It is difficult to put into words what elements are necessary to build a successful, effective church music ministry, but there are some general principles that must be followed. Here are a few principles I consider to be the most important.
The Foundation of a Music Ministry
The ministry must be built on the principles of the Word of God. In the many years that I have taught practicing church musicians who were taking graduate level music courses, I have found very few who could say that they knew all the references to music in the Bible. A solid music ministry must be grounded in the Bible. “Except the LORD build the house, they labor in vain that build it” (Psalm 127:1).
There must be a strong leader in charge of the ministry. Dr. Lee Roberson said, “everything rises and fall on leadership,” and 1 Chronicles 6:33 says that the leaders of the music in the temple were “the chief of the fathers of the Levites.” In other words, they were at “the top,” the best that could be found, “the cream of the crop.” The “music pastor” must love the Lord with all his heart and he must keep his own life pure and clean. He must be developing himself into the best musician he can possibly be and he must be constantly improving his abilities. He must also be willing to work hard, because I Chronicles 9:33 says that the musicians “were employed in that work day and night.” A music ministry cannot be built by a lazy musician no matter how talented he might be.
The music leader must love what the Lord has called him to do so that his enthusiasm will be felt in every aspect of the ministry, including the congregational singing, the choir rehearsals, the special groups, and all his personal contacts. He must have high standards for himself as well as for those with whom he is working, but he must also be realistic concerning the potential of the people who serve him: the pianist, the organist, and any other musicians who are his helpers (Romans 16:2–3).
Practical Helps for a Music Ministry
Having said this about the leader, let me now mention some practical things I have found over the last 60 years that work in building a church music ministry.
Start with the children. I have taught music to children from kindergarten all the way up to doctoral candidates, and I must say it is easier to teach the children. It is amazing how fast they can learn! The two basic things that must be taught are learning to sing on pitch (match pitches) and how to perform and maintain a steady beat (rhythm). If you are having trouble in your music ministry, it is probably because you have adults who have never learned these two basic skills. The best thing about these two skills is that once they are learned, that cannot be unlearned! So begin with the children, and the sooner the better. The emphasis of the Bible on children cannot be ignored in a music ministry (Luke 18:16).
Build your music ministry around the congregation. Even Halley in his Bible Handbook said:
It is better that the people sing than that they listen to singing. Why not turn the whole congregation into a choir. Under proper leadership, the hymns of a vast congregation could be made to rise like the swell of an ocean’s roar, and cause angels in heaven to lean over and listen.
Have your congregation memorize hymns, and then have music classes to teach them how to read music. As your church begins to realize how wonderful it is to sing enthusiastically for the Lord, they will beg to be in your choir.
Develop as many special groups as you can. The more you enlist people into your ministry, the faster it will grow. But be certain that you develop groups, not just soloists. Don’t have “prima donnas” who sing solos but do not participate in the choir. If a person has a good enough voice to sing a solo, he or she should definitely be a part of the choir. Develop the innate hidden talent that is in your church.
The rewards of being the a music ministry are many: I get to serve the Lord with something I love with all my heart; God gives me the privilege of seeing people’s lives changed through the ministry to which He has called me; I now have former students who are serving the Lord because of the opportunities I have had to encourage and challenge them, and a large number of them are now even serving the Lord as effective ministers of music themselves (Psalm 71:17–18). What more could a minister of music ask for?