We watch webcasts of churches from all across the country and peruse YouTube watching thousands of videos of church services. We see the best those churches have to offer. Their stage lighting is impeccable, their music unbelievable, and their services go off without a hitch. When the Livestream and YouTube videos end, we sit and wonder just how these churches do it so well. The truth is, we probably all do this, or have done this at some time or another. These thoughts can go one of two ways. They can lead you down a path of desiring better, or they can make you extremely discontent and cause you to feel that there isn’t any hope for you or your music team. In the coming paragraphs, I want to help you realize that your church can become the best….. You. That’s right. Not the best Lakewood. Not the best POA. But the best (enter your church name here)!
There’s a new saying that has caught on in recent years: “The Struggle is Real.” This is true on so many levels when it comes to building a music department. As a music minister, we deal with talent levels that range from below average to mega-talented (I would venture to say that the percentage of churches that don’t have a mega-talented musician or singer is more than those that do). We deal with many different personalities and every church has that one member that’s a “diva” (male or female). Some may have multiple members that are high-maintenance. The truth is, building a music department is a challenge. You have to work very hard to build the talent of individuals, all while navigating the various challenges that come with being in ministry. We have members that excel and others that underachieve. We may spend a large amount of time pulling some members along. When we see other church’s services run so smoothly, we may wonder why ours doesn’t and if it ever will. Be careful when you think these things. You can’t let them lead you to become discontent or disheartened. Let these thoughts propel you in your quest to build!
“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” You have either said this saying or have heard it spoken at some point in time. This saying always makes reference to making the best of what life gives you. Sometimes, there is a season of overabundance. Other times, there is a drought! At all times you have to learn how to adapt and overcome. This is especially true when working with a music department. We desire the best, but are given mediocre. We desire excellence, but only see average. In ministry we will deal with a plethora of issues, but we are bound by an unwritten code to do what is best for the soul of the individuals we serve. As a musician, I want the very best for my music department. I want the singers to be on their part on every song and I want the musicians to play every song without hitting any wrong notes. Does this happen? No, it most certainly does not. I have never been in a service where everything has went exactly perfect. Something always seems to happen. Does this aggravate me? Yes! Is it going to stop me from pushing my team? No! We should always pursue the betterment of our departments, but not be discouraged when it doesn’t happen as planned. You may say our musicians aren’t talented or our singers aren’t the best. I would then comment, “Welcome to the life of a church music director.” Our job is to take what’s been given and make the best of it; to help the members of our music department grow and to help the growth of the church. So, with all of that being said, I want to go over a few things that will help you get to the place other churches are and help you become the best you you can become!
Take an inventory of what your music team has to offer. I encourage you to make a list (either digital or pen/paper style) of what your music department has already. Some music departments have single musicians that are great. Great musicians are a fantastic thing, but they rarely come in packages bigger than 3. You may have have a great keys player and drummer, but lack in other areas. That’s fine if this is the case, but make sure you aren’t blind to it and are aware of exactly what you are working with. The same goes for singers. Think about your praise team and what singers/parts are strongest. You need to know these things.
Once you know where your talent lies, use that knowledge accordingly. Don’t do a guitar driven song if you don’t have a strong guitarist. Don’t sing that song that has your sopranos singing lead if your sopranos are your weakest part. Make sure you play to your strengths. You want to ensure that what you have is being utilized the best way. Don’t sing songs that are out of your singer’s range and don’t play songs that are beyond your musicians talent current level. Doing this will often lead to discouragement due to being unable to play the song correctly. If there is a song that you must do but is beyond your group at the moment, rework the song to fit what you have available.
This one is the least favorite of many people because it takes the longest and is, by far, the hardest. Everyone wants the big reward with the little investment, but with music this isn’t possible. In order for talent to grow, you have to invest. In order for you department to grow, you have to invest. It will take time, and often money, to see growth, but it will happen. This type of growth is the most sustainable. Having musicians come to your church for conferences or special services is okay, but to try to coerce them into coming on a continual basis rarely pans out. If you talked them into coming, someone else can talk them into leaving. However, if you grow talent from the inside, they are more likely to stay. The greater the investment, the greater the reward.
Many people try every new thing they can get their hands on. If the church across the way tries it and it works, you’re trying it two weeks later. This isn’t always good. You have to ensure that what you’re doing works for your church. There is no cookie cutter way to grow your music department. You have to try and fail in order to grow. Figure out what works for you and do it. The worst thing you can do is become a carbon copy of another church. This will lead to your department thinking you question their ability which will breed animosity between you and your department members. Make sure that what you’re doing is best for you and your church. Some things from outside sources will work, but never sacrifice the headway you’ve made for becoming a carbon copy. Be the best you you can be!
If you follow the steps listed, you will be well on your way to “making lemonade.” Take the time to assess your department and then play to your strengths. When you do this, your department will start to grow because you aren’t spending time trying to force something that’s just not going to work. This will free you up to spend time developing the talent you already have at your disposal. Remember, be original. Don’t imitate to the point that you sacrifice the unity of your department or, even worse, the respect you’ve worked to gain! Just continue being faithful and working for God’s kingdom and he will work it out for you! One day, your services will be better than those you watch on Livestream and YouTube!
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