Tips for growing your choir

The gospel music industry is constantly evolving. With few exceptions, choirs have become almost extinct. But they remain a strong, viable and important element of music ministry in local churches across the country. Many local choir directors and ministers of music sometimes find it hard to keep their choir healthy and growing. I ran across a great article last night that listed some great tips in that regard. The article is entitled 5 Steps To Build Your Choir .

The website I found this on, http://ministry127.com/ , is a great resource for church leaders in all aspects of ministry, not just music ministry. Under the music ministry category I found several great articles just on choir alone.

For the African-American church anyway, it doesn’t appear that the Gospel choir is going anywhere any time soon. But like anything, a Gospel choir must continue to grow or it eventually dies. Recruiting members isn’t something most of us give much thought to. This article gives some simple, practical tips on how to keep your choir growing and why it’s important.  Make sure to head over to the link above and take a look at the article.

Having trouble finding new song leaders in your choir? Most would-be song leaders don’t come forward because of one thing. They’re afraid of doing adlibs. Develop and encourage new leaders from within your own ranks with my new  training video Adlib Like A Pro.

 

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

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

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

per·form

 [per-fawrm]

verb (used with object)

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

per·for·mance

 [per-fawr-muh ns]

noun

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image courtesy of “Stuart Miles”FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Why you should NEVER sing entire songs with your eyes closed (part 2)

Welcome Back!

So in part one I discussed the fact that singing with your eyes closed disconnects you from your audience and basically makes them an outsider looking in on your “private” conversation with God.

But let’s face it. Keeping your eyes open comes with it’s own challenges. I know I’m stating the obvious here, but one of the biggest “disadvantages” of singing with your eyes open is that you can SEE everybody. LOL! Yes, this is not always the greatest thing. Because the honest truth is, no matter how good or anointed a person is, there will be people in the audience that are just not with you. For whatever reason. They might not like the song. They may be distracted. Heck, sometimes it’s just good old-fashioned hatin’. It can be somewhat discouraging when you see that from up on stage.
The other challenge is where to look. I already said in part 1 that simply staring at one spot in the room or up at the ceiling isn’t any better than having your eyes closed. You’re just as disconnected from the audience that way as with your eyes closed.

So what do you do??

I teach my students a very simple performance tip called the “Four Square” method. It’s a very easy to implement method of connecting with your audience in a genuine, effective way. It will also keep you from staring at one fixed spot in the room. It works like this:

As you stand in front of a room, mentally divide it into four large squares. As you sing, simply move your eyes from square to square, each time focusing just briefly on one person sitting in that area. Simply continue to do that throughout the song. Go to square one; look at the person in the front row. Move your eyes to square 2. Make eye contact with the person in the middle. And so on, you get the idea.

This keeps your eyes moving and keeps you connected with the audience in a much deeper way. More importantly though, it allows God to speak directly to people with the message in the song, through YOU.

So what about those people who aren’t looking very nice? Not enjoying you for whatever reason? There will always be some. That’s just reality. But the great thing is, unless you really need to come see me (smile) there will usually be a lot more people who ARE enjoying you and being blessed. As you continue to rotate through the four squares, simply keep coming back to those people who are being blessed. Clearly that’s who you’re there to sing to anyway.

 

Why you should NEVER sing entire songs with your eyes closed (part 1)

It’s a very common thing to see Gospel singers do their entire selection with their eyes closed. And honestly, most have very good reason for doing so.  After all, Gospel music is ministry. As such, many well-meaning singers simply want to completely lose themselves in the song and it’s meaning. Their thinking is if they close their eyes and focus completely on God and the message, God will use them to bless the audience. Some others though, close their eyes simply out of fear, nerves or stage fright.

Either way though, singing with your eyes closed the entire time is something every singer should avoid. Ironically the very reason many singers close their eyes is the most important reason they should STOP doing it. Have you ever been in a social setting with two or more people who are having this intense conversation and not involving or addressing you at all? It’s as if you’re not there!
Singing with your eyes closed has a similar effect on your audience. Even though every sincere Gospel singer wants to have a powerful, effective ministry that really speaks to people, closing your eyes cuts your audience out of that conversation and makes it a private conversation between just you and God. The audience, even though many may be enjoying the performance, is robbed of a much deeper connection with you because you’ve made them an outsider “looking in”.

But when you sing with your eyes open- and sorry guys, starring at the ceiling or the clock on the back wall doesn’t count either- I’m talking about making eye contact with members of the audience- people feel a much deeper spiritual connection with not only you but the message you’re portraying in the song. Imagine for a moment that you’re in the audience watching a performer sing. He’s great, and clearly fully invested emotionally and spiritually in the song he’s rendering. His eyes are closed the whole time. You hear him sing “sometimes you have to encourage yourself”, and you nod in agreement as you sway back in forth.

NOW: Imagine the same artist is doing the same song. He sounds great and the spirit is high. He’s engaging and looking at members of the audience as he sings. Just as he comes to the line “no matter how you feel, speak a Word and you will be healed”, his eyes make contact with yours and he points at you. This time tears begin to flow because you KNOW God is delivering a Word directly to you through this artist.

That’s the difference. When you engage with the audience while you’re singing, your message is much more powerful because you allow God to speak directly to them through you. And that’s the whole point of it all, isn’t it?

Now let me just clarify something really quickly. When I say you shouldn’t sing with your eyes closed, I mean just what I said above; that is, not for the entire song. There are moments in a song where it’s perfectly normal to close your eyes for a moment during a high energy or emotionally charged point in the message. Worship songs are also a bit of an exception to this rule of thumb. Typically when you’re singing a worship song it’s being done in an atmosphere or time of corporate worship. As such, most of the audience will also have their eyes closed…..in a perfect world. But we all know that’s not often the case even during worship songs.

Worship songs are different in that they’re really designed to set an atmosphere for worship and communion with God. It’s a lot like the background music at a really nice restaurant. Even so, while it’s maybe more acceptable to close your eyes longer or more often in a worship song, it’s still just as important to be sure to make eye contact with members of the audience from time to time.

Ok so we’ve established that it’s not a good idea to sing entire songs (or even most of a song) with your eyes closed. But singing with your eyes open comes with its own challenges. In part 2  I’m going to share a really neat performance tip you can use to make it easier to and highly effective.

See you then!

Image courtesy of “imagerymajestic”FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

From my heart to yours; a personal letter

You know, so many amazing things have developed in our lifetime. Look at how accessible the whole world is to us now. Through my Fan Page I regularly touch people from all over the country and even other countries. When it comes to reaching new heights in ministry, personal growth, knowledge or anything else we are indeed living in the age of few excuses.

I was just thinking the other day as I read the comments on one of my blogs that I can literally get instant access to coaching and training for pretty-much any aspect of my personal or business life with as little effort as a Facebook post.

I’ve shared with you before my testimony of how God began years ago compelling me to step out there and share the gifts, knowledge and wisdom He has poured into me for over 30 years now with a much bigger audience. Honestly, didn’t want to. I didn’t believe there was an audience. In fact I went looking for proof that somebody- ANYBODY- was searching for the kind of information and training He was telling me to do, and I didn’t find much.  Google has a tool that business owners use to see who is searching the web for information on topics, products or services we may be considering. To be considered viable you need to find people numbering in the thousands searching monthly for those keywords.

Well, when I typed in the keywords related to music ministry and Gospel vocal training and coaching and everything else I have to offer, virtually nobody was searching for any of those terms. Can you imagine how my heart dropped? But I couldn’t shake this overwhelming urge to keep moving in this direction. Every business coach and expert I follow was advising against pursuing any niche where you don’t see evidence of a demand.

But I couldn’t let it go. So I prayed about it and He placed something in my spirit that gave me peace and assurance. He simply told me that if I stepped out there with my ministry, pushed myself beyond the 4 walls of my own church, reached out to a bigger audience…that there would be people there to receive what He put inside of me.

And even though at this point I’m still only at the very beginning of this journey, I have seen His hand at work bringing about His promise to me. I have heard from individuals and ministries all over the country as well as people in Africa, Canada and Germany, all telling me that my humble little blogs, home-made videos with no professional equipment, shot sitting in front of a window in my apartment, tweets, facebook posts….all these little things I thought would certainly not be good enough…have been blessing ministries and changing people’s entire way of looking at music ministry.

For almost the whole time I’ve been a vocal coach I’ve never quite believed I had the experience and training that others had. But God has been using this simple little one-man operation to really be a blessing to ministries all over. So many have reached out to me expressing so much gratitude. Come to think of it every time I doubt myself to the point of quitting or going in another direction, God places in someone’s spirit to reach out and encourage me.

I’m not telling you any of this for sympathy or to illicit encouragement. On the contrary, I’m saying it to encourage YOU. Because I know what it’s like to be feeling like God is telling you to do something that you just can’t see yourself doing. To feel like there are so many more people more qualified. To feel like you need to invest that money into your ministry but be so afraid that it might not work. Can I tell you that I feel that every day?

Yes, it is a scary thing to trust God and walk by faith when you have no assurance or don’t see any evidence. But then if we did it wouldn’t be a faith move, would it? That’s why the bible says that faith IS the evidence we need when we can’t see any.

I’m kind of rambling with no direction here today, which isn’t like me. But I guess I wanted you to hear from my heart today. I wan’t you to know I’m real, and that I feel the things you feel. I feel the frustration. I feel that overwhelming desire to go higher, that burning love for music ministry, just like you. And just like you I feel sometimes like walking away from it all.

I worry when it’s time to sew into my ministry, even though I understand so clearly why I must. So, I get it my friend. But I know that God placed me here for a reason. I know, as you must, that He gives us all gifts for one reason only, that is to edify the kingdom. None of us have gifts just our own amusement. I’m not saying every person’s destiny is fame or fortune. But I believe that when you have an overwhelming urge to do something in ministry- one that you can’t shake despite all your own fears, doubts and logic telling you that you shouldn’t, there comes a time when you must step out there and just do it.

My newest student Sonya did just that last week, when she got on-line, went to my website, took a deep breath and booked a full month of one hour vocal training with me. I thought about Sonya a lot, and how it must have felt from her side of the computer. Sonya and I had never met in person and had only exchanged pleasantries briefly over social media.  She was about to make a big investment in something she had no idea would work, and no guarantee would be worth the money.

To add even more uncertainty to the mix she would be taking her lessons with me over the internet.  Understand Sonya’s faith here guys. She didn’t know me other than what she’d seen on-line through posts, blogs and videos. She booked and paid for an entire month in advance, based on nothing but her faith in God, and the desire He placed in her to go higher.  After our first lesson on Skype she was kind enough to share this on the fan page. It really blessed me, and I hope it will bless you too.

Wow! I have taken my first Skype lesson with Mr. Cross and all I can say is “MY MY MY!” Mr. Cross is truly the real deal. I learned so much and I’m only on the 1st lesson. For any doubtful minds about taking voice lessons especially via Internet, I can tell you it was still as effective as if we were in person. For those who just simply think ” I don’t need lessons, I can sang already”, know that you can never learn to much. These lessons are teaching me that actually I need to unlearn some things I have been doing for years. And mark my words, in a couple years (or less), you’ll be buying my CD of the shelf. (Gotta speak it y’all, :)). In a nutshell, if your on the fence about investing in your tool God has given you, I’m here to say it is well worth it! Thanks Mr. Cross!

I’m believing and praying with Sonya about her ministry, and I’m going to do everything I can to help her realize her goals to take her ministry higher. I want you to know I’m believing and praying with you too!  You can do this. Trust and believe God. Pray about it, ask Him (I’m not sure where that whole “don’t question God’ thing came from) for His will and His wisdom. And when you’re sure that it’s Him, step out there on faith. Book a Skype lesson with me, or choose my home study vocal training program. But take a step by faith today. I can tell you that faith and His word are all you can be sure of.

Image courtesy of “luigi diamanti”FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The “5 second rule” of music ministry; Use this to quickly move past any negative emotion

As Time Goes ByIf you’ve spent any time at all serving in music ministry, you know that you’re not always excited about everything you have to do. You don’t love every song you have to sing. You’re not thrilled about every engagement. Sometimes you’re not even all that happy about certain people and what they do, say, sing, etc. Let me give you a personal example.

When I first came to the front in my music ministry, it was as a choir director. I didn’t ask for the position, I was sort of “drafted”. But even at that young age of around 15 or so, God had already placed such a love of music in my heart I was happy to serve in any capacity. Over the years though, I started doing many other tasks with the choir, and other gifted directors came up behind me.

To make a long story short, I seldom direct anymore, because I have other roles and responsibilities. My main roles now in my music department are that of voice instructor and keyboard player. Still though, there are times when I’m called upon to direct. To be honest, when I am it always irritates me a little. It’s easier for me to deal with if my director simply can’t be there and needs me to have his back. But it’s really irritating to me if he IS in fact there and just not prepared or doesn’t know the song we’re about to sing for some reason.

In both situations, the source of the irritation for me is the same. It’s not that I don’t enjoy directing the choir anymore. It’s not that I don’t want to help out. I love my music ministry and I believe the sole reason I have any musical gift that I have is so it can be used to help the ministry. What I don’t like about it though, is that any time I have to direct it pulls me away from the keyboard. That’s frustrating for me because I’ve prepared myself to play the piece. The band has prepared for the piece as a unit. What I have NOT done is prepare myself to direct the song. So I’m at a bit of a disadvantage, the band is at a bit of a disadvantage because we all depend on each other, and it’s just a mild irritation all around.

This is one small issue that kind of bothers me, but it could be any number of things for any member of any music department- or any ministry for that matter. In music ministry, often it’s something as simple as not caring for the song we’ve chosen to sing that morning. Whatever it is that you find personally irritating at any given time though, has to be very quickly dealt with. You must have a way to quickly-often within seconds- deal with your personal issue with the song that’s been chosen, or the fact that you’re being asked to lead it again for the 100th time, or the fact that you PREPARED to lead but the song selection had to be changed and now you’re not singing after all that practice….I could go on and on here, but you get the idea.

We need something for those negative emotions that pop-up seconds before we’re about to stand before God’s people. I don’t think many of us really understand how even things as small as facial expressions have a profound impact on the effectiveness of our ministry. If you allow negative emotions, feelings, dissension, irritation or disappointment to remain in your spirit while you’re up ministering to God’s people, then the truth is you’re not ministering at all. You are, at that moment, completely in self.

Nothing matters about what’s going on at that moment except you, your emotions and how you feel about whatever is happening at that moment. That’s something that can’t be hidden from the audience or from God. As someone who is always out front; whether it’s in front of the entire congregation or simply in front of my own choir at rehearsal, I knew I needed a way to deal with something like this quickly. So I developed my own music ministry “5 second rule”.

You may or may not be familiar with the 5 second rule regarding food. But there’s a running joke here in the United States that says if you drop a piece of food on the floor and it’s there for less than 5 seconds, it’s ok for you to pick it up and eat it (lol). Well, as I kept being asked to direct the choir-usually with virtually no notice, I had to find a way to deal with the irritation I felt, and do it in the few seconds it took me to rise from the keyboard and walk over to the director’s spot. That little mental routine became what I now call my 5 second rule.

I had the opportunity to work with a choir a few years ago for about 2 months. The choir was simply paralyzed and unable to move forward with their ministry because it’s ranks were full of people who were simply refusing to do things that they could in fact do that would help the ministry move forward. There were people who could direct that wouldn’t. There was one who could play that wouldn’t. People were singing in the wrong sections for their vocal range because they didn’t like the section they belonged in.

God impressed upon me to share with them the way I deal with directing when I don’t want to, so I began to explain my 5 second rule to them this way;.

“There will always be things you don’t want to do. Songs you don’t want to sing, whatever. We’re only human. But you have to remember that the music ministry is NOT about you. And when it’s time to sing, you must set aside everything you’re feeling that IS about you, and focus on ministering to God’s people. You can’t allow any kind of negativity in your spirit when you’re up in front of God’s people.

Now, I wouldn’t dare stand here and tell you not to feel it. We’re all human and I’m not sure we could avoid it if we wanted to. But here’s what I do when I’m asked to direct and I don’t want to. I give myself 5 seconds to feel whatever I feel. Acknowledge it, pout about it, say it ain’t fair, whatever. From the time I’m told until the time I raise my hands in front of the choir is all the time I’m allowed to let it be about me. Once I get to that director’s spot, that’s over. I take a deep breath, blow it out and say to myself, “ok this is not about me anymore.”And it isn’t. It’s not about us, what we feel or even our right to feel it. Not at that moment.

It’s about God and it’s about ministry. So from that second I raise my hands I’m committed to giving God everything I have in that song. In fact many members of my choir would be shocked to find that I ever feel anything but complete joy about directing. Because that’s all they see when I’m in front of them. The same is true when I’m teaching a song at rehearsal, whether it’s my favorite song or one I really don’t care for at all. They’ll never know how I feel about it based on my outward emotions, facial expressions or lack of enthusiasm.

It doesn’t matter how I feel about the song, or directing, or anything else at that point. Because none of it is about how I feel. So from now on, that’s what I want you to do. Whatever it is you don’t like, you have 5 seconds to feel it. Once it’s time to minister though, it’s not about you anymore. Remind yourself of that every time you feel a negative emotion right before you’re about to minister in song. Just say “5 seconds”. Then get over it and give God your best.”