry higher? What can we do about it? Enjoy the video, and please leave me your thoughts.

3 ways to develop a “next level” mentality for your music ministry (or anything else you want)

3 ways to develop a “next level” mentality for your music ministry (or anything else you want)

For a great many of us, singing and/or playing an instrument in church is just something we’ve always done. Those of us like me, who gravitate to the front and take on positions like choir director and parts instructor end up doing so because we simply have a natural God-given talent for it. For that reason though, many of us spend most of our lives at pretty-much the same level as far as our music ministry goes. That’s just human nature, really. We all cling to the familiar, don’t we? We stick with what we know. What we’ve always done.
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