How your musical gift is like a Sweet Potato Pie

Thanksgiving day in America is steeped in tradition, the most important of which is the tradition for families and friends all over the country to come together and break bread. While everyone has their own favorite food staples, you’re almost sure to find Sweet Potato Pie on the menu at most gatherings. So I thought it would be a fun, visual way to look at a basic, fundamental truth regarding how all singers and musicians in music ministry should see their gift.  I’ll use myself and a fictitious friend in this little story to make it easy.

So imagine with me for a few minutes. It’s Thanks Giving day. I’ve spent all night long making my prize-winning Sweet Potato Pie. But I have to go in to work for a half a day and I don’t want the pie to arrive to the family dinner too late for everyone to enjoy. So I ask my friend to take it with her to the family dinner and I’ll join everyone later.

A few hours later at the family gathering everyone has finished dinner and is starting on the dessert table. A few people get a slice of the Sweet Potato Pie and start raving to my friend about it. “Oh my God Janice this pie is amazing!” “Girl you did your thing with this!” The complements keep coming as word gets around the house about how good the pie is. Meanwhile Janice is glowing and enjoying all the complements. Smiling and thanking everyone for the kind words. “Oh, thank you! God bless you! I’m so glad you like it so much!”

Later I arrive at the dinner after work ready to eat. it doesn’t take long for people to start coming up to me raving about how good my friend’s Sweet Potato Pie is. They go on and on about how great a cook she is, and how they’ve never had pie like that. And how I should really take some lessons from her!

I look at her and smile, but I don’t say anything. After all, I love her. She’s my friend. I would never embarrass her. But I know in my heart that SHE knows she didn’t bake that pie. She only delivered it. And I can’t understand why she wouldn’t give me the credit for it. Why wouldn’t she just say “oh thank you but actually Ron made it. I just delivered it for him”. I may never scold her or punish her or even mention it to her again. But the next time I need to choose someone to deliver something I created I’d be a lot more careful to choose someone whom I know won’t take the glory for themselves.

As singers, musicians, directors and worship leaders…whatever your gift is, we should all endeavor to think of our gifts just like that Sweet Potato Pie.  It’s not our creation. It doesn’t belong to us. We didn’t bake it, we were simply the ones God chose to deliver it to His people. So when the praises, kudos and complements come, we must always be sure to never take the credit for a pie we didn’t bake.

 

Feeling unappreciated or taken for granted in your music ministry? Read this.

If you’ve served in a music ministry (or any other church ministry for that matter) for any length of time- particularly in supportive or administrative capacity like choir director, musician, or other such positions, you have probably felt unappreciated or taken for granted more often than you can count. You may even be dealing with those feelings right now.

I struggled with this for a long time. I felt very much taken for granted and unappreciated. Even thought about moving my membership a few times. “I’ll go some place where I’ll be appreciated”, I thought. But there was one problem with that whole line of thought, the whole attitude I had about it and pretty-much every emotion I had any time I thought about it. And I can sum it up for you in one scripture: Col 3:23-24 .

To be honest I didn’t even remember the scripture or where it was located. But every time I found myself pouting or feeling some kind of way, there in the back of my mind would be something saying “isn’t there something in the bible about seeking the praises of men and not being concerned with it or something like that?”

Yeah, there is. A LOT. The scripture above is just one of them. Soooo, now I have to deal with the reality that no matter how justified I thought I was in feeling  all this “I’m not appreciated” stuff, the bible seemed to be making it very clear to me that feeling those things meant my focus was on the praises of man and not Him.

So I started praying to God about it. I acknowledged to Him that I didn’t know how to get rid of these feelings and that I knew I shouldn’t feel that way. I told Him I was going to need His help with this one.

It didn’t happen right away, but over time God helped me start to see things differently. Eventually, I started to see the whole thing in a completely different way. It took something my pastor said to me once for me to really understand.

He was talking to me once about how certain people are so dependable, so reliable and so on-point that you just don’t worry about them. You don’t feel the need to cod and encourage and constantly mention them to keep them motivated or encouraged because you just know they’re going to be there doing it.

I didn’t get it at first. Back then I thought it was just a really nice way of justifying the fact that he never mentioned my name. As time went on though, and I began to mature in my ministry, I started to really understand.

Think about that whole term, “take for granted”, for example. You’ll get several different definitions when you look it up. But the one that stuck with me is the one that speaks to what you do when you just expect someone or something to be there, doing their job. Because it’s their job. We all must have at least 10 people or things we “take for granted” in that way.

You may never go out of your way to give kudos or thanks to them. But there is an unspoken feeling of gratitude and appreciation there just the same. The fact that you never have to worry about the person being there is a comforting thing that you rely on. That, almost certainly, is how the people at your church feel about you.

It may sound like a bit of a stretch to you at first, but for me, that revelation combined with the cutting truth of God’s word in Col 3:23 was everything I needed to really change my whole attitude about feeling unappreciated or taken for granted.

Deep emotional feelings like these are hard to let go of I know. But if you allow yourself to really process this- both the scripture and what I’ve shared with you here about changing the way you see the very meaning of the words- you’ll find yourself moving into a different level of service in your ministry.

I’m at a place now where, even at my busiest I’m content in knowing that my contribution to my ministry is needed and appreciated. I’ve still never been set aside and given a big special program or anything…an “appreciation service” we call it in the Black church. And it really used to bother me. But God has answered my prayer and helped me see things differently.

Now I’m completely content serving my music department in whatever way I can, whether or not I ever receive any praises from men or not. Because I know that my reward is in Him. And that’s what God wanted from us in the first place.

If you’re dealing with these feelings you might also enjoy reading Serving With Gladness; Finding contentment without the spotlight

 

 

 

Maximizing Defining moments in your ministry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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

The power to get wealth; what it really takes

Lately I keep thinking about that scripture in Deuteronomy 8:18 that says God has given us the power to get wealth. But then I heard a statistic recently regarding the popularity of reality shows. Turns out most people say they watch them because they’re bored and have nothing else to do. What I’ve learned this year that has really sunk in more than any other time in my life, is simply that the power to get wealth is in knowledge. In the past I, like many others, have said that you can’t be successful trying to market to believers; especially black ones. But there was one flaw in my thinking. Black Christians spend a lot of money. And there are in fact  companies successfully making an income selling stuff to them. And they’re not all selling bibles and hats. And most of them aren’t faith-based businesses.

So last year after having my services on-line for some time and having “marginal” success at best, I decided to take ownership of where I am and what I’m doing- and NOT doing- to reach my goals. I got real honest with myself and admitted that I know nothing about how to market properly and that I was basically just putting stuff up and hoping people would come.  Blindly trying different things, tossing them against the wall and seeing what would stick. So I made a commitment that I would really get serious about learning how to properly market my stuff on-line. So while many people are coming home parking in front of the tv because there’s “nothing else to do”, I started coming home and get on-line. I stopped chatting and playing games and started reading about internet marketing.

Now instead of tv and games I read forums and websites and articles and courses about the how to create and market products and services on-line. Then I spend hours sifting and sorting through information over-load and hype. Then even more hours learning how to apply what I’m learning. It’s been frustrating. And time consuming. And overwhelming. And more than once I’ve felt like I was getting nowhere (that’s because the Devil kept me focused on what I wasn’t accomplishing so I couldn’t see how much I had already accomplished- but that’s another blog for another day).

But I’ve come to understand that God makes it possible for us to get the knowledge, which equals the power that we can then use to get wealth.  Most of us don’t ever get it because we stop short of getting the knowledge. It’s taken me several years to really get this. I thought that because I felt like God told me to do something, and I was pretty good at it, people would come. And they’d tell two friends, and they’ll tell two friends, and so on and so on. I found out though, that real life doesn’t work like that shampoo commercial.  I’m a vocal coach . People who study with me say  I’m pretty good. But that’s not enough, and that’s the truth I’ve had to learn. People don’t tend to go tell two friends when they’re happy. But they’ll tell 10 friends when they’re not, lol! Now that I do get it though, things are starting to happen.

I’m a vocal coach now because one day I believed God spoke to me and told me that’s the direction I should be going. What I did next though, is the reason I am one today. And what I did next is get on line and start searching out how to become one. If I hadn’t, I still wouldn’t be one no matter what God said to me. But here’s the thing. Sometimes it isn’t even that deep. I did spend money, get training, take lessons, go through a certification process to learn to teach voice professionally. But God has given us the power to get wealth using knowledge we already have.  One of the products I promoted was built from things I just learned from being in music ministry most of my life. Not something I went to school for. Just something I’ve learned how to do over the years. It’s called “Ad-lib Like A Pro“.

So anyway, I posted this blog announcing the sale on all my products, then I posted about Ad-Lib Like A Pro separately a couple of times. Now, before this year I would have just put it on my website and waited for people to come. Then hoped some of them might buy it.  Or worse yet, I would have thought “that would be a great idea” and then stopped right there and went back to playing Farmville. But because I got serious last year and determined I’d learn everything I needed to know about how to be more successful, I have a new mindset now. Now when I have an idea or a thought, I start researching how to do it. I learn as much as I can free and when I determine I’ve gone as far as I can free I spend some money. Because I understand now better than any other time in my life that God is always giving us ideas, placing people in front of us, putting us in the right place at the right time. And it’s up to us to take it from there. Because of that mindset Ad-lib Like A Pro and Vocal Ministry Breakthrough generated over $250 in sales, and did so less than a week before Christmas. That’s just putting it out there to you guys.

The point of this whole thing is not to talk about what I’ve managed to do. That’s not much money in the grand scheme of things. It’s more about really coming to grips with what it really takes to move to the next level with pretty-much anything we want to do. As we come to the end of the year we’ll all start talking about what a great year 2013 will be like we do every year. But most of us say that expecting that God will simply just drop it all in our laps without much effort on our parts. I have had to learn it just doesn’t work that way. God gives us ideas and knowledge and skills that we can use to be successful. But then He expects us to do something with it. He answers prayers by placing people in our paths that can help us achieve the things we’ve been praying for. It’s then up to us to see that as an opportunity He’s placed in front of us and then take advantage of it.

So many people are absolutely convinced God told them to do something or pursue a thing until that first hurdle comes. Or the first realization it will take time and work and money. Then just as quickly as we got the revelation it was Him, we suddenly get another revelation that it wasn’t. I’ve learned that while there are definitely things out of our control out there, very little of what’s holding most of us back has anything to do with our circumstances, income, background, race or anything else. God didn’t make any specifications about whom He gave the power to get wealth. He didn’t say He gave it to only one or two segments of the population or to one race of people over another one. We just have to understand what that power is, and that He gave us the ability to get it any time we want it. Other scriptures reinforce that notion, like 2 Timothy 2:15. Hosea 4:6 and Proverbs 4:7 .

Moving into 2013 I’ve had to understand that having a desire and even the talent to do something does not guarantee I’ll be successful with it. I must study, learn, grow in my knowledge and expertise of that thing. I must invest time and yes, money. He has indeed given us the power to get wealth. And as I’ve seen proof of myself, it will kick in as soon as we’re ready to start using it.