Patience is a Bitter Plant but it Bears Sweet Fruit
This saying has been attributed to many, probably because of the truth of the statement. As the music director in a pioneer church, I have learned well the meaning of the words. When moving from an established church with a full music program to a beginning work, much patience is needed.
Presently our program centers around four soloists, occasionally putting these willing singers together in an ensemble. The group includes two very low voices, one too loud and unharnessed voice, and one who rhythmically lags behind and is not faithful to practice. Finding music for that works well in that unique combination is definitely impossible.
In an effort to organize and augment this challenging music program, certain ideas and concepts have emerged that may be of help to other directors in similar situations, especially those with smaller groups, worship teams, or choirs, and with limited talent.
1. Be content, but discontent. Content means: “to be satisfied with things as they are.” Paul said he had “learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” (Philippians 4:11 NIV) He did not mean he was satisfied to remain in the state he was in, but simply that when circumstances were such that he could not change them, he was then content.
In a new church, everyone must learn to be content with small things, but discontent when progress isn’t seen. It takes practice to exercise this learning process, and that means having a time established for developing what is necessary to make the program move forward, in spite of the limitations.
Doing simple arrangements is a patience tester. It is obviously much more exciting to try a piece with all four parts. It is exhilarating the first time that can be accomplished with an infant choir. A good place for a beginning choir or ensemble to experiment with harmony is at the end of a song. If they successfully accomplish that, a twofold purpose has been accomplished. First, they achieve a feeling of progress, and, second, a good ending always helps make up for weaknesses in other parts of the song.
2. Avoid comparisons with former ensembles. That’s a difficult assignment for an experienced music director. Everyone likes the tried and proven product, and the temptation will be to quickly move to literature that is familiar or has been successful in previous ministries. It lessons the workload. However, when the music doesn’t work, we are tempted to compare further and discouragement can set in. Forcing familiar music to group after group, regardless of size and experience, is like a doctor prescribing the same antibiotic for every illness. Commonly, the result is failure, and failure breeds further comparison.
Each locality is unique and each congregation has its own personality. Some people love country music, some older hymns, while others prefer a more contemporary style. As music directors, we must find styles that minister to the greatest number of people while remaining willing to move in new directions, to both satisfy the changing personality of a growing congregation, and keep the ministry fresh. Regardless of the style, the message should always exalt Christ.
3. Keeping the future in mind. In nearly everyone’s career, there has been a time of humble beginnings. Perhaps it would be wise to continually remind ourselves that we are not what we shall be. Regardless of our current position, we have the joy of growing a music program, whether from the ground up, or just to push ourselves to the next level. It’s like planting a tree and watching it grow to the place of providing shade for us. Patient waiting and lots of nurturing is required.
By comparison, the established church is not all peaches and cream either. Often participants are too established in how it’s always been done—often the way the previous director did it, or simply because “it’s always been done that way.” In a new work, there is no predecessor, no tradition, no status quo. It may be easier for new members to be open to God’s leadership and more open to see what He has in mind for their future.
4. Wrap everything in prayer and love the people God has given us. We should not offer to the Lord that which has cost us nothing. Rehearsal is important, but the combination that makes for effective music ministry is prayer and rehearsal. Begin each event with prayer. It provides the needed reinforcement.
Gentleness must be exercised in order to see progress, especially in cases where individual assistance is needed. The person with a small vocal range will inevitably need private lessons for their capacity to expand. The person whose loud and unharnessed voice will have to be calmly shown the techniques for singing softer and with more control. And that singer who continually lags behind the beat will have to learn about enunciation and the art of listening.
Videotaping a rehearsal may help lessen the need for individual correction. Many people, whether experienced musicians or not, are able to participate in their own diagnosis. At first the tasks may appear impossible, and it is undoubtedly more challenging the smaller the group A loving rapport must be developed, and when these willing souls have first learned to trust, then correction and instruction will not be so difficult.
Developing good voices is important, but the greatest joys come from learning together about worship, about its purpose, and about the need for skilled leaders to help encourage a growing congregation to effectively experience it. To worship is to “have an ardent admiration and love for God.” That is the criterion for being effective in music ministry and that is the sweet fruit we want our plant to bear.
Galations 6:9 says: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
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