Expand Your Ministry by Engaging Those Who Like Different Music
What station is your car radio tuned to right this moment?
Last question: given free tickets and your choice, which concert would you rather attend: A) Bach St. Matthew Passion, B) a jazz trio, C) Madame Butterfly or D) Casting Crowns?
There are no right answers. Or better yet, they are all right answers. And we would have as many answers as the number of people reading this. We all have our own musical tastes and desires, and they are as unique as we are.
And yet, we often forget that the congregation we are serving as worship leaders and music directors are diverse humans, each created in God’s image, all holy and all divine for that fact.
Do we serve their uniqueness (and thus God’s diversity), or do we only serve our own musical tastes and interests? Sure, our churches all have traditions, led by the ‘we’ve always done it this way’ crowd. But it in a world with so many musical options, whose music is best for worship: theirs, yours, or God’s?
I think there are two truths that are helpful to identify about ourselves, church music directors. First, that we do have musical favorites. That’s just fine. We bring our own passions and interests to the work we do serving God, and our musical passions and interests are what make us good at it (if we do our job right.) The music that we were first passionate about is probably how God called us into ministry in the first place.
But it’s also helpful to identify that we can become insulated in our approach if we don’t work to expand our abilities and knowledge base as directors, and this can have a detrimental effect on how welcoming or embracing our worship services can be.
At the church I serve, we have two services on Sunday morning: a traditional service with the music centered on the choir and the organ, and a contemporary/blended service with the music centered on the praise band. I was hired, in part, because I have a unique skill set for each: my Bachelors degree was on the guitar, my Master’s degree was in choral conducting. As I’ve moved through my career, I have been surprised to see how rare that is, even as the tides of musical tastes within our churches have splintered into a mixture of Palestrina & Switchfoot.
And even though the sentiment seems to be rarer, I still hear a few people say from time to time, “I hate praise music”, or “choral music is dead.” What I answer to the first question is “only hate bad praise music, not the good stuff” and to the second I say “Hardly.”
So how do we answer God’s call to serve diverse congregations with complex musical tastes and abilities? By expanding our own.
Been a choir director all your life? Take guitar lessons. Lead your church’s praise band from the drum set? Find the best civic choir in your city and learn the magic of singing Brahms and Britten in tune. Try as you might, you haven’t been able to gain an appreciation for amplified music? Embrace the person in your congregation who does and encourage them to discern if God is calling them to work side by side with you.
One of my favorite groups at my church is one I have nothing to do with. We are a merged congregation, and one of the two congregations has a long history in the Japanese-American community. Victor Fukuhara plays Taiko, the powerful and ancient Japanese drumming style and instrument. He started a group that attracts people of all ages and races. They built their first set of drums out of drink tubs that they purchased from Sam’s Club, and made the heads out of packing tape stretched tightly across the top. They’ve since graduated to real wood drums that they use for performances only. There is nothing more stirring than hearing them play at a special event for us. I have even plugged them in as the postlude on a few special Sundays, and wrote a piece for choir and Taiko once when we played at an ecumenical multi-church concert.
I knew nothing about Taiko before they started. It never would have occurred to me to start a Taiko group, even on those Sunday mornings when I would look out and see the Japanese-American faces looking back at me. But I knew enough to say to Victor, “go for it,” when the opportunity arose. And I am a much better musician — and my church has a better ministry — now for it.
What opportunities are there for you to grow as a worship/music leader? God surely is not calling us to rest on our current knowledge and abilities. Isn’t God calling us to find new ways to expand what we do so we can find new ways to expand his church? Look out at your congregation on Sunday morning. Who there loves Bach? Who loves Casting Crowns? Who there would love to start a Sunday evening jazz service? What would an opera ministry look like?
How will you find ways to grow into God’s call for you?.