The one unpleasant thing every music ministry MUST have

If there’s one thing all choirs, praise teams, and pretty-much any other music ministry with more than one member have in common it’s personnel issues. That’s a broad term, to be sure. But I’m speaking specifically of the common problems most ministries deal with in regard to people just consistently being there and being on time.  It can really throw a monkey wrench in things when you’ve rehearsed material for Sunday morning and you’re depending on key people to be in place, only to find them absent or simply arriving too late.

There are times when a choir or praise team can’t do the song they planned to do because the leader who was supposed to sing it isn’t there, or the musician, or the director, or half the alto section- you get the idea. And while every music ministry who is preparing themselves well at rehearsal will have back-up songs in place for just such occurrences,  when it’s happening all the time it can really become a hindrance to the group’s ability to minister effectively. Not to mention it’s just plain frustrating and unfair to everyone involved with the process of learning, teaching and perfecting the songs.

While I haven’t always felt this way, as I’ve grown and matured over the years I’ve come to understand that you can’t always assume that what things look like from your vantage point is the Gospel truth. There may in fact be- and there usually is, to be honest- very valid reasons why a person is consistently late or absent at key times.  But if we’re going to be honest, we must also point out that for every person having a serious life circumstance that causes them to continually be absent or late, there must be 2 or 3 who could absolutely be on time with a little more effort.

There’s really only one way to effectively and fairly handle issues like this. But it’s one many choirs and praise teams don’t want to resort to. It’s the one thing that is, I believe, necessary and vital to the success of ANY organization, but especially music ministries. This unpleasant thing is:

Rules.

Rules are a no-brainer for most organizations. It just makes sense. It’s expected. Music departments though-especially smaller ones who don’t have many members to start with- have a hard time enforcing rules. You see if my choir only has about 10 members then I need every single body. So if 3 Sopranos come in late, I’m just glad they showed up. Come on up here!!

There is also the emotional difficulty of the task itself. It’s no fun telling people they can’t sing today. Especially when you really don’t know what the underlying issue is. But the truth is, the consequences of not having any rules in place-or having them and not enforcing them- soon become greater than the unpleasantness of enforcing them. When there are no rules that govern attendance and timeliness, then spotty attendance and tardiness become the acceptable norm for many members.

When you know you can be a half hour late on Sunday morning and still come on up, that’s exactly what you’ll do. As I said earlier, not every person that is late or absent is habitually doing so without cause. There are people who have real challenges that are valid. Challenges that they are working through and praying about. Issues that they’re fighting through in order to be there. But there are also people who simply aren’t putting forth the effort to be there on time.

As unpleasant as it is to do, rules are the only way to filter the two and make the whole thing fair for everyone. You will find that when there is a consequence for tardiness, for example- that people who are tardy for a reason they can’t help will come to you and discuss a solution. They will come to you in humility and explain their situation, offer to sit out for a while, try to work something out.
But the first time the person who is just late because they don’t want to leave home earlier has to sit in the audience and watch that ministry go forth in the Lord, they will feel something they haven’t felt before. They will feel the unpleasantness of not being able to come up and participate in the ministry. That is a powerful motivator, believe me. I’ll never forget one time my keyboard was in the shop for a while. Now, I didn’t sit in the audience, I simply went up and joined the Tenors in the choir stand. But the whole morning I was looking over there at the band going forth and just burning inside wishing I was over there too. And I LOVE to sing! So imagine what a person who enjoys singing in the choir or on the praise team would feel sitting in the audience unable to participate.

That feeling alone is often enough to motivate a person who is habitually late on Sunday mornings or absent at rehearsal to make an effort to be there that they simply hadn’t made before. But if I can miss rehearsal and still sing Sunday; AND I don’t even have to get up any earlier because I can still go up and sing even if I’m late…then there just isn’t much motivation for me to make any additional sacrifice to improve my attendance or my tardiness.

And as long as we’re talking about sacrifice, the fact that enforcing rules comes with sacrifice for the whole ministry isn’t lost on me. I understand better than anyone that when you start enforcing rules that force people to sit out when they miss rehearsal or show up late on Sunday, it can really put the ministry at a disadvantage. That’s especially true of smaller ministries where every member is critical.

This is in fact the most common reason most ministries don’t have, or don’t enforce rules that govern attendance and tardiness. But the fact is, your ministry will be held hostage by the issue until it is addressed with some kind of consequence. Your choir may have to do the crutch song  one Sunday instead of the one you rehearsed. Or the Praise team may have to go with plan B. Or there may be fewer bodies up there than you’d like.

But in all likelihood you won’t have to deal with that scenario too many times once you start enforcing some standard that does not allow people who habitually miss rehearsal or come in late to perform anyway. Rules are unpleasant to enforce and can be hard on everyone, really. But they have a very powerful way of making people either step up or step aside. Either way your ministry ends up better off in the end.

Make this your #1 goal at every praise team rehearsal

Make this your #1 goal at every praise team rehearsal

When we think about rehearsals and why we have them, chances are your mind goes straight to the obvious reasons. We have them to learn new material. But there’s a much deeper, more important reason to have regular rehearsals, even when you’re not necessarily learning new material. Each time you have a rehearsal all of your efforts should be directed towards one very important goal.  And that is to learn that material like the back of your hand.

To illustrate my point let me take you back to when you first learned to drive a car. Remember how complicated it seemed back then? What was it, something like a 7-step procedure you had to memorize just to pull away from the curb? There were so many little details. So much to remember. It felt like you had to remember and pay attention to a hundred different things. Today though, driving has become second nature. We still do all those steps but now it’s so automatic-so programmed into us that we do them without having to think about it really. Nowadays you can be engaged in deep thought, spiritual meditation, prayer, even worship- all while safely driving your car. All because driving your car is something you don’t have to think about any more.

In a similar way, the goal of every rehearsal should be to learn and perfect the material so well that you can deliver it with that same kind of assurance. This includes every aspect of the music ministry, from the harmony to the actual song format to the music. That may sound like overkill until you  begin to really understand how powerful that is to your ministry.

You see, anything that you’re unsure about takes your mind and spirit away from truly praising and worshiping God in song. For example, let’s say during rehearsal there was a part of the song that your group had a lot of trouble with. Patience was running thin so you decided to go with “close enough” rather than continuing to hammer away at it until everybody got it down.

Sunday morning comes, and the song is going forth. The Holy Spirit is moving and everyone is praising and worshiping God. Hands are raised, eyes closed and everyone is fully enveloped in the power of the song. But then the song starts to approach that one part everyone had trouble with. Everyone knows it’s coming and nobody’s really sure what their part is- or what’s supposed to happen. People get nervous and start scrambling to remember. Hands come down and eyes open as group members start searching for clues from each other, the director, band-members- anybody. But by then it’s too late and it’s time to execute. The group stumbles through the section ok but it’s not right and it’s noticeable. The song goes on and everyone finishes ok, but the spirit isn’t the same now.

In this example just one part of the song wasn’t quite nailed down. But there are times when groups or choirs stumble through entire selections this way. It may not even be that there is any noticeable mistake made in the song. Sometimes it’s just plain old uncertainty; the kind that comes from quickly going over a song once or twice and then Singing it the next Sunday.

Uncertainty can rob your ministry of it’s anointing and power. It’s very hard to really connect and minister spiritually when you’re not really sure the whole time what your part is, or what happens next in the song. So, as irritating as those repetitions are at rehearsal, it’s critically important to do them. Pushing past frustration is a tough thing to do, but the rewards far outweigh the frustration.

To understand the power of perfecting a song until there is no uncertainty, you need look no further than one of those old songs you’ve been singing for years. Just like driving, your choir, praise team or group has this song down so good you can sing it in your sleep. And every time you sing it God comes in and rains His spirit down over the congregation.

Why is that? Your first thought may be simply because it’s a great song with a powerful message. And you’d be correct. But it’s deeper than that. It’s because everyone knows every part of the song. And they know it so well that they don’t have to think about their part, or what’s coming next, or who does what at what time, or what the words are. So when the song goes forth there’s nothing to distract anyone or take their minds off worshiping and praising God in song. That’s a very, very powerful thing.

When you learn a song so well that you don’t have any doubts or any guessing about any part of it, you minister from a very pure place. God is then able to minister through you to His people because your entire group is with one accord.

Need more articles like this one for your praise/worship team? Get this one and 12 more like it in my new e-book Praise Team 101.

Mixed signals: getting musicians and song teachers on the same page

If you’re a regular reader you know I’ve been in rehearsal for the last 2 weeks for our annual Family & Friends musical. As such my last couple of blogs have been about subjects along the those lines. Last week I wrote about how to survive a mass choir rehearsal. One of my readers, Tracey, wrote me to say she enjoyed it, but then she brought up a situation I had never thought of. ” Do you have any tips for musicians?”, she asked me. She went on to explain that she has been in mass rehearsals where the instructor taught the song completely wrong musically. Tracey also shared with me that when she tried to tactfully get the instructor back on track there was animosity.
I have to confess, I haven’t had much experience with such situations. I’ve been really blessed to work with the same group of musicians for many years now, and we’re very much in sync. So while I can’t give you much information on what to do in such situations, Tracey, I can tell you how we avoid it at my church. The short answer is we communicate. And we do so often. We do it to insure just such a thing doesn’t happen. We do it to make sure that we’ll all be on the same page at rehearsal.

When we have a rehearsal coming up, my Minister Of Music informs all of us what we’ll be learning. She provides us with the music, lets us know exactly which songs to be ready for and confirms that we’re all learning it in the same key. We all have a copy of the same version of the song also.

Musician’s rehearsal is also something we always, always do before a major event like a big musical. On the night of rehearsal we ask that the director be there along with the key song leaders. We go over all of our songs with these people. This helps us insure that we’re all in sync.

I think though, that Tracey may be dealing with a problem that I’m afraid tips like these won’t help much. The sad truth is, some people simply aren’t very good at teaching songs. To do this and do it well, you really need to have a pretty deep understanding of music, harmony and song structure. There are, unfortunately some people who teach who don’t know much about it. Early meetings and communications whenever possible can go a long way towards at least figuring this out in advance.

If talked about before rehearsals you as a musician might be able to catch potential problems before the actual rehearsal. Express your interest in meeting with the clinician/instructor to insure that you both will be on the same page. If he or she is open to it, you might even listen to the music together and talk about the particulars. All of this assumes, of course, that you’re going to be working with someone you’re not familiar with already.

It’s a touch situation to be sure. But when you find yourself in a situation like this, where the person(s) you’re working with simply doesn’t have the necessary skills, it’s important you maintain a level of professionalism and dignity as much as possible. If there’s nothing you can do to help, simply roll with things as much as possible and help as much as you’re allowed.

Communicate with other personnel as much as you can, get on the same page as much as possible, talk about teaching styles and any other policies that may help you do your part more efficiently. After that all one can do is pray and remain professional.

 

9 ways we can help improve your church’s music ministry

9If you grew up in the church working in music ministry, you know that we pretty-much learned everything by trial and error. Some people were in fact blessed to have a mentor to sit under to learn their craft, but that’s the exception, not the norm. I learned how to teach vocal harmony and direct the choir on my own. God gave me the gift of a good pair of ears and a natural ability to teach, but I had to learn my craft by getting in front of the choir and making mistakes. Then, sometimes, getting in front of the church and making mistakes. So my main mission and reason for starting The Music Ministry Coach.com is to provide professional-level training products and services to the music ministry that have traditionally not been available before. Here then, are 9 ways (some of them free) my company can help train, enhance and improve your church’s music ministry.
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9 powerful guidelines for your church’s music ministry

bylawsRecently while doing research for ideas for my next blog I came across a great article- actually it’s more like a governing philosophy- written by a pastor as a philosophy for his church’s music ministry.
I thought this was awesome and I wanted to share it with you.

Rev. Larry D. Ellis, author of the book “Forgiveness- Unleashing A Transformational Process “ ,developed this biblically based philosophy over a number of years. It is offered as a suggestion and starting point for your consideration as you examine your individual situation, traditions and sense of calling from God. He would welcome your input and suggestions to his offering.

Contact Pastor Ellis at larry.ellis@softwright.com

This philosophy statement and its guidelines apply to all aspects of the ministry of music at our church, including all the choirs, children and adult; instrumental music; soloists; and all church activities such as Christian Education, bible studies and retreats.

1.The definitive criteria for selection of our music is its message that it communicates. If it is instrumental music, we assess its musical quality, timbre, harmony, amplitude, and rhythm and the propriety of its use in our worship. If the music has word associated with it, we value the text being Christocentric and Trinitarian.
We see worship as our response to God’s initiative with us. Praise is not about what we want, need, desire or prefer.

2. God considers music a very high priority in celebrating His worship. – I Chronicles 14:25-16:22, Ephesians 5:19

3. Musicians are ministers appointed by God and music for worship is not our entertainment. – I Chronicles 16:4-6

4.The leadership is called by God to be teaching the composers, soloists, choirs and congregation how to minister to one another through music. Performing music is ministry just as composing and writing it is, when equips others to minister by using the music. As a part of the ministry of equipping we may bring in resource persons to maximize us where our leadership is limited. – Ephesians 4:11-12

5.Singing praise to God is not optional. It is commanded to all. – Psalm 66:1-2, I Chronicles 16:23-35

6The extensive use of musical instruments is commanded in the scriptures. – Psalm 98:4-6, 81:1-4, 33:1-3, 147:7, 150

7.All texts sung must be consistent with scripture and doctrinally sound. – Colossians 3:16

8.All music must be appropriate for the occasion, inspirational. – Ephesians 4:29

9.The ministry of music is seen as a great opportunity for evangelism. It is open to both members and friends of our congregation, not just formal members of our church. However, since we see ministry as being done for the body of Christ by the body of Christ, we normally desire to maximize our own participation before supplementing our efforts with those outside our local fellowship.

I’d like to thank Rev. Larry Ellis once again for granting permission to post this great piece of work. It’s sure to bless many music ministries. Please do me a favor and check out his book at The Forgiveness Book.com