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.

Enthusiasm in ministry; where do you get yours?

This may very well be one of the shortest articles you’ve seen from me. And I’m going to end it with a very powerful question. But first, let me ask you something. Who or what gets you excited when you’re singing in the choir or on the praise team? Maybe you’re just a member of the congregation who finds that it’s hard for you to really get going spiritually without that extra push from (insert your favorite motivator/worship leader/singer(s) here).

I’ve worn about every hat in my church’s music ministry over the last 30 years of serving. I’ve been a tenor in the tenor section, the drummer for a short time, the choir director. Now I’m on keyboards. Through all of those years though, I’ve almost always held the position of voice instructor. As such I’ve conducted hundreds of rehearsals and taught hundreds of songs. For many years I taught them then directed them.

Music ministry has always been my passion. My calling. My ministry and my offering to the God I serve. As such, I have a tendency to approach everything I do in music ministry with a great deal of energy, enthusiasm and excitement. I’m “animated”, lol. I often joke with the other band members that if you were to watch me play keyboards with no sound you’d think I was waaay better than I actually am, the way I bounce around over there. I approach directing the same way, whether I actually want to direct or not- and I usually don’t (there’s another message for another blog right there). Naturally when I’m in front of people they respond favorably to that. When someone is excited about what they do, it kinda makes you excited too.

Some people though, have trouble getting excited any other way other than “catching it” from someone else. Over the years as I participated in various conversations about one person’s style or ministry or level of enthusiasm vs. another.  Something I hear people say quite often is some variation of the following:

It’s hard for me to get excited or motivated unless the _______ is excited. When they’re on fire that pulls it out of me. That’s why I love it when Bro. Joe_____________ (insert your favorite thing you love to see Bro. Joe do; whether it’s directing, playing an instrument, singing).  Bro. Joe is always so energetic, and he really makes me want to give more”.

Ever heard that one or something like it? Ever said it? Sure, most of us have. This is a very common thing heard among choirs in reference to the choir director. But it could be any group or activity that has a leader of some sort who just always seems to bring it out of you and take you to that next level spiritually.

So here’s the question I’d like you to think about today as you contemplate your own music ministry, your own walk, your own level of excitement about what you do. If  it’s true that you get your motivation, your desire, your excitement and your enthusiasm from Bro. Joe, and you find it hard to get excited about what you’re doing if he’s not approaching his own ministry with enthusiasm and energy, then…….

Where does Bro. Joe get his from?  In other words, what or who is is motivating, boosting and exciting the person that you’re getting yours from?

When you can honestly answer that you will never have to depend on Bro. Joe or anyone else for yours again.

Ephesians 6: 7-8

Complements, kudos and praise; how the bible teaches us to handle them

If you’re a regular reader you know how adamant I am about the importance of practicing, rehearsing and perfecting your music ministry until it’s the best it can be. In my blog Talent Vs. Skill Vs. Anointing; does God really care? I made a pretty compelling case using several scriptures that yes, God cares very much what music ministry sounds like.  But after doing the work, studying and improving their craft, practicing endless hours to achieve a high level of skill in ministry, many anointed singers and musicians find themselves struggling with the outpouring of praise and adoration from well-meaning people.

Indeed, once a certain level of proficiency in music ministry is attained, it is entirely possible for not only for the musician/singer, but the ones giving the praises to become a little confused about who is being praised. People mean well when they shower complements upon musicians, of course. Many of them even use all the right words when they’re giving you kudos. Words like anointed are often used by people who are complementing someone’s singing or playing. But whether they realize it or not, most people have a tendency to praise the person more than they are praising the God that is working through the person.

Even the best of us can get caught up in all the praise when it’s always coming at you. We are, after all, human. But the good news is God always gives us a way of escape when we go to His word. In scripture you can find several instances where the bible teaches and gives examples of the importance of deflecting such praises away from ourselves toward God, the source of all good things.

The book of Daniel chapter 2 told the story about  Nebuchadnezzar, who had been troubled with dreams he could not interpret. After hearing news that Daniel had the gift to interpret dreams, the king sent for him. When the king asked Daniel in vs.26 if he could indeed interpret his dream for him, Daniel could have easily just said “Yes, I can interpret your dream”. But look at his answer in vs.26-28:

27 Daniel replied, “No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about, 28 but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries. He has shown King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in days to come. Your dream and the visions that passed through your mind as you were lying in bed are these:

Verse 28 is so powerful to me. Daniel basically said “no, I can’t but God can through me”. It’s an amazing example of how scripture teaches us of the importance of deflecting praise away from ourselves and back to God. Jesus Himself during his time on earth constantly deflected praise away from Himself and back to God ( Luke 18:19 is just one example). Paul can also be found deflecting praise away from himself, as well as John the Baptist.

Still though, we need not be rude or condescending when people are saying good things about us. If someone complements your playing, directing, singing or any other aspect of your ministry, to respond with kindness and humility is just the Christian thing to do. But it is also very important to take one more step beyond “thank you” and deflect that praise to God. I have a friend who is an amazing vocalist, and just a beautiful person. But complement her all you want and you’ll never get her to accept any of the credit. “Thank you, it’s nothing but God.” or “to God be the Glory”, or “it’s not me at all, it’s all God” are all things she says whenever someone praises her singing.

That’s really what the bible is teaching us. One thing that makes music ministry such an attractive target for the devil is it’s propensity for vanity. It’s very easy to get puffed up and start “believing the hype”, as it were. After all, you did the work! You fasted, prayed, worked, toiled, and rehearsed. You deserve some praise, right? Sorry, but no. And if you think so, that should be your first clue that you’ve done it all for the wrong reasons. The bible warns very strongly against doing anything- whether  it be praying, fasting, giving or anything else- strictly for the praises of, or to be seen by men (Matt 6;1, 6;5, 6;16).

So while it is important to perfect your ministry, the ONLY reason to do it is so that God gets the glory from it. So when people start lavishing the complements and praises on you, make sure that you deflect those praises away from yourself. Make it a point to always tell people that it’s not you, but God working through you. Failing to give God the credit and the glory for His mighty gifts can often come with terrible consequences,  as Herod found out in Acts 12:22 .

So the word of the day concerning the praises of men on your music ministry is..DEFLECT!

Serving with gladness; finding contentment without the spotlight

Spotlight BeamI’ve served in the music ministry for most of my life. God has blessed me with with many gifts, several of which naturally cause me to gravitate to the front. But believe it or not I find my greatest fulfillment serving behind the scenes. Honestly though, that’s not the case for many people in music ministry. Quite often a member of the choir, praise team or other group develops a very strong desire to be out front in some capacity. Sadly though, that opportunity is not always afforded to everyone that wants it.

There could be any number of reasons someone who wants to come to the front may not be allowed to. It could be that the position or task is just not the best fit for the person for whatever reason. Sometimes it’s just a personnel issue. But the enemy seldom allows us to see things as they really are. Especially in music ministry, where the gathering of so many different personality types, egos and agendas make it an easy target.

Sadly, even in the most innocent of circumstances the devil can make a person believe there is all kinds of hatred and favoritism at work that is keeping you from being allowed to lead a song, or direct, or serve in whatever leadership capacity you’re seeking. We could go back and forth at length about the particulars, and I could give a list of all the possible reasons you’re not being given the opportunity you believe you deserve. I understand that it’s frustrating. It’s hard to have the desire to serve on a higher level and feel like you’re being held back. But honestly, it is seldom as it seems, my friend. The devil knows that music is one of the most powerful and effective tools God has given us for the building and edification of His kingdom. So he is always seeking ways to sow discord and division by playing against our own vanities.

The truth is, you will always be an easy target for his tricks and manipulative ways until you find a place of contentment in your service. To thwart the efforts of the enemy you must get to a place where you are completely happy and satisfied just serving in the music ministry. That’s easier said than done, I know. Because it takes some serious renewing of your mind. One thing I’m always teaching on some level or another, no matter what aspect of music ministry I’m talking about, is understanding the bigger picture. How your efforts contribute to the success or failure of the ministry, and how the ministry as a whole affects so many other things and touches so many people.

It’s learning to look beyond your own limited field of vision. This is the secret of those who are always content no matter what they’re doing in the music department. I know people who can sing until the hairs on your neck stand up. They are accomplished leaders and soloists. Their names around our church are synonymous with really good singing. And yet if we go for months without ever calling them down front to lead, you’ll see them smiling and singing and praising God right there in their section.

You can only reach that level of pure contentment in service when you really understand how important every single person is to a music ministry. You see my friends I just mentioned know that even when they’re just singing in their section they’re making a very important contribution to our ability to serve effectively as a unit. But being happy in the background goes even deeper than that.

The bible tells us in scripture after scripture to avoid doing things to be seen of men. Or to be praised or glorified of ourselves. Look at this example:

Collosians 3-23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving

This is just one example of a theme we see recurring throughout the bible. A message of being content in your service and not seeking to be seen or praised by men. To reach that place of contentment in music ministry you have to see the importance of what you do as an individual to the success or failure of the music ministry. I spoke at a choir annual one year and I referred to this concept as “The Ministry Of Me”. I told the choir that year that even though only one person wears the official title of “Minister Of Music”, every single person that is involved in a music ministry is indeed a minister of music. It’s a very sobering and powerful thing to think of yourself that way. Not just as a “member” but a minister of music. What you do is not “just” singing or just playing. It’s ministry. It’s YOUR ministry, and your calling right where you are.

Just like the ministers who sit on the pulpit but never bring the message, every person in the music department plays a critical supporting role in it’s success. If for some reason I became unable to play keyboard tomorrow I’d sure miss it. But the very next Sunday I’d be up there in the Tenor section rocking it out and singing to the glory and honor of God. I’m a leader too, but I go for months- sometimes years- without leading a song. And I’m completely happy and totally content with that. Because you see, when you have a deep, unwavering passion for music ministry, you just want to be a part of it. If your reason for being there is genuine that’s enough to make you happy. I encourage you to seek that place of contentment.

By the way, I know another young lady who, for many many years, has sang alto for our choir. She has never wanted to lead a song. We’ve asked her many times over the years. But she was much more content just singing alto. Only she doesn’t “just” sing alto. She’s one of the strongest, most consistent, most reliable, most depended on altos up there. And every Sunday you can find her singing right there in the alto section, her hands going up, tears flowing, completely and utterly happy without the glare of the spotlight. And it is because of her years of happily serving God, never seeking leadership or accolades, that God favored her and elevated her to the position of choir president.

She runs the whole choir but you’d never be able to pick her out if you didn’t know her. Because every Sunday she’s standing right there where she’s always stood. In the choir stand, singing alto, hands going up, tears flowing, completely and utterly happy…without the glare of the spotlight.

 

Why some music ministries never get better

Today I have a video blog from you. In all my videos I speak from the heart, unscripted. So you will often see the most raw emotion in my video blogs. Such is the case in today’s video, where I talk about something very dear to my heart. That is the complacent attitude of many church choirs and praise teams-even some bands. What is the mental state of your choir or praise team? Are you stuck in a rut, unwilling to move out of your comfort zone to take your music ministry higher? What can we do about it? Enjoy the video, and please leave me your thoughts.

3 ways to develop a “next level” mentality for your music ministry (or anything else you want)

For a great many of us, singing and/or playing an instrument in church is just something we’ve always done. Those of us like me, who gravitate to the front and take on positions like choir director and parts instructor end up doing so because we simply have a natural God-given talent for it. For that reason though, many of us spend most of our lives at pretty-much the same level as far as our music ministry goes. That’s just human nature, really. We all cling to the familiar, don’t we? We stick with what we know. What we’ve always done.
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