The Christmas holiday season is a wonderful time in church life, as we celebrate the birth of our Lord. For those planning music, it can also be a challenging time, as we seek to resource teams while many church members are away.
From my own experience overseeing music at a large church, here are some thoughts that may assist Music Directors in planning for this season:
- Keep the goal in mind
Colossians 3:16 helps us to identify the goal of church music:
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
The team’s strongest singers may be on holidays and some guitarists may have family commitments. So holiday music may not sound the same as other weeks. But what matters most is that we allow the word of Christ (the gospel) to dwell richly in the hearts and minds of the congregation. This means the music should effectively support the lyrics (and not detract from them) as we encourage congregational singing.
Are there creative ways you can achieve this? Perhaps one vocalist, a pianist and a violin? Or two vocalists and a guitar? There is no right or wrong. But keeping the goal mind will help us use our limited resources purposefully.
- Treat it as an opportunity, not an inconvenience
It’s tempting to think that not having a full team is an inconvenience – it will require more planning. But really, it’s an amazing opportunity.
Firstly, musicians wanting to play more get that chance – and can perhaps try something new. Maybe a guitarist can try band leading over the holidays? This may reveal areas of gifting that had otherwise been hidden.
Secondly, it’s a chance for the church to be refreshed in its singing. A song that is normally played as a full band might take on an acoustic sound over summer. So the congregation may hear itself singing more clearly than normally – and that can be immensely encouraging. After all, Paul calls the church to be “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Eph 5:19) as part of our life together.
What’s more, new musical arrangements can help people notice lyrics they previously hadn’t – so gospel truths may resonate with them in new ways. Of course, truth resonating in the hearts and minds of believers is always a work of the Spirit, and not a result of musical arrangements. But just like effective preaching, music done well can help communicate familiar truths in new ways.
- Use limited team numbers effectively
Think carefully about which musicians are playing together. Think twice about simply rostering whoever is available – especially if they are less experienced. The musicians will feel unsupported, and the musical leadership offered to the congregation may be inadequate.
Rather, roster seasoned musicians alongside less experienced musicians. The seasoned musician can be part of an ensemble with less-developed musicians and not be thrown off course. Less-developed musicians will usually lift their efforts when around seasoned musicians, and be trained in the process.
This may mean casting the recruiting net more widely than normal. An evening congregation band may enlist the services of a singer from the morning congregation – or vice versa. This provides a wonderful chance for sharing musical ideas and for fellowship and friendship to grow. That one band may then play at all of the services across the day.
- Love the team by planning ahead
Making the best of limited team numbers will require planning. The holidays roll around every year, so communicate with your team well in advance (by October, ideally) about their availability and your rostering plans. My experience is that you can never raise this topic too early. We all like to plan our holiday season – and recognising this with clear communication will show your team that you love them.
- Be willing to not have music
It sounds controversial. But if you simply don’t have the resources to do music one week, don’t pretend you do. Poorly executed music will end up being distracting for the congregation.
* Instead, consider whether there are other ways of achieving singing’s purpose (allowing the word to dwell in us richly).
* Can we read a Psalm together?
* Can a preacher or song leader explain the theological significance of well-known song lyrics?
(See video example- http://www.effectiveministry.org/using-music-as-disciple-making/)
* Or can we sing a familiar hymn together without a band? One singer could provide a starting note. How beautiful ‘Amazing Grace’ would sound like this!
Certainly, these are not long-term solutions. But a well-planned gathering should be able to accommodate these options temporarily.
Ultimately, no matter what season of church life we are in, may we give thanks to God for the gift of song by which we lift up our praises to him, and for the gift of musicians under his generous provision. May we together seek to glorify him, and encourage his people as we lift our voice in song.
Greg Cooper currently works part time with Effective Ministry, researching the role of music in disciple-making. He is also Creative Director of EMU Music.