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.
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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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Why it’s better to sing in unison than with bad harmony

Schola Cantorum de Caracas (Venezuela) led by Maria GuinandDown through the more than 30 years I’ve been teaching vocal harmony for various choirs and groups I’ve developed a reputation as a “perfectionist”. Unfortunately I don’t think everyone who says this about me means it in the most positive way. In fact I’ve been accused of nothing short of dictatorship, although not in so many words. I suspect the same is true for many choir directors, music ministers and musicians around the world who are charged with teaching the songs their various choirs and praise teams bring before the congregation week after week.

As we discussed in another blog, some of the hardest, most frustrating rehearsals in fact have been those where the harmony didn’t come together quite so easily, but I continued to push until we got it right. In fact sometimes we didn’t get it right, and we decided to simply come back to it in another rehearsal rather than perform it before we had it perfected. And it’s times like these when people really wonder why it’s such a big deal to have everything so “perfect”. It’s most frustrating too, when it’s a really small thing that we just can’t get our heads around, you know what I mean? Like one note in one section that is being sung a half-step off, making this really unpleasant clashing of ┬áharmony between the musicians and the singers. Often it’s hard for the choir members and praise team members to understand why it’s such a must that things like that be fixed.
Well, I can really sum it up for you with one sentence. it’s something God dropped in my spirit when I was very young, and it’s been one of the driving forces behind my style of teaching and ministry. He said this:

“The harmony is right when it’ becomes transparent.”

Looking back I think I knew everything that sentence meant the minute it came to me. And I knew that if I could help my choir understand this it would change the way they felt about the work involved with perfecting the harmony. Instead of resenting it they would come to embrace, understand it’s necessity and even prefer it. So God started to not only reveal this to me, but to admonish me to teach it to others so they really had a whole new understanding of why it’s so important to do this work.

So to explain it in a nutshell, God showed me that when harmony is right, nobody is paying attention to it. They’re only paying attention to the message. Beautiful harmony just makes the message that much more powerful. But when it’s right, the harmony is NOT the main attraction. The message is. Ironic, isn’t it? That we put so much work into the sound for the express reason of getting it to the point where nobody pays attention to it? But that’s the real reason we do it. The reason we MUST do it.

Because you see, when it’s wrong, everybody’s paying attention to it. But nobody for the right reason. When someone or some section is off-key, even if everything is going great up until that point, it will immediately draw everybody- and I mean every member of the group AND every member of the audience- OUT of worship and praise and focused solely on trying to figure out what’s wrong; “something doesn’t sound right”. Choir or praise team members start looking around at each other, the musicians, the director- ANYBODY that can help them find where they’re supposed to be. So again; NOBODY’s thinking about the message. There is no praise or worship going on at this point. Just uncertainty, confusion, embarrassment. Now everybody’s out of the Spirit and in self. So the negative effects are even worse on the choir or praise team than they are on the audience.

Case in point.

Our choir was doing a particular song one Sunday morning. It was a beautiful, powerful worship song. As we began to move through it the Holy Spirit started to move through the members and the audience as well. People were starting to lift their hands and just worship God through the song. But then we came to a place in the song where there has always been some uncertainty. It was a rather complicated movement, and not everyone really understood what was happening there.

The minute we reached that part in the song, it was as the Holy Spirit hit a brick wall. We immediately came out of worship as the members realized they didn’t know what part to do or where to do it. We didn’t understand it. We hadn’t perfected it until we really, really knew it. We went on and struggled through the whole movement to end the song. The embarrassment and utter disappointment was palpable enough to cut with a knife. Not having been the original teacher of the song, I vowed then that we wouldn’t sing it again until I could make every member understand exactly what was happening in this movement, to the point where it was almost instinctive.

And that is the most clear illustration I can give you for why song teachers, choir directors and music ministers all over the country drive and push their music ministries to excellence. I know what it looks like. But it’s really not about us at all. It’s about removing all distractions, hindrances and uncertainty that would take the focus away from our true mission; to deliver the word of God in song, and to do it in such a way that it’s effective and reaching the hearts of His people.

For that reason alone it is almost better to just sing in unison than to sing with bad harmony. But I feel the need to also make sure everyone understands that it isn’t about harmony. You don’t have to have harmony at all to have a powerful, anointed performance. A group of people singing in unison has the same effect as a group of people singing in perfect harmony. The sound becomes transparent vessel that delivers the message without distraction.┬áHezekiah Walker’s “I Need You To Survive” is a great example of a very powerful choir song that has no harmony.

The real point is to never allow yourself to be ok with putting something before God’s people that doesn’t sound good and you know it doesn’t. Not, at least, when He’s blessed you with the talent and resources to give Him better. There is a reason why the most disciplined, hard-working choirs and praise teams are usually the most anointed. God honors your music ministry when you’re giving Him your best. Once you really understand that you’ll slowly see your attitude go from “why does it have to be so perfect, we ain’t no professionals!!”- to ” can we go over our part one more time?” And that’s when God takes your ministry to another level.

 

Striving for excellence means pushing past frustration

Day 27 :: Some daysIt’s pretty common knowledge that music is one of the most powerful tools God has given us for for ministry. It stands to reason then that music ministries are the Devil’s favorite target. And, like anything else you try to do in excellence to God, when you’re trying to go to another level is when the enemy begins to attack even more. Perfecting music ministry can be a lot of hard work. Long rehearsals filled with repetition after repetition as choirs, praise teams and groups strive to perfect their harmonies and sound so that God may get the glory.

In a previous blog I gave you scriptures that support the fact that God honors this work. Scripture always speaks highly of skilled musicians and singers. But sometimes it doesn’t come easy. Often it’s the most simple of things too, isn’t it? One little part that you just can’t get down, or one little line that somebody keeps forgetting; something that any other day would be easy for this group. But tonight. This song. It won’t come together. And it’s times like these that we forget what we’re doing all this for in the first place. We get weary. Tempers flare. Arguments take place sometimes. And inevitably someone will question why it’s even all that important.
How do you keep going? How do you push past this? What do you do when you’re stuck on a song, it’s not coming together and everyone is getting angry and frustrated.

1. Stop and pray. Join hands and just begin to pray as a group. Ask God to bind the spirit of division of strife. Pray for unity. Ask Him to move self out of the way. Pray genuinely and not with malice or strife in your hearts. Honesty and truly worship God. A negative spirit has a hard time surviving in this environment. Try going back to the song afterwards, when hearts and minds are in a better state.

2. If it’s harmony that’s causing the problem, try singing the difficult passage a cappella. Often singing the harmony without music helps your singers hear all of the parts blending together. It can really help some singers make sense of their part and understand why it is what it is.

3. If it’s lyrics talk about the subject of the song. Connect with it’s message. Talk about different lines or passages and ask members what it means to them . Moving forward, get into the habit of NOT using lyric sheets unless it’s absolutely necessary. Lyric sheets can be more of a hindrance than a help. They cause your brain to be “lazy, so-to-speak. There’s no need to memorize something as long as the words are in front of you.

4. If all else fails, table the song until another rehearsal. Sometimes getting away from a song gives members a chance to renew their hearts and minds and come back refreshed and with a new attitude about the song.

Whatever you do, continue to strive to give God the best your music ministry has to offer. Often that does mean you have to push past tricks of the enemy like discontent, frustration and anger. Time after time though, those music ministries that do are rewarded with God’s favor and anointing.

Grateful

universal thank you noteToday I’ll be spending time with relatives to celebrate Thanksgiving. Aunts, uncles, cousins and offsprings will all come together to break bread, laugh and enjoy each other. It’s such a beautiful thing and I really look forward to it.

The night before though, I sat in my couch in my apartment writing this blog on my cell phone, alone. You see just 3 years ago I finalized the divorce papers and dissolved a 16 year marriage. I walked away from everything I had spent most of my life building and working and fighting for-my home-so that my ex-wife and kids wouldn’t have to be uprooted from the only home they had ever known.

Sounds like a sad story,I know. And yet I write you with a heart full of gratitude. Because through it all God has been faithful and given me favor. God has blessed my ex-wife and I to have a healthy, respectful and friendly relationship with each other.

I have unrestricted access to my boys and spend every other weekend with them. They are healthy and well adjusted young men who love us both equally and are proud of their parents for how we handled everything.

This year God placed my business on a new path that is in line with the calling He gave me. Since taking the old company website down, changing the company name and completely changing its direction and focus, I am now more fulfilled in my work than I’ve ever been.

Not only am I doing the work I believe God created me to do, but it’s touching people on a much bigger scale than I ever dreamed. I’m thankful that I get to meet, interact with and serve people like you and help you take your your ministry to the next level as I continue to seek to go higher myself.

And so even though I’m alone now after 16 years of living with a family around all the time, I feel like I’ve gained an even bigger family. And that family continues to grow.
And so as my family member I’d like to wish you a special happy Thanksgiving. May God bless you and yours richly today and in the coming year.