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Better Worship - 12 Marks of an Effective Music Ministry

Small Beginnings

My first experience in music ministry happened fairly soon after I first picked up a guitar at 15 years of age. I knew about 20 chords and could play a few songs from a new songbook titled Scripture in Song. Fortunately most of the songs were in guitar-friendly keys.

There were four of us who played guitar in a small country Baptist church. I know one song we dreaded was "Rise and Shine" ('God said to Noah there's gonna be a floody floody?'). The chords were simple, but the strumming rhythm was a real wrist breaker.

After church we would retire to one of our homes and listen to the latest Larry Norman or Randy Stonehill album, and try to work out the chords and guitar licks. As Bryan Adams sang, 'I played it till my fingers bled?those were the best days of my life'. The songs were simple and we'd try and embellish them with influences from progressive rock bands like Pink Floyd and Yes. However there's a limit to what you can do with a $20 nylon string guitar. Sometimes this went down well. At other times some of the elders would warn us of the dangers of getting so caught up in the music that we forgot the main game. In their quirky country ways, they had a point.

In the years since then I have enjoyed being part of many different music teams. My studies meant I moved around a fair bit, so I was part of a number of churches. Some were well resourced and it was a struggle to get to do what I loved, whereas others were small and welcomed whatever help they got.

Unrealistic Models

When the Willow Creek team first came to Australia I witnessed what was possible with a dynamic, creative and well-resourced team. However, my frustration was that the models of music ministry I was seeing presented by big, well-resourced, upper middle class churches was simply not achievable in the majority of churches.

This sparked my interest in training and developing churches without these kinds of resources. The problem was to distil from 20 years of experience 'what things really mattered'. What were the issues that could make or break a music ministry, whether in a mega church or a church struggling to survive as demographic change followed its course?

What can work anywhere?

Since then I've had the privilege of speaking with hundreds of music ministers and team members here in Australia and from overseas. From those conversations, these are what I believe are the 12 "biggies" for creating an effective music ministry.

Notice that I said effective, not "successful". Many people equate success with big budgets and large teams. An effective music ministry can be one talented and gifted person doing what they do in harmony with their church and surrounding community.

So here they are:

1. Music is valued as a gracious gift from God, given for our enjoyment, as well as being a strategic tool for strengthening believers and reaching unbelievers.

2. The ministry team should have a biblical understanding of the nature of worship, music, church and Christian experience.

3. Music ministry takes place in the context of a church with a shared understanding of its purpose and mission.

4. The music team are servants with a clear understanding and a passionate commitment to the part they play in that mission.

5. The music ministry is a team who:

  • work together towards common goals.
  • love and support one another.
  • deal biblically and appropriately with conflict.
  • have clear, mutually agreed, written standards explaining what is expected of members.
  • receive regular training and teaching in theology, practical musicianship and teamwork.
6. Music takes place in the context of prayerfully and carefully planned services with an emphasis on cultural relevance, excellence, biblical content, personal authenticity and vulnerability.

7. Music team leaders are involved in the planning and programming of services and special events.

8. The repertoire is regularly and systematically reviewed to:

  • assess its content, ease of singing and relevance.
  • evaluate and recommend new songs before they enter the repertoire.
9. The music ministry has adequate financial support within the church's existing resources.

10. Human resources are used effectively and supplemented by appropriate use of technology such as CD's, DVD's MIDI or backing tracks where required.

11. The church supports and encourages local and "lesser known" writers by using their material where possible and helping them to develop skills and access training opportunities.

12. The music ministry obeys the letter and the spirit of the law regarding copyright and performance rights.

A helpful tool

I've distilled these into a quick assessment you can use to see where you and your church are at in terms of ministry. You can download this assessment as a PDF document here. It will give you 60 quick ideas to improve your music ministry. ad.cgi?EZA

Ken Davis is a songwriter, guitarist and music producer who also sings badly. He has been involved in music ministry since 1977 and currently serves in the music ministry at Dapto Anglican Church in Australia. You can get plenty of Music Ministry resources at including free sheet music, MIDI files and training materials.

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