It’s Wednesday and time for my weekly routine. I leave my office at the University of Mobile, where I teach on the music faculty, walk to the other end of the building and take a number of music stands from the band room. (I always ask permission from the band director. Since that’s me, the answer is typically “yes”.) I load the stands into the back of my car and drive over to the small church where I serve in a very part-time capacity as director of a new instrumental music ministry. There I set everything up for our weekly rehearsal. After we’re finished that evening, I will reload my car and return everything to the university. On the Sundays when our group plays, I will have to repeat the process.
For 27 years I served full-time as Minister of Instrumental Music at churches where the weekly attendance ranged from 2,500 to 5,000 – and the music/instrumental programs were decidedly larger and better equipped. But now, the Lord has me at a small-town church with an average attendance of about 300 souls per week…and I’m blessed. We can’t yet afford much (like enough music stands), but we have some great-hearted individuals who actually play pretty well. My experience here has reminded me of the importance the Lord places on people and the responsibility we carry as ministers – regardless of the size of our ministry. I’m also reminded there are some specific things we can do to be more effective as instrumental directors no matter where He has placed us at any particular time – such as:
- Learn to work with what you have.
For example: Whenever you start an instrumental ministry in a church, do all you can to focus on enlisting adult players FIRST. Once they’re committed, THEN recruit students – who may have talent and enthusiasm but will seldom be a secure foundation for your ministry. Absolutely great advice…but guess what? In spite of my best efforts, 2/3 of my group is students. It’s not ideal – and your situation isn’t ideal either. Rather than moaning about what’s less than ideal, we must find a way to work with what we’ve been given. Be flexible and creative. (In my case, I try to encourage the adults, but plan for the kids. I have found that the Exaltation Series of instrumental arrangements from LifeWay work perfectly because of their incredibly flexible instrumentation. We use other material as well; but I know those pieces will sound good even if the local high school band is out of town for the weekend.)
- Preparation, Preparation, Preparation!
When the players walk into the rehearsal room…
- All of the chairs, music stands and applicable instruments are in place.
- Music for the evening is out, organized and ready.
- I’m there to greet them.
- I have a plan for the rehearsal.
- I always END on time. (STARTING on time kind of depends on how enthusiastic the pastor gets at the prayer service; but I do my best.)
All of this preparation speaks VOLUMES to the players about whether or not I consider this ministry – and them – to be a priority. Plus it makes the rehearsal much smoother and more effective.
- Communicate, Communicate, Communicate!
You need to communicate…
- Regularly (weekly, at least)
- Consistently (My folks can probably tell you the day and time each week when they will hear from me)
- To give rehearsal and performance information
- To encourage and praise
- For devotional thoughts
- For prayer requests
- Through multiple mediums…
- By e-mail – especially for median adults and older
- By text – especially for high school, college and young adults (who DON’T check e-mail). I recommend a text blast app like “Remind” (www.remind.com) which is free and used by thousands of school and university teachers nationwide.
- Love your people.
The Lord has given us the privilege of working with these wonderful folks each week at our church. Yes, part of the responsibility is training up a musical ensemble for worship. But these are also people for whom we need to be praying and with whom we need to be sharing the love of Christ – so that they can go and do likewise. NEVER underestimate the opportunity and influence the Lord has given us. Only in Eternity will we know much of how we’ve been used in the lives of the people around us. I don’t want to be ashamed and, I suspect, neither do you. Just do it!
Whatever the size of your ministry these are strategies that can help you be more effective, I promise.
By the way – while you’re here…can you help carry those music stands out to my car for me?
Composer, arranger, orchestrator Steve Dunn has served on the music/worship staff of churches in Kentucky, New Mexico, Texas and Alabama over the last 30 years. Many of his orchestrations can be found at LifeWayWorship.com. He is currently Assistant Professor of Music, Instrumental Music, at the University of Mobile in Mobile, Alabama.