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)

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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One kind of song every Gospel choir should avoid

I have no idea of what to title thisThe Gospel choir is one of the most powerful ministries in the Gospel music genre. And even though we seem to be at a place in music now where they’re becoming almost extinct, it seems, they still play a vital role in churches across the nation and beyond. The choir is usually the largest organization or auxiliary in the church. As such, choirs deal with a lot of challenges that can be detrimental to the effectiveness of their ministy.

Because there are so many people to deal with, all with their own personal lives and schedules to attend to, personnel issues plague choirs more than anything. This can quite dramatically affect what songs a choir can sing from week to week. You may have rehearsed two songs and got them down at choir rehearsal, only to find out the leader isn’t coming Sunday. Or there aren’t enough sopranos. Or a key musician is out that day. But regardless of what happens, we must be on our post and perform our duties, amen? So Sunday after Sunday we adjust. When we can’t sing what we practiced, we sing something else. It’s that simple, right? Well that’s kinda what I want to talk to you about in today’s blog.

Every choir deals with this on some level, week after week. And as we find ourselves in these predicaments there are songs that become our bail out songs. You know the ones. The songs we can sing even with a skeleton crew there. They end up being the songs we turn to every time we find ourselves in a bind. Limping. Crippled, so-to-speak. We call these songs “crutch songs” for that very reason. Crutch songs are necessary, to be sure. We must have songs that are easy, that we can do any time without a rehearsal, that require no leader, that anybody in the band can play; you get the idea.

But even though crutch songs provided much-needed flexibility and give us options when we’re short-handed, crutch songs can become a kind of “spiritual wet blanket” if we aren’t careful. The unfortunate thing about songs that get relegated to this category is that our attitude toward them starts to change. That’s because most choirs eventually get to a point where they only sing these songs when they’re in a bind. Pretty soon you get to the place where you don’t like the song anymore. Any time you hear that music start you roll your eyes into the back of your head, thinking “Oh God, not this one again”.  And that’s a bad place to be spiritually about any song you’re about to use to minister before God’s people.

Oh yeah, miiinistry! That is what this is about isn’t it? We get to a place sometimes where we forget that, don’t we? We start focusing more on what we want to sing rather than what, perhaps, God wants someone to hear that showed up that day.  That’s what makes crutch songs such a dangerous thing to a choir’s ministry.  When a song gets relegated to the category of “crutch song” it loses it’s importance. It loses it’s power for the choir. The message doesn’t touch you anymore. You don’t think about the message anymore because all you can think about is how you’re really tired of doing it.

But what can you do, right? I mean isn’t it just natural to have a change of heart about a song when you’re doing it only when there’s some “issue” going on? Absolutely it is. So how does a choir avoid having “crutch songs? Well let’s examine that for a moment. Think about one of your choir’s “crutch songs”. Get it in your mind. First think back to when it was new. Think about how you felt when your choir first performed it. Remember how powerful the message was for  you  back then? Now think about the lyrics and what really grabbed you about the song.

Got all that in your mind? Good. Now, ask yourself what changed about the song. Well, nothing right? The message certainly hasn’t.  You see, songs get old, but the message doesn’t. I told my choir recently “every time we sing “It’s Only A Test”, there is someone in the audience going through trials. They need to know that  what they’re going through won’t last. It’ll be over real soon.” Every time we sing “He’s Still Good”, I told them, “He still is”.

And that’s where we need to be spiritually every time we sing those songs.

I think what I’m trying to get across here, is that every choir needs to have songs they can deliver well in a pinch. But no choir should allow any song to become nothing more to them but a crutch song that’s only used to “bail them out”. So here are a couple of suggestions for keeping songs on your choir’s list from being relegated to “crutch song” status.

1. Sing these songs at times when everything is going well and everyone’s there.  This helps keep it from being seen as one you sing only when things aren’t going well.

2. Re-connect with the message. Remind yourselves both personally and as a group what it means, what it meant to you guys when you first sang it. Talk about the message of the song at rehearsal. This helps keep your choir spiritually connected to the song.

So in summary, all choirs need songs that give them flexibility and options when key people are out. But no song that was good enough to make your song list in the first place deserves to be given the title of “crutch song”. Every song your choir sings deserves your best performance of it every time you sing it.

Has your choir had a workshop lately? Contact us me!