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

 

 

 

Want to see growth in your music ministry? Stop using this word today.

I was watching one of those weekly shows once where they open with the end of the episode, then they take you back and show how that moment came to be. I’m gonna do that today, just because I think it would be a more interesting read.  Ok so it’s Sunday morning, about 8:30. I jump on my fan page and post this long status update. It starts getting responses almost right away. People started liking it and commenting on it. It really resonated with everyone.

Now let’s rewind a few months. We’ve only had a praise team for a short time. We’ve struggled, had personnel changes, challenges with leadership, schedules, etc. But recently our former worship leader, a minister, stepped down to focus on preaching. The new worship leader was appointed from our own ranks, an extremely talented and anointed woman of God. We began working together and positive change started happening almost immediately. We all had the sense God was about to begin using the praise team in a mighty way to affect change in the way we worship God on Sunday mornings. So naturally the devil got busy.

We only had 2 tenors, and one of them was now gone, leaving just one.  He’s an amazing, powerful lead vocalist who leads most of our choir songs that need a male leader. But like many very talented lead singers, he has always struggled with vocal harmony. Well, to make a long story short the devil began using this one small thing to dismantle and unravel everything we had accomplished and hinder us from moving forward. It was really causing us to struggle as a whole. I knew I had to do something to move us past this, and I knew I was the only one who could.

I started toying with the idea of leaving the keyboard and singing with the praise team on Sunday morning. But each time I discussed this with the band we simply couldn’t bear the thought of not having the keyboard involved in the musical arrangements. Keys are such an important element in the sound of worship music. During these conversations someone would almost always mention me playing and singing from the keyboard, but I had been so adamant for so long that I “couldn’t”, that now when anyone mentioned it, they did so almost as a joke. But I had reached a point where I knew in my heart that was the only option to get us past this so we could move forward into where God was trying to take us.

So just this past Wednesday night at rehearsal, after again struggling most of the night and still not really able to perfect the harmony, I knew it was time for me to step out of this comfort zone and stop saying I can’t do it. God had given me everything I needed to move us beyond this hurdle and I simply was unwilling to do it. Why? Oh I had my reasons. Good reasons. We all do. But none of them mattered at the moment. Suffice it to say that I knew singing and playing was something I could in fact learn to do if I just practiced it. But it was easier to just continue saying “I can’t sing and play”.

But when you’re continually unwilling to step out on your own, it’s just like God to put you in a position where you don’t have a choice. That’s exactly what He did Wednesday night. Our one tenor was going to be leading one of the new songs, leaving us with no tenor at all. And there was nobody I could move to tenor without leaving someone else short. So God just spoke to me, quietly and in my own voice like He does, and told me…”you can sing this and play. These songs are easy enough. You sing tenor from the keyboard.”

I knew at that moment there was no more excuses. So without any protest or argument I just asked for a mic at the keyboard. We did the songs in a few minutes, God came in and moved at rehearsal and I knew then that I’d be doing it permanently. After thinking about it the rest of the week, contemplating all the time I had wasted saying I can’t do it and where I could have been by now; after all the weeks we’ve struggled and NOT sang songs because we couldn’t get the tenor part right; I felt almost responsible in a way.

I thought about it the rest of that week.  Sunday morning I got up with all this on my mind and that voice spoke to me again. In the middle of sitting at the keyboard I got the overwhelming urge to go to my fan page and post something about what was about to happen, all that God had been revealing to me about the word “can’t” and how much it has been hindering me from moving forward- and thus hindering the whole praise team. So I just sat down and started typing. What my followers saw Sunday morning was unscripted and unedited. It was this:

The praise team is doing all new material this morning, and one of them will be led by our only tenor….which means I’m gonna have to sing and play at the same time today (gulp!).
Singing and playing is something I’ve always had a problem with, and I used to say when the subject came up “I can’t sing and play, you’re gonna have to choose one!” And we’d all have a chuckle about it.
But my own tendency to be introspective made me have to stop saying that, even jokingly. Because honestly it wasn’t true. I can sing and play…if I practice doing it. So it’s not that I’m physically not able to sing and play. I just haven’t cared enough or had enough of a reason to apply myself and learn.

The funny thing is, it’s really just a matter of practicing it. Getting used to doing them both at the same time. That’s about as hard as switching to your weak hand for all of your writing. But you see how important what you say is? “I can’t” is a phrase that plants a seed in your spirit that convinces you of just that. But when you change that verbiage to something like “I haven’t learned how yet” or something similar, everything changes. Now something your mind was all too happy to use as an excuse before has been changed to a very honest truth that holds you accountable. Now every time you talk about that thing you have to face the truth that it’s not that you can’t. You just haven’t really tried yet.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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.

Dear musician, Dear Critic (2 open letters)

2008.11.12 - The letterDear Musician,

You’ve been on my heart lately. I hope it’s ok if I just talk to you for a minute from there. You see as a music lover and a musician myself I understand what it’s like to be you better than anyone. I know what it’s like to love your craft so much that you spend hours, weeks, months and years enhancing and perfecting it. But I also know the other side. The unfortunate, ugly side. I know that often the same people who silently criticized you for not being up to standard often openly rebuke you once you’ve reached that level of excellence.

I know that other musicians who haven’t reached that level often criticize you of not really being sincere. Playing for self-glorification. Using your gift for personal attention and fame. See, it’s easier to do that than to support and enjoy the gift of God working through you. It’s easier because to do that would mean admitting that you’ve simply worked harder, been more dedicated and practiced more than they have. And that’s very hard for some musicians to admit.
I can only imagine how it must feel to hear someone lambasting you in a round about way over the PA system, apparently for no other reason than because you play with a high level of excellence. I know that you often get criticized because you get so many accolades for your gift. People follow you, become groupies almost. You don’t ask for it, you don’t seek it. But you do get criticized for it.

I want to encourage you, anointed musician, to continue giving God your very best. I know the talk is hard to hear. I know it’s discouraging to hear you peers hate on you. But TD Jakes said once, “favor ain’t fair”. People will talk. People will give their opinion of how sincere you are, or whether you do it for the attention, or for show. But the thing is, nobody could possibly know that but you and God.

So since you know that He knows your heart, be sure that your heart is pure. Play for Him, and only for Him. Accept no glory for what God does through you. When the Complements, Kudos and praises come, take no credit. Deflect them all to Him. Remain humble and always be a team player. If the spotlight is cast your way, make sure it is God who focused it on you and not you yourself.

I’ll be praying for you as you continue to serve God with your gift.

Ron

Dear Critic,

There is something that has been bothering me a little and I hope you’ll allow me to share my heart with you respectfully and in love.  I’ve been at a few church events that you were at also, and I’ve heard you speak pretty passionately about some musicians that were there. You had some pretty tough things to say. I’m not here to say you were wrong, by any means. I believe with all my heart that a musician should play to the glory and honor of God. I believe it should NOT be about show, and I believe that every musician playing in church needs to be doing it as his ministry and service to God,  period. Not for any glory or fame for him.

So my problem isn’t necessarily what you say, but how you go about it. At the end of the day, none of us know from the outside looking on where a musician’s heart is. And I think it’s wrong to assume that every musician who excels to a  high level though hard work and diligence should automatically be labeled as fake, or not sincere, or doing it for show.

But that’s not even the worst thing for me. For me, it’s the public way we tend to do it. Criticism like this is often said in a very public way, over PA systems and from podiums; often with the musicians still there. You never use names, of course, but it’s usually pretty obvious. To me this is a very sad and unfortunate element of our culture. It does not seek to teach or edify in any way, only to tear down. If your heart is in the right place, why not go to the musician privately if you think there may be an issue with his focus or true motivation? Why not offer a word of prayer or an understanding ear as you speak to him about your concerns in love? Can we stop using public forums to tear each other down and criticize each other?

Finally, I would ask you to do one other thing. Just like nobody could really know the true heart or motivations of the musician (unless you know him personally) only you and God know your true motivation for the criticism. You see, it’s a fact that most criticism musicians get comes from other musicians who play the same instrument. And the fact is, many times the musician doing the criticizing has not reached the skill level of the musician he’s criticizing.

If you’re not a musician but you feel the need to openly criticize and rebuke one, I urge you to ask yourself why. Deep in your heart, are you doing this out of concern, or is it to get a reaction from the congregation? Only you and God know. But I pray the next time you find yourself in the same situation you would pray for guidance before you speak. I pray that you would choose to act with compassion and understanding rather than malice or hatred. At the end of the day, the only reason to publicly rebuke a musician or anyone else, is to draw attention, glory and praise to yourself. And that’s kinda what you’re criticizing the musician for….right?

In love,

Ron

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