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

I can't

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

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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”

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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

mandatory

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.