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.

 

Paul’s Message Message Of Encourage To Single Believers

 

It is a FACT that not everyone likes Valentine’s Day. That’s probably because not everyone is “boo’d up”, so the day feels kind of cruel and dismissive to people who aren’t in a relationship of some kind. I was one of those people when I wrote this. Then I remembered that Paul actually talked about the subject of being single.

So I thought about taking Paul’s message, breaking it down and giving commentary on it, talking about what it means, etc. But then I thought, nah. Paul was doing a pretty good job of that on his own. So I’m just going to post the passage and let you read it in his own words. My hope is that if you do find yourself single today that you’ll be encouraged also. Take note of what Paul is saying here about the advantages of being single for someone who is in ministry. Happy Valentine’s Day!

1 Cor. 7:25-40

25 Now concerning the virgins (the marriageable [a]maidens) I have no command of the Lord, but I give my opinion and advice as one who by the Lord’s mercy is rendered trustworthy and faithful.

26 I think then, because of the impending distress [that is even now setting in], it is well (expedient, profitable, and wholesome) for a person to remain as he or she is.

27 Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife.

28 But if you do marry, you do not sin [in doing so], and if a virgin marries, she does not sin [in doing so]. Yet those who marry will have physical and earthly troubles, and I would like to spare you that.

29 I mean, brethren, the appointed time has been [b]winding down and it has grown very short. From now on, let even those who have wives be as if they had none,

30 And those who weep and mourn as though they were not weeping and mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they did not possess anything,

31 And those who deal with this world [[c]overusing the enjoyments of this life] as though they were not absorbed by itand as if they had no dealings with it. For the outward form of this world (the present world order) is passing away.

32 My desire is to have you free from all anxiety and distressing care. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord—how he may please the Lord;

33 But the married man is anxious about worldly matters—how he may please his wife—

34 And he is drawn in diverging directions [his interests are divided and he is distracted from his devotion to God]. And the unmarried woman or girl is concerned and anxious about the matters of the Lord, how to be wholly separated andset apart in body and spirit; but the married woman has her cares [centered] in earthly affairs—how she may please her husband.

35 Now I say this for your own welfare and profit, not to put [a halter of] restraint upon you, but to promote what is seemly and in good order and to secure your undistracted and undivided devotion to the Lord.

36 But if any man thinks that he is not acting properly toward and in regard to his virgin [that he is preparing disgrace for her or incurring reproach], in case she is passing the bloom of her youth and if there is need for it, let him do what to him seems right; he does not sin; let them marry.

37 But whoever is firmly established in his heart [strong in mind and purpose], not being forced by necessity but having control over his own will and desire, and has resolved this in his heart to keep his own virginity, he is doing well.

38 So also then, he [the father] who gives his virgin (his daughter) in marriage does well, and he [the father] who does not give [her] in marriage does better.

39 A wife is bound to her husband by law as long as he lives. If the husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she will, only [provided that he too is] in the Lord.

40 But in my opinion [a widow] is happier (more blessed and [d]to be envied) if she does not remarry. And also I think I have the Spirit of God.

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

 

 

 

How to never miss another rehearsal

One thing that often plagues many must ministry groups, whether it’s a choir, praise team or even the band, is a absentee-ism at rehearsal. For some music departments it’s not uncommon at all to have so many people out that the songs that were on schedule to sing simply can’t be done. Members missing rehearsal can really cripple a music ministry in so many ways. But hey, life happens doesn’t it? Many people do in fact have what they feel are legitimate reasons for being out on rehearsal nights. Perhaps you may even be someone who misses rehearsal often.

Don’t worry, I’m not here to condemn or judge. In fact my goal is to first encourage you and then offer some advice that has helped me to have an almost perfect attendance record over a span of some 30+ years. I can count the number of rehearsals I’ve missed in all that time. It’s not that I’m not busy, or tired. It’s not that I never get offered other things to do. But we’ll talk more about that in a bit. First I want you to know that you’re very important to your music department. Even if they fail to ever tell you or make you feel like you are, you are NEEDED. When you’re not there, your absence is felt. No matter how big your organization is, I want you to know that they need you.

Many habitual rehearsal-missers aren’t missing rehearsal to be vindictive or spiteful. They aren’t doing so to intentionally put the music ministry in a bind. Many people are just busy. But when you love something enough it will get a special reserved time slot in your life. Many people consistently miss rehearsal simply because they haven’t given it such a place of importance. Don’t get me wrong, you can absolutely sincerely love singing in the choir. But rehearsal? Not so much.  Who knows why? It could be any number of things. But if it’s something you desire to change there’s something you can do.

I mentioned earlier that in over 30 years in the music ministry I can count the number of times I missed a rehearsal. But it’s not because I’m never busy or never have other things I need to do on rehearsal night. It’s just I’ve given rehearsal night a place of high priority. All of  our rehearsals happen on Wednesdays. So I have, for years, simply dedicated Wednesday nights for rehearsals. That means no matter what someone is asking me to do on a Wednesday, it’s already booked. I don’t teach voice lessons on Wednesday. I don’t accept engagements on Wednesday. I don’t set appointments, plan dates, watch tv shows or anything else on Wednesday. Nothing short of an emergency or serious illness causes me to miss rehearsal.

If I wanted to know the things that were most important to you in your life, I wouldn’t have to ask you. Just let me follow you around for a while. It will become obvious after only a few days. Because those things will be the things around which all other aspects of your life have learned to revolve. If you’re someone who really loves to work-out, for example (yes, those people exist..I know right?) it’s not just something you do. It’s a part of you. It’s a part of your lifestyle. As such, everything about your daily routine has adjusted to give that time a priority in your schedule. If you’re someone who has decided to join the music ministry at your church, then rehearsal night has to have the same priority in your life. Whatever night rehearsal falls on at your church, you must make that night a standing appointment on your calendar. Consider it already booked.

You do that for two reasons. First, you do it because when you decide to be a part of a ministry you do it with your whole heart. Secondly though, you do it because you understand that your music ministry needs your presence to minister effectively. Whether you’re hearing it all the time or not, you have to develop a mindset that when you aren’t there, you’re missed. Your absence places hardships on others in your section. People depend on you. This one thing alone has been probably the single most driving force that makes me go the extra mile to always be on my post. It’s not an arrogance thing. It’s just what you do when you care about something.

So if you’ve decided to be in the music ministry, I challenge you today to decide to make rehearsal night a priority. Make it a hard, fast, long-standing appointment that does not get missed, moved or trumped for anything short of an emergency, illness or something of that order. Do this for a few months and, like everything else that is important to you, your life will learn to adjust, make room for and revolve around it because it has been given an elevated status of importance to you.

“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.

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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.

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