Does What You Do Matter?

We’re going to venture down a very existential, but very valid and necessary topic. Does what you do matter? I think it depends on the day, doesn’t it? When you get e-mails or phone calls from congregation members sharing their concerns, e-mails or phone calls from those involved in your music ministry making complaints, you may answer no. But, on the contrary, when you have the choir work really hard on a piece, or your worship band prepare a song, and you get comments from the congregation saying how much that really encouraged them and it is something that will stick with them throughout the week, your answer may be yes.

Why are we going here? It’s a question we all ask at some point or another. If you’ve never asked it, you’re a rare breed and you’re quite blessed. Even though we are serving God and His people, and deep down, we do know that our role matters, we are human and don’t always feel like what we’re doing matters or is making a difference.

If you would have asked me that question any time before 2 years ago, I would have struggled to answer yes. Serving in small churches with limited or no budget for resources, not great instruments, limited participation (because there weren’t that many in the congregation to draw from), or a praise team that didn’t want to listen to any input I gave, I didn’t feel like I mattered. But yet, deep down, I knew that wasn’t the case. For the last 3 years that I served at my previous congregation, I knew I wasn’t supposed to be there long term. So, every day, I prayed that God would either lead me elsewhere or give me the strength for the day. And believe, I looked at plenty of alternatives, whether that was going back into teaching full-time, doing something completely different or something, just so that I could be doing something that I felt mattered. But, yet…….God gave me strength each and every day. And when I was told that my position was going to be cut to part-time if I stayed for about 8 months, I was relieved. It was an answer to that prayer. It gave me an endpoint. And sure enough, on the day I was supposed to be part-time at that congregation, I started at my current congregation.

So what’s different about where I am now? Support is a huge part of it. Resources are a huge part of it. It’s a combination of a lot of factors, but primarily, it’s me. It’s my attitude in realizing that I am actually capable, and that God has called me to do something that does matter. In the past, I didn’t look forward to getting out of bed in the morning, because of the struggles I would face. While where I serve isn’t 100% perfect and won’t ever be, I look forward to getting out bed in the morning, and seeing what God has in store for me for the day. In the past, I would have to psych myself up for rehearsals, put on a fake smile like everything was great. Now, it’s genuine. I love Wednesday nights. They’re long, they’re exhausting….but they’re fun.

You may have read that previous paragraph and said, well, that’s not where I am. I could walk out of the church and no one would notice. Of course, that’s not the case! You have value to the church you serve, but asking the question of does what you do matter can be a beneficial one. Because if it is time for you to go elsewhere, God can use circumstances to give you that push. Or, those circumstances can strengthen you and prepare you for something even better in the future. If God would have led me anywhere else in the previous 3 years from when I started praying daily…..I wouldn’t have been ready. I wouldn’t have learned the lessons and had the experiences that I had that I needed to prepare me for what I’m doing now.

So……does what you do matter? I hope and pray your answer to that is yes. If not, start praying. Having conversations with your spouse, trusted friends and seek counsel. You can always send me an e-mail at harmannymusic@yahoo.com and I’ll pray for you, and give you what encouragement and advice that I can.

 

Keeping God the focus

As church musicians, we sing songs about God, we plan worship services based on God and His Word, and we may even read His Word to prepare for what we do. But, is He truly our focus? Let me explain.

As we prepare music, do we balance the musical excellence and diction of our songs against focusing on the Word of God that we are singing and sharing and letting that speak through? Can there be a balance? I believe so! In a Facebook group that I’m in of Worship Leaders, the comment was made about transitioning the choir from a “performance” choir to a “worship leading choir”. My response was that no choir in a church setting should be a performance choir. When we participate musically in worship, it is taking our abilities, giving to us by God, and offering them in worship to Him. And that’s a huge mental shift when compared to any other musical endeavor outside of the church. One can quickly point to the “performance mentality” with worship teams and lights and whatnot else, but there’s much more to it than that. Whether it’s an adult choir, children’s choir, organ, handbells, or anything else, we can slip into the “performance mentality” very easily. I am not a fan of choirs being in front, because it’s not about them. It’s about what they are singing. In a previous church, I tried to move the small (4 singers) children’s choir from singing in front to singing from the balcony, where there were mics. I received so much flak for that because……”they look cute”. I’m sorry, but that’s not a reason to have children in front. We’re teaching them about worship and leading worship.

Words and attitude matter, but along with that is our attitude as musical leaders. How are we doing in our walk with God? I know that it’s tough for me weekly to not get distracted by what needs to get done, get bogged down in the details and not stop and pray for the needs of individuals, pray for the congregation, pray that God will use the music to give an encouragement to those gathered together for worship. When I do stop and do those things, my attitude, focus and perspective changes greatly. And those times when I don’t……it’s not pretty. It is an opportunity for me to focus and ground myself, and remind myself that what I’m doing is not for or about me in any way, shape or form. I’m using the time, gifts and abilities given to me by God in service to Him and His people. And I’m blessed beyond belief to have it be my full-time job.

So, how are you doing? Are you keeping your focus on God? Is your music ministry focusing on God? I hope and pray that your answer is yes. If so, praise be to God, and I hope that this post gives you encouragement. If your answer is a maybe or a no, I pray that this challenges you to reconsider your focus. I struggle with it quite often. Sometimes I’m forced to refocus myself and don’t always pick it up on my own.

 

15 years

Yesterday was the first day of school for students in my area. While I was seeing lots of pictures of students going back to school for the new year, I was transported back 15 years. While I don’t remember exactly what day I started, but it was in late August that I began my ministry, serving as choir director and theology teacher at Portland Lutheran High School. After 5 years of college, I was looking forward to finally getting out there and doing what I wanted to do. My plan starting out was to teach in Lutheran high schools for about 15-20 years, then transition into church music.

As with all first years, it was rough. That year, I learned many lessons. Flexibility was one of them. I had about 42 in my choir, taught 2 sections of 9/10 theology and one section of 11/12 theology. But after I accepted the position, over the summer, I got a phone call, ” We have a 9 instrument wind ensemble…..would you want to direct that?” Sure, I naively said. Having no experience with band directing before. And then another phone call came, “Would you teach ESL theology?” Sure, I said again. The wind ensemble was a variety of instruments that challenged my musical creativity and pushed me to find music that would sound good, be musically challenging and overall, serve the purpose of educating. In teaching ESL theology, I had a few students from Germany, and a few students from South Korea that I had to teach religion to. That was quite the challenge.

With teaching religion, I was very firm in my foundation as an LCMS (Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod) Lutheran. However, my students were not just LCMS Lutherans. They were other Lutherans, as well as other denominations and no faith at all. My unwavering focus on teaching what I believe was quite the challenge to me, as well as my students. One of the things I have learned throughout the years is that when you teach something, you become better at what you know and do. In teaching theology, I became more grounded in what I believe. However, I don’t know how much my students actually benefited from that method of teaching.

And then we have the choir. The thing that I wanted to do more than anything else. It was a struggle. I had an awful time with classroom management because I didn’t really know what I was doing. I didn’t have an accompanist, so I directed from the piano. All things that would lead to even more struggles. I had to plan a choir tour, which was something I had no idea what I was doing, so I connected with a college friend who was teaching up in Seattle, and we went up there. There were so many lessons that I learned on that excursion about being in charge, planning ahead and preparing. I failed miserably at that.

I loved the teachers that I taught with, and I had a tremendous amount of respect for and still do to this day. The principal, who was also the Executive Director of the school, was someone who I didn’t see eye to eye on. And of course, being a 24 year old, fresh out of college, know it all…..I didn’t do all that great on in respect. One of the biggest issues that still stands out in my mind was graduation. The choir sang, and I was not going to have them wear robes. This was not what he wanted, and I didn’t agree. It was not pretty. Looking back on it now, the robes weren’t that big of a deal. But it was the end of the year, I was frustrated, exhausted, and was not returning the next year (more on that).

In May of that year, we were told in our staff meeting by the Principal/Executive Director that no one would have their positions cut for the next year, because things looked good financially. Apparently there were financial issues in the past….a good thing to ask about beforehand! But then the next week, I’m called into his office, and told that……my contract would not be renewed for the next year. Which led me to respond, “But, I’m called!” You see, in the Lutheran church, basically, a call is what the church gives its workers (pastors, teachers, youth directors) that pretty much says, “We believe that God is calling you to us and us to you. You will serve here until God leads you elsewhere”. Well…..since it wasn’t just an LCMS Lutheran school, I signed a contract…..which I didn’t realize. That contract was not renewed. I don’t know if it was because of my teaching performance, if it was because the teacher I replaced was still on staff, and replaced me, or a combination of the two, but it was definitely God’s redirection for me. More on that next week.

That one year of teaching was a huge amount of learning, good and bad. I learned plenty about myself, my capabilities and what God wanted me to do. It led me down a road to where I am today, and I am grateful for that experiences. 15 years isn’t a long time in ministry, but I’m thankful that God has brought me this far and I know that His hand has guided me along the way.

I did always have that question of whether or not I could actually teach, and 4 years ago, I had the opportunity to spend a year directing a junior high/high school choir at a Christian school on a part-time basis. It was a great year, I absolutely loved it, and realized that while my teaching has expanded to a wider age of ranges, I can actually be successful in teaching high school students, what I went to college for. I don’t know if I’ll have the opportunity to direct a high school choir again, but if I do, I know that I can do it, do it well and succeed.

 

Healthy Check in #3

Last week, with the exception of Saturday, was the lowest amount of steps in a while. Saturday, I mowed, which upped me to a pitiful 55,179 steps. Why so low? I couldn’t get outside and walk because of the rains on Sunday through Tuesday and when it wasn’t actively raining Wednesday and Thursday, my back was spasming. Lots of excuses. 

But, in spite of the excuses, progress happened! Down 2 pounds on the scale to 285 pounds! This week really ramps up the return to routine and I’m already leaps and bounds ahead of where I was last week. Intentionally walking yesterday and today, along with my wonderful wife buying me a new water bottle to help me track my water intake. It holds 34 ounces of water, which will be a huge help!

Next Monday, I have a feeling that you’re going to read a pretty large update. My hope is to get to 100,000 steps for the week, so we’ll see how much the rain helps or hinders it! But I’ve got plans if it does rain!

 

Distractions from ministry

What distracts you from ministry? Books? Netflix? Social media? Sports? All of them would be my answer, personally. Here’s the reality. Anything can become a distraction from ministry.

How do we keep those distractions lessened? It is hard to be disciplined, but if you get all of your daily tasks done, then you can allow yourself a reward. With the advent of technology, it’s easy to get those Facebook notifications, updates on our team, or whatever. Here’s a trick I’ve found to help keep me focused. I turn those notifications off. In fact, I don’t have the apps on my phone or iPad. For social media, I try to limit myself during the day. 

Distractions can be good and can be needed. Ministry can be busy and exhausting. Something that we can turn on and check out mentally gives us an opportunity to relax and recharge. But keep that balance. While it would be nice to binge watch the entire series of our favorite show…and may not be beneficial for our upkeep of our home, our relationships with others, or our ministry. So give yourself the distractions….in moderation.