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.

3 powerful steps to an anointed music ministry

 

There’s a biblical phrase that comes to mind every time I think about being in a state of great anticipation or excitement that I find hard to contain. It’s found in Jeremiah 20:9  where he spoke the often quoted phrase “just like fire, shut up in my bones”.  But Jeremiah wasn’t excited or happy when he said it. He was actually talking about all of the bad things that happen to him when he speaks about God, and how that even though he desires to avoid speaking of God to avoid those things, he finds that he simply can’t hold it in.

For me, I think about that phrase after a great rehearsal where we’ve really worked hard, perfected the song and are excited to present it to our congregation. Over the years I’ve often compared the process of learning a new song to that of a minister’s preparation to bring the message on Sunday morning. When our hearts and minds are in the right place, the two are very similar. Music ministry, after all, is the message and the word of God in song; or it should be if we’re choosing the right song and focusing on the message as our main motivation for choosing them.

That being the case, a choir or praise team should go through a similar process a minister goes through when preparing to deliver his message. A minister consecrates himself. Prays that God use him as a vessel to deliver a word to His people.  A minister has a study somewhere, where he goes to prepare for his message. He digs into it,  searches the scripture for understanding, gets that message into his spirit.  In the process of doing so the message begins to resonate with him on a personal level. God begins to speak to him and give him things that he knows will be a blessing to the congregation.Then he organizes and formulates his thoughts so that he can deliver them effectively to the congregation. He knows he must be prepared or he won’t be able to deliver the message effectively. By the time Sunday rolls around a minister is often burning with anticipation to deliver that message because he knows how much it’s going to bless the people of God.

When we’re approaching music ministry correctly we should be experiencing something similar. I said to my sanctuary choir once that when we come to rehearsal what we’re doing is not unlike what the minister does when he goes into his study. The sanctuary choir stand, practice room or wherever it is that we rehearse, becomes our “study”. The process of learning and perfecting the song(s) is our way of preparing our message to be delivered to God’s people. When we get up on Sunday morning, that stage or that choir stand becomes the pulpit or podium from which we deliver that message to the congregation.

Often the difference in an anointed music ministry and a ministry that simply fills a spot on the program is the attitude and mindset that ministry takes toward every song and every rehearsal. Some of us are still missing the whole “MINISTRY” part of music ministry. Many of us are choosing songs because they’re popular, or contemporary, or older, or have a great beat. So we often miss the fact that some songs just don’t say much lyrically.

Other times we’re so focused on “the words” and “the parts” that we miss the message.  I think that’s a challenge for many music ministries (both choirs and praise teams) because we don’t fully understand that every song really is a mini-sermon. We don’t get the importance of understanding and connecting to it spiritually in some way, and we don’t fully understand or appreciate the importance of preparation to the effective delivery of that message.

Prime example;

There was a song once that the choir really liked but I didn’t feel we “got it”. There was no fire or enthusiasm at rehearsal. And even though it was a very simple song- the kind we learn in 10 minutes at any given rehearsal- we struggled, stumbled and really never got to that level of excitement and fire that we often reach with a new song at rehearsal. Sure enough, the first time we did it, it absolutely tanked.  We missed marks, guessed and fumbled our way through it and it went over like a rock.

At the next rehearsal we went over it again and it was much of the same thing. So I said to them, “look guys, we’re either connecting with this song spiritually or we’re not. We either get it or we don’t, and if we can’t find a spiritual connection with this song then we need to scrap it. There’s no way a song this simple should be giving us this much trouble. Not every song is for us to do, and we son’t always understand why. But we have to do songs we can connect with spiritually so we can minister.”

So I told them at rehearsal that we’d try it one more time and if we don’t get it, we’re scrapping the song. Right after my little speech we went over the song again and the difference was amazing.  There was excitement and energy at rehearsal. Whether it was my little speech or the thought of losing the song is still a mystery. But suddenly everyone was engaged, enthusiastic and on fire.  And that next Sunday, you could feel the anticipation.

The message we missed was finally burning in our spirits, like fire. We couldn’t wait to deliver that message to our congregation-PROPERLY this time- from a different place than when we did before. We did, and it went over great. But it proved to me that it was there all along, and we had simply been missing something in the process of preparation. Sometimes it’s the wrong song. Sometimes it’s the right song at the wrong time for US. Often though, it’s our own mindset that keeps us from going to that next level.

So in summary, I believe if want a powerful, anointed ministry that you’re excited to deliver week after week- one that burns in you like fire the way Jeremiah’s message burned in him, you must:

1. Choose songs for the message.

Listen closely and critically to the lyrical content of songs and make sure they actually have a real message. Don’t neglect the importance of a strong musical arrangement though. Even a good message when coupled with an awful arrangement can fall flat. Just make sure though, that the arrangement alone is not the reason you’re choosing the song. Forget about how current or how old a song is. It is irrelevant if the message is powerful. Don’t sing a song just because it’s new. Don’t avoid a song just because it’s old.

2. Consecrate and  Connect Spiritually.

We must approach rehearsal and ministry prayerfully. Pray together at rehearsal. Pray that God uses the ministry to bless His people, and that everything you do is for His glory and not your own.  Then seek to find, understand and connect on a spiritual and personal level with the song(s) you’ll sing. If we’re choosing songs with powerful messages, then even if you don’t like the song personally you should still be able to find something in it that you can internalize and connect to in a personal way spiritually. It is very important that the song means something to your choir, group or praise team as a group and not just individually. It’s also very important that you’re able to recognize when a song simply doesn’t register with you as a group for whatever reason and be willing to table or scrap that song altogether.

3. Change the way you see and approach rehearsals

Many choirs and praise teams don’t show much enthusiasm at choir rehearsal because for many of us we’re dragging ourselves there after long days at work. We’re tired. And honestly, we just don’t see it as much more than “rehearsal”. This is absolutely a mindset/attitude issue.

Our results change dramatically when our attitude and mindset towards rehearsal changes from “rehearsal” to “preparation to minister to God’s people”. When you begin to see rehearsal as  preparation to deliver a word from God to His people, it takes on a different meaning. The work of perfecting a song can be something you dread or something you enjoy and see as a  necessary part of effective, anointed ministry. It can be one more thing you have to drag yourself to, or it can be a spiritual and emotional lift that gets you through the week. The difference lies in how you choose to see it.

There is nothing like being at a rehearsal where you’re excited, energized and spiritually ignited by the songs you’re rehearsing. That’s when you know you “get it”. But that’s a choice, and something we must decide to do if we want to have a ministry that is anointed and a message that burns in us like fire.

 

 

The blessing in being pushed

JB-09-APFT-001Many people who follow me or have known me for a while don’t know that I’m a veteran. I don’t tend to bring that up when people are talking about veterans though, or celebrating veterans. Someone asked me why one day. I told her that sure, I was in the Army for 3 years, but I never saw a minute of war. I spent the whole time state side. That’s hardly something I feel comfortable comparing to those who actually fought, saw friends murdered, sustained life-altering injuries.

But I did serve 3 years in the Army. The experience taught me a lot of things, but it taught me one thing in particular that I’ve never forgotten and still embrace to this day. That is, that you will never really know what you’re truly capable of until you allow someone to push you beyond what you THINK you’re capable of.  I absolutely hated boot camp. And I absolutely loved boot camp. I hated it because of the drill seargents, of course. At the end though, I loved it for the same reasons.

You see when you’re going through boot camp those drill sergeants are constantly in your face, yelling at you. Screaming at you. Punishing you for every little thing. Forcing you to keep going when you swear you can’t take another step.  We used to run for miles every morning. I remember one guy in our platoon who would constantly fall behind the formation, gradually through the ranks and finally out of the back. Every time he did though, my drill sergeant would turn the entire platoon around. We would all run back to the place he stopped, gather him up and continue on our way. We were so angry, but we were learning a very valuable lesson that created an amazing bond between us.

We all thought they got some kind of sick pleasure out of torturing us. That is, until graduation day. At that moment, standing there in the best shape of our entire lives, strong, confident, self-assured men, it dawned on us what they had been doing all along. Pushing us beyond our own perceived limitations. Forcing us to go further than we thought we could.

And the “punishment” they inflicted on us? Exercise. Yup. Push-ups. One guy in my platoon couldn’t pass the push-up portion of the PT test. So every time we were anywhere   in a formation the drill sergeant would randomly call his name….”JOHNSON! DROP!!! And Johnson would drop to the ground and start doing push-ups. One day (and I’ll never forget this) the drill sergeant told Johnson to drop and give him 20. Only this time when Johnson went down, the entire platoon joined him (remember that bond I talked about?)  And we all did so every time after that. By the time we reached graduation Johnson could do about 80 push-ups in 2 minutes.

I could tell you story after story like that, but hopefully you already see where I’m going with this. You see I’ve worked out on my own off and on many times since then. I’ve been in some pretty good shape, too. But I have never again achieved the level of fitness I achieved during boot camp. Why? Because I’m incapable of pushing myself as hard as they pushed me.

That’s true of most people though. Very few people can push themselves beyond what they perceive is their limit. There is a very strong sense of preservation that is innate in all of us. It’s very difficult to circumvent that sense of self preservation. Even the most determined of us will only push ourselves so far, because it’s too easy to just stop. Even if we don’t want to, the feeling to do so is so overwhelming that it’s hard not to. Yet when when someone comes along and takes that option away from us we find that we can in fact keep going.

What does any of this have to do with music ministry? Everything. You see, most people who love to sing want to be in the best choirs, most awesome praise teams, most anointed groups. But very few people understand what it takes for those groups to perform at that level.  Many others join such groups only to find themselves constantly frustrated and angry about the work involved.

Behind every great, awesome, anointed choir, praise team or group, there is someone relentlessly pushing them towards perfection. There is some person; some director, some musician, some music director- who just won’t take “close enough”, or “not quite”. Someone who keeps making you do it again and again until the harmony is right. And he gets on your last nerve. Makes you angry. You can’t understand why he doesn’t just move on. He’s too much of a perfectionist, you say. You think about getting out of the choir or praise team.

But then something happens. What happens? Sunday comes. And you go forth in anointed, powerful, atmosphere-changing ministry. And God’s people are blessed beyond measure. And YOU’RE blessed. Souls are saved. Yolks broken. And at that moment, standing there basking in the spiritual down-pour, you feel amazing. Like you’re doing the very thing God put you here to do. Oh, to be used by God in such a powerful way!

After church you feel so good as the members come up and go on and on about how powerful the music ministry was today. And maybe you begin to share how the song was ministering to you so much that you were able to just lose yourself in worship. At that moment though, few people are able to make the connection between that, and that guy that was pushing you relentlessly at rehearsal.

It’s hard at that moment to see that the pushing brought about the perfecting, which brought about the praise. You see everyone wants to be a part of an anointed music ministry. But few understand that the most anointed choirs, groups and praise teams are those with the strongest, hardest, most ridged work ethic. And there is always someone at the head of groups like that who pushes, and drives, and insists on the best you can give, even when you feel like you can’t give any more.

Most soldiers don’t really realize how profoundly their drill sergeant has impacted and changed their lives until the end, when it’s time to go. The same is true in life, isn’t it? Whether it’s the hardest teacher, the tough boss or the insistent music director, very few of us really understand the impact they have on our lives until they’re no longer there for whatever reason.

So my challenge to you today is to not only allow yourself to be pushed, but embrace it. Having a mentor, a coach, motivator, a trainer- someone to push you past your limits- will always make you a much better version of yourself than you could ever achieve on your own. Join my mailing list below and start today getting the push you need to take your ministry higher.

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.

 

Striving for excellence means pushing past frustration

Day 27 :: Some daysIt’s pretty common knowledge that music is one of the most powerful tools God has given us for for ministry. It stands to reason then that music ministries are the Devil’s favorite target. And, like anything else you try to do in excellence to God, when you’re trying to go to another level is when the enemy begins to attack even more. Perfecting music ministry can be a lot of hard work. Long rehearsals filled with repetition after repetition as choirs, praise teams and groups strive to perfect their harmonies and sound so that God may get the glory.

In a previous blog I gave you scriptures that support the fact that God honors this work. Scripture always speaks highly of skilled musicians and singers. But sometimes it doesn’t come easy. Often it’s the most simple of things too, isn’t it? One little part that you just can’t get down, or one little line that somebody keeps forgetting; something that any other day would be easy for this group. But tonight. This song. It won’t come together. And it’s times like these that we forget what we’re doing all this for in the first place. We get weary. Tempers flare. Arguments take place sometimes. And inevitably someone will question why it’s even all that important.
How do you keep going? How do you push past this? What do you do when you’re stuck on a song, it’s not coming together and everyone is getting angry and frustrated.

1. Stop and pray. Join hands and just begin to pray as a group. Ask God to bind the spirit of division of strife. Pray for unity. Ask Him to move self out of the way. Pray genuinely and not with malice or strife in your hearts. Honesty and truly worship God. A negative spirit has a hard time surviving in this environment. Try going back to the song afterwards, when hearts and minds are in a better state.

2. If it’s harmony that’s causing the problem, try singing the difficult passage a cappella. Often singing the harmony without music helps your singers hear all of the parts blending together. It can really help some singers make sense of their part and understand why it is what it is.

3. If it’s lyrics talk about the subject of the song. Connect with it’s message. Talk about different lines or passages and ask members what it means to them . Moving forward, get into the habit of NOT using lyric sheets unless it’s absolutely necessary. Lyric sheets can be more of a hindrance than a help. They cause your brain to be “lazy, so-to-speak. There’s no need to memorize something as long as the words are in front of you.

4. If all else fails, table the song until another rehearsal. Sometimes getting away from a song gives members a chance to renew their hearts and minds and come back refreshed and with a new attitude about the song.

Whatever you do, continue to strive to give God the best your music ministry has to offer. Often that does mean you have to push past tricks of the enemy like discontent, frustration and anger. Time after time though, those music ministries that do are rewarded with God’s favor and anointing.