I recently took a new full time call as Minister of Music and Worship in a large, thriving ELCA congregation. Before this I was a teacher in an Episcopal school and part time Minister of Music in a small town congregation, doing as many do in juggling responsibilities, commitments, and beyond. I left a music program that I had built over ten years, serving since my high school days. I had a choir of forty, a full handbell group, a volunteer directed children’s choir, numerous instrumentalist, really it was a music program that anyone would be satisfied to lead. But this awesome and secure position was not full time and I was ready for more. I am sure many of you have had this feeling and possibly even acted on it. So with a great leap of faith, prayer, and hope I took my first new call, ever.
I remember sitting in my office the day after it was unpacked thinking what have I done in giving up the comforts of the known for the unknown. How was I going to start over and build a program from scratch? I really had never done this before. I then remembered that famous line, “If you build it, they will come”. I then added, or not! I was nervous because I was in charge of rebuilding a broken music program with great expectations of leadership and staff.
In reflecting on those days of searching and praying, and my work in building this music and worship program in a short 6 months of time, I can strongly add those words “or not”. I could have simply started rehearsals and created ensembles, but I knew this would not be the most successful.
One of the best steps I took was to not just “build” or set rehearsal times and expect people to show up. I started attending everything I could, from WELCA lunches to Youth Group and even Sunday School opening every Sunday. I didn’t invite people directly when I showed up or was on campus; I waited until they asked why I was attending their function. My reply was “just to get to know you and what your ministry does”. While this might not be easy if you’re part time, it was invaluable for me. I waited sixth months before starting the children’s music program (which had not been active in a decade) and I am finding it so easy to reach the parents and children since they now know who I am thru both worship and fellowship. Attending the new member classes alone brought several new singers and a trumpet player. Members commented that they never really knew who my predecessor was or what he did.
Another invaluable step in getting the youth involved (I have four horn players alone in band, and several violists!) was to offer to play for them and get to know them outside of church before asking them to play in church. So, I played multiple solo and ensemble events, my “payment” was a promise to play in worship. Not one of my high school players has broken that promise and five of them played on Christmas Eve and Epiphany. It worked!
Don’t build “it” and wait for them to come, let them build “it” with you, and more will follow.