When considering music ministry, it is likely that the pressing issue for most of our church plants and smaller congregations is not whether or not we value music ministry but how, with limited expertise and resources, can we invest in it?
Whilst not pretending to be an authority or have all the answers, here are some thoughts about how to begin positively pursuing effective music ministry in our churches.
As a wise man once said, if it goes without saying, then it’s probably worth saying! In Ephesians chapter 4, Paul asserts that God equips his church with word ministers for works of service. So, if we are convinced that music ministry is a word ministry that builds the church (cf. Colossians 3) then it stands to reason that our primary recourse is prayer.
If you want to invest in music ministry, begin by committing to regularly praying for it with your church. If you are blessed with musicians, pray that they would develop both musically and theologically. If you are not blessed with musicians, humbly ask God to provide and/or raise up those who could serve the church through music. You might find that the very act of praying for the ministry with your members reveals those who are willing and able to serve but hadn’t seen or realised the need.
If, as Bob Kauflin states in ‘Worship Matters’, the purpose of sung worship is to: “encourage and motivate the gathered church to proclaim the gospel, cherish God’s presence and to live for God’s glory.” Then the focus is not simply on the musicians at the front, but with and in the gathered church. This is really encouraging for church plants and small churches, because in terms of effective music ministry, bigger does not automatically mean better.
The gathered church can be encouraged and motivated to sing just as easily by an individual playing a piano or guitar as with a large ensemble. This emphasis also has a secondary, but no less important, benefit. By deliberately keeping the focus on the collective participation of congregation avoids the idol of entertainment for your church and the idol of performance for your musicians. Effective music ministry means getting God’s people to sing his praises together.
That’s not to say that musicians are insignificant, getting the right people on your music team is essential. There is the obvious requirement for some level of musical proficiency. But if we agree that music ministry is a word ministry, then it begs the question of what other criteria should we use to identify and mobilise musicians? Do some of the same principles apply as with those who preach, teach, lead and pray?
Whatever conclusion you come to, whilst questions of character and reputation are undoubtably important, I would add a further requirement of being teachable. Are your prospective musicians both humbly willing to shape the ministry in line with your churches vision and values and humbly willing to dedicate time and energy to practising to meet that vision?
You may have heard of the 10,000 hour rule made famous by pop psychologist Malcolm Gladwell. The principle holds that with 10,000 hours of ‘deliberate practice’ anyone can become world-class in their field.
It is an interesting thought, that with just 4 hours practice a day, anyone could become a concert pianist in just over 6 years! Now whether this actually holds true or not, it is no mistake that often the most gifted musicians, artists, athletes etc. are those who also practise the longest and hardest. Practice is not only important for getting better technically but also learning how to lead and engage the congregation in singing.
If your context allows for a larger number of musicians, then practising together as a band is indispensable. Your musicians will need to think through the composition of the band: finding the balance between melodic and rhythmic instruments; making sure there are not too many instruments playing in the same frequency space; even the basics of who plays what and when.
It might be that the best way to facilitate these decisions is by identifying someone as a music leader, someone with specific responsibility for overseeing the ministry. But again, make sure you pick someone who is as equally good at creating harmony relationally as well musically.
However you chose to organise your musicians, you can help them by pointing them towards excellent music ministry resources, conferences and workshops. Music Ministry UK (music-ministry.org), Emu Music UK (emumusic.com) and Sovereign Grace Music (sovereigngracemusic.org) all have extensive online materials, tutorials and blogs to help music leaders and musicians. I would also recommend the books ‘Worship Matters’ by Bib Kauflin, ‘Worship by the Book’ edited by Don Carson, and if you can find it ‘The Church Musicians Handbook’ by St Matthias Press.
Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will an effective music ministry. Set a trajectory rather than a hard target and then implement manageable, achievable, incremental changes that allow your church and musicians to develop over time. The first steps could be introducing new songs, or new musicians to the band, just don’t try to do it all in one go.