If one thing can be said about music ministry of the twenty-five years of my teaching in higher education, it is that nothing stays the same. The field is constantly shifting, and how we do music ministry in the local church is all but static.
With few of the expectations of what music and worship leaders should know and be able to do falling off the plate and many more being added all the time, it is impossible to teach students all the knowledge and skills that might assure their success in the broad array of congregations they will serve – the field is simply too large and diverse. As I reflect on this topic, I have chosen to move beyond the obvious additions that have made their way into our curriculum – guitar, more work with praise bands and popular idioms, presentation software, electronic instruments, technology, updated worship models, and music software – and I have chosen to focus on some foundational skills and principles that I believe are important for our students to function effectively in ministries that will span the next fifty or more years.
Spiritual formation and self-awareness With the expectation of ministers to pastor congregations with problems that are increasingly complex, ministers must be well formed as spiritual beings. They must have core beliefs in place and enter ministry with the full expectation that they will be intricately involved in the lives of those who participate in the ministries that they oversee. The difficult issues with which they will deal can easily cause them to burn out quickly if their core self is not God centered and grounded. In addition, to maintain their energy for leadership, they must have a strong awareness of themselves and how they relate to others.
A genuine love for all genres and styles The days of “toleration” of styles and genres outside our personal preferences within music ministry are fast coming to a close. With individual identity so closely connected to music, to not love someone’s music risks the possibility of being perceived as not loving the person. In these days of music pluralism, those who use music as their primary ministry tool must love many styles and genres of music. Students must be encouraged to listen to and participate in many kinds of music beyond their current preferences and affinities.
Emphasis on leadership and leading in change In a focus group that we held a couple of years ago regarding curriculum, following spiritual and musical preparation, leadership development was perceived by our multiple focus groups as the most important component of preparation. Closely connected is the ability to lead in congregational change. As we face the future, the rate of change will likely escalate, and today’s students will be required to lead in greater amounts of change than in my generation. Looking back, the lack of ability to adapt to and lead in change seems to have been responsible for many music ministry colleagues’ dropping out of ministry.
A multicultural perspective and outlook While slow to catch on in some circles, ministers must develop an outlook that involves not only Western traditions but the traditions of Asia, Africa, South America, and others. As technology and travel decreases the size of our world, leaders within the church will be expected to sing and lead in ways that affirm the global reach of God. Students must be encouraged to interact with the songs of other cultures, and they must develop the skills to teach and enliven songs from cultures whose cultural and congregational models are less western influenced.
A broader repertoire of the church’s song The repertoire of the congregation’s song is ever increasing, and it is impossible to know even a small portion of all the congregational song material available. However, not to be aware of the broad body of material available is to risk short changing the people that we serve locally. In addition to traditional hymns and the growing canon of songs from the last fifty years, students must be aware of newer songs coming from various parts of the world as well as indigenous songs being collected and contemporary hymns being crafted.
An ethic of self care With more to know, more to do, and more people to whom to minister, the need for learning how to set boundaries and establish an ethic of self care is paramount to survival in ministry of the future. As addiction numbers soar, depression and mental illnesses increase, and technology allows us to believe we can do more and more; congregants will increasingly turn to their minsters for support. As ministers, we must remain healthy if we are to minister to others. Ministers of the future must be prepared to know their limitations, have strongly held commitments to families and loved ones, and set up accountability with other ministers and support groups. Young ministers must start now to establish a community of others who hold them to high standards of personal care.
Conclusion As we move forward in music and worship ministry, our field’s expected knowledge base and skill set will likely increase, yet our capacity to know more and do more will not. We will be required to make more choices regarding what we are able to do, and we must learn to depend on others for what we do not know and cannot do. In the meantime, turning our attention to skill and actions that matter most will be crucial and our ability to focus on what is most important will assure that we remain both viable and healthy,