Category Archives: Church Music

Encourage One Another!

EncourageOneAnotherDailyAs I have endeavored to increase my understanding of humility before God and others — I have thought a bit about the question of how humility is “lived” in our every moment of life.    What is the “character” of humility that will be reflected in my routine of daily life and interaction with others?

I have come to believe that this is best stated in the following simple phrase;

“An attitude of Gratitude in all things”

If we embrace an ‘attitude of Gratitude’ in all of our encounters, then we model humility through our expression of appreciation to others.   In so doing, we encourage them, we uphold them, and we affirm them.   We posture ourselves as the gracious recipient of their efforts and grace — and we endeavor to ensure that they know that their generosity is observed.

Would that we all could model this in every encounter of every day!  The impact we could make through our persistent and pervasive encouragement of others.   Such would not only fulfill our Christian and righteous admonition, but would simultaneously foster such conduct in others — by way of our example.

When we applaud the ministry efforts of others we encourage, uphold, and affirm them.  When the heart of the recipient is right, such encouragement simultaneously deepens our sense of humility, affirms our action, and encourages our continued pursuit.   Applauding is really a fulfillment of our righteous living – and an effort that springs-forth from our heart of gratitude.

The root of the applause question is that of humility:  what is the heart of the performer?

This is not something that is built, affirmed, or verified by the presence or non-presence of a round of applause.  Applause itself is a good and desirable action from the heart of the church body.   The heart of the performer is something that is built, encouraged, mentored, modeled, and anticipated at every level of a Christ-centered music ministry program.

When the heart of the performer is right, then such praise only deepens their sense of humility, and affirms their action.   Sometimes (from my own observation), a performer that is “young” to this process will feel such a strong sense of humility before the applauding audience that it makes them uncomfortable – and they (inwardly) plead for the clapping to stop.   However, this is driven more by a concern for the “perception” of humility than for the reality of it.

This is not to suggest that such performer is not sufficiently humble or right with God.   This is only the suggestion that such individual is experiencing the human desire that other’s know of their posture — and they are concerned that their acceptance of applause is perceived as a prideful event.   A concern for “what others might think” is as old as the human experience.

Musicians (or any performing artist) need only concern themselves with the heart of God.  Ensure to their greatest extent possible that their vessel is empty of self and full of Him.   And, then let God do as he will – without a concern for the human thought of others.    Accept applause with humble and modest acknowledgement — and reflect it to God through the living example in all of your daily life.

This is the Christian musician’s challenge.   This writer being a somewhat poor example.

Ultimately if the heart of the performer is right with God, then whether a church applauds or not is of no particular matter.   The applause itself is an additional gift and an offering that grows from our shared experience.

But, squelching the urge of an audience to “spring forth with gratitude” has a very “solemnizing” effect on a church.   No one is sure when it is appropriate or not — so, it becomes ritualistically – eliminated — forcing a solemn worship experience —   reflective of the most stalwart of rules-centered churches of old.

God desires the honest and free expression of a grateful heart.   We are free of the worldly bounds of perception and ritual, and should express ourselves freely in our gratitude and praise to God.   The affirmation of fellow servants is a valued part of that experience.

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Keep the Children Singing!

Written originally for the September 2009 Newsletter of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Waterloo, IA as Mabel and I prepared to serve a term as Interim Music Director and Coordinator

As I grew up in a small Reformed church in Pella, there were a great number of people within that church that took it upon themselves to encourage, teach, and mentor the young boy piano-player.

The impact these people had on my eventual involvement in music is immeasurable. I so looked-up to the adults of the church – especially those involved in the music of the church. From them I learned that my church was the “expected” place to use my talents, that they were God-given, and that they were much appreciated by the ‘big people’ of my church community.  Without their constant encouragement and challenging, I would not likely be involved in music today.

As Mabel and I serve during this interim time, the programs that we feel very strongly about are those that surround our children (ours and yours).  It is so important that our children learn early-on that their talents are given by God, and that the church is the place where their talent is upheld, encouraged, and appreciated.

We appreciate the programs that this church offers our children, and we equally appreciate the many adults that pro-actively and individually and personally encourage the children at every opportunity.

As a church it is important that our children understand clearly that;

  • The Church is the place for their music, and that
  • THIS church HAS a place for their music.

This is not universally true within the modern church. In fact, it is increasingly rare. Most churches anymore have no (or very little) to offer children musically – and there is virtually no room for them within the Sunday services.

Even today when I return to my home church during weekend visits to my parents’ home, many of the people (much older now) that were such an encouragement in my youth continue to take an Interest in my music and what I am doing and where. They are proud of the role they played in “establishing” me as a church musician, and feel that they are a part (however indirectly) of whatever it is that I’m doing today.

Let us be a church that continues to value and uphold the talents of our youth – whatever their current age – and encourage them to utilize and hone their talents within the warm and welcome atmosphere of their church. Such – it seems – is our responsibility – even our obligation – as the “big people” of their church.

Let go, and Let God!

Originally written for the October 2009 Newsletter at Westminster Presbyterian Church, Waterloo,  IA  while serving as their Interim Music Director.

Our music program is well underway for this year.  I am so grateful for the many participants and volunteer leaders and helpers that make this extensive program possible.

Recently a choir member shared with me that they didn’t think they could do church music leadership, as they would be constantly worried about numbers – and how many would show-up each week — and whether that would be sufficient to meet the demands of the week.

I must admit, that in my early days of music leadership (longer ago than I’ll admit), this type of weekly worrying and stressing was common.  And, even today, it is difficult to avoid.  We are – after all – human, and we want the events and programs that we “lead” to be successful — or, at least appear to be.

But, God doesn’t ask us to “be successful.”  He simply asks us to serve.

When you consider your leadership role from this perspective, it changes completely.   Your objective and purpose is NOT a “successful program” by human evaluation.  But, rather, “humble service” by God’s evaluation.

Accordingly, as leaders within the church — whatever that might be — we need to focus NOT on the human perspectives of size, scope, and achievement.  But, instead focus on the heart of our service.

If we are truly humble servants – putting in our best effort to further the work of God and his church – setting aside our own agendas in the process – then what have we to worry about?  Humble submission carries with it the need to let go.  We need to have faith that God will achieve HIS objectives through our service.  He can do that – so long as our own ego doesn’t obstruct it.

So, in the areas of your leadership, ensure that your service is heartfelt, earnest, and empty of self.  Adopt an attitude of gratitude – in all things.

Then, let go and let God.  You’ll be amazed at what he can do when human egos and agendas are set aside.

Make a Joyful Noise!

Originally written for the Septermber 2011 Newsletter of Westminster Presbyterian Church, Waterloo, IA as I embarked on a 2nd Interim period of service as their Choir Director.

When I was a young college graduate and began receiving invitations to lead music groups and programs — I experienced something that I believe is quite common with young people who are new to ministry.    I felt that the output of the program was a reflection of me and my ability, and that it should therefore attain a certain musical standard — so that it might properly reflect on me.

Music ministry is not a perfect environment for such things.   Ministry within the church is comprised of countless volunteers of various enthusiasm and skill.  Ministry within the church is  a “ya’ll come” type of program.    While some churches have engaged “audition” types of procedures, I’ve always felt that the musical celebration of God’s grace should not be reserved only to those “properly” equipped.

What – after all – is the measure of “proper” within the musical church?

God’s desire is that we praise him.   Such instruction does not carry a musical achievement criteria – but, it does carry a “do your best” obligation.

So, as musicians and musical leaders, it is our obligation to be responsible stewards of the resources that God entrusts to us.   We are to use the time and talents provided – be grateful for them – and do the best that we can with them.    Any artificial musical standard is only our own human desire to “prove” ourselves to others.   Our obligation is to humbly submit ourselves to His service – and then “let go and let God” (achieve his work through us).

Ultimately when human ambition and ego is removed from the formula – God can achieve great things.    If we – alternatively – set-out to achieve “great things,” we may receive worldly praise for our achievement, but find that our human desire for such recognition isolates us from the God we profess to adore.

Such humble submission is difficult – especially as a young, aspiring, and somewhat idealistic graduate.    But, as I have matured in this path, I have come to realize that once we embrace this attitude of humble service and submission — then, all the worldly pressure is off.   We need only to present ourselves as an available, responsible, and humble servant – and then let God achieve his work through us.   The ministry is his – not ours — and the joy of serving his purpose is immeasurable.

This fall we engage again in the Music Ministry of Westminster Presbyterian Church.  I invite each and every one of you to “humbly offer your talents in His service.”

This year we are blessed with a new Choir room, a budding and better-organized library (in the old Music office), and additional square footage (the old choir room) for the conduct and preparation of musical groups and events.   We are to be grateful and responsible stewards.  The “glory” be to God!

Come join the fun!   Come join the ministry!  Come Make a JOYFUL NOISE!   The Church is the place for your talents, and this church has a place for yours!!

The Adult choir will first meet for the season on August 31st.