Yesterday we had our bi-monthly lunch meeting with those interested in joining our church. It’s always a great time as we get to know our new folks and those new folks get a chance to meet the staff and other leadership of our church. I’m always amazed at the diversity of talents given to each group of people present. Yesterday’s group was larger than normal because we hadn’t had a lunch like this since May. My role is not only to mingle and get to know the people gathered, but to to also talk about the mission and vision of the music and worship arts ministries here at the church. For me, it’s a perfect time for me to explain the intergenerational nature and philosophy of our music ministry. I try very hard to articulate that anyone with passion and gifted-ness in music has a place to serve in our church. Granted, not everyone will be singing solos, singing on a praise team, or playing instrumental solos, but everyone has a place. I don’t know why it gets me every time, but just about every time I talk about how important it is to value all persons in music ministry, everyone in the room is either nodding in agreement or some are visibly moved to the point that I see their mind churning…I have a place here if I want to serve.
It brings me great joy to talk with several of the families and individuals after the lunch is officially over. One couple, who was present with their recent college graduate daughter, told me about their background in music. The wife hasn’t sung in a group in some number of years, but used to sing in a professional group. Those of you that know me know that my face is the window into my mind. I probably looked stunned as I asked, “why haven’t you been singing in the last church you were in?” The story was familiar…I wasn’t pretty enough, or my voice wasn’t edgy enough, there wasn’t a choir, etc. I shook my head in understanding although after hearing this similar story, I’m still shocked. The word I get (well, most of us here at Ivy Creek) is, “Will, we didn’t know you guys existed. We didn’t know there were churches that not only had a choir and orchestra, but that also valued musical excellence.” I literally hear this story ALL the time. In fact, the next family I spoke with after them basically said the same thing to me. Our previous church’s music was so loud we couldn’t even hear ourselves sing, so we just didn’t sing—WOW! In this family, the husband (who had his children there—all of whom are in their twenties) said that he used to do vocal competitions, yet hasn’t sung in years. My heart sank…and I said, “sir, you have a place here to sing.”
Here are a few observations I’ve picked up, not only from yesterday, but over the last few years as well.
- If we do not provide FULLY graded/graduated ( children through adults) musical groups and experiences in our churches, soon our churches will have a severe lack of musically skilled leadership. To me, it’s like saying…only those children and youth that seem to be most spiritually mature should study the Bible; the rest of you can just listen to us talk about it. Or, who cares you spent all that time learning to play your instrument in the band growing—it’s all in the past now.
- If we don’t have opportunities for all skill levels of musicians to serve, then we really are saying that only the truly skilled should be valued and used in worship leadership. This is accomplished easily through choral/orchestra ministry, but not entirely necessary. There are other ways to use others to serve in music ministry.
- Don’t think that all Millennials and younger Gen Xers value band-driven, modern worship settings only. If I had a dime for how many times I’ve heard a pastor say (or teach or brain-wash their church leadership) into multiple musical styles or changing it entirely, I’d be rich. Point in case: both families I talked with extensively yesterday had children in their 20s. A total of five 20 year olds right in front of me. EVERY single one loved the musical diversity and excellence with which it was presented. We talked about how limited we are in terms of lighting effects and other topics I thought might be interesting to get their 20 year old opinion on, and they said that the musical itself set the mood. One said they felt like they were on a journey to the cross and communion table (which we did have the Lord’s Supper yesterday). I was thrilled that the Holy Spirit had worked in our preparation and it allowed them to worship. Further, I have several Millennials in our orchestra and choir—some of the MOST committed to our ministry in fact. Same for my youth choir. Those kids don’t miss rehearsals and they LOVE to serve in worship!
- Be authentic as a church. Figure out who you are and be that. Ivy Creek is unapologetically intergenerational. We know the DNA of our church and who we are. We make no bones about it. There is no surprise if you join our church what you’ll be “signing up” for. Does this mean that we aren’t changing and morphing? Certainly not—we change all the time based on what God brings and develops in our people. But, our intergenerational philosophy, commitment to expositional preaching, and YOU ALL GOSPEL-centered approach guides us firmly. It means we say no to some things that probably would make us “cooler” for a time. It may also appear that we are “stuck” in a previous decade (which is false). We are sure of who we are and the people who walk into our doors get that too.
- When leading congregational singing, watch to see who is singing and who is not. Some refuse to sing…period. Some songs are so new, only a few who live on Christian radio will be singing—keep singing it however, but do it judiciously. Always, always, always sing something in every service you know just about everyone knows…even if it’s a hymn you really don’t like. I know that sounds counterintuitive, but remember the Holy Spirit can work through you even when a song is not your “jam” to pierce the soul of someone in that room. Personally, there are hymns and choral things we do that just grate on my nerves, but our folks LOVE them and you know what? I believe in mutual submission (Phil 2:4)
- One final note…Because our commitment to be intergenerational, my job is to figure out what is the best of the old and the new, musically and otherwise. It’s NOT easy. The term “blended” worship is tossed around, but to blend there needs to cohesion…musically, textually, rhythmically/meter, etc. Worship pastor, don’t be afraid to take some risks when creating the musical journey each week. Just remember your context!