Church Planting Music

Next week I’m part of a seminar at our church planting conference ‘Planting for Christ‘. I’m looking forward to it. I already have too much material. And so expect me to dump a whole load online! But in the seminar we’re thinking about the issue of resources. In particular we’re addressing the issue of resourcing children’s ministry, music ministry and apprenticeship training. Ed Drew’s on kids, I’m on apprentices and Andy Fenton’s on music.

Andy’s always been the man I turn to for music advice. And he’s been the man most influential in changing my views on the place of music in congregational gatherings. And so I’m looking forward to what he has to say. He’s had loads of experience running music ministry where resources haven’t really been an issue; St Michael’s le Belfry in York, Dundonald, Keswick and Men’s Convention. But now he’s running Christ Church Earlsfield (CCE), a reletively new church plant. It’d be fair to say that resources are an issue! Though having said that, he’s not a bad resource to have in your church plant!
CCE is a classic Co-Mission church plant. It’s church but it’s embryonic church, by which I mean they planted with 25 people not 50 and they starting out below the evel of self sustainability in faithful expectation that God will grow the church as they do gospel ministry. Where other churches might plant with larger numbers and be virtually independent from day one, we’ve planted viable but dependant congregations and tried to nurture them towards self-sustainability.
In the light of our forthcoming seminar I gave some thought to the music component and the unstated assumptions that have underpinned my approach to what we’ve done at CCB.

It seems to me that there are two questions to ask.

Question one: What’s the purpose of music ministry? In other words, what do we think music is for in the congregational gathering.
Question two: How can we deliver that? In other words, what would we need to have in order to be able to provide music ministry.

Very simply, my answer to the first question goes along the following lines. Music ministry is about singing God’s word so that the congregation can be built up in the faith. Colossians 3:16 puts it very succinctly,

‘Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs in your hearts to God’.

And therefore we’ve always tried to make sure that we’re singing biblical truth to one another using a variety of musical styles. Obviously there are a whole load of different ways we could go about that. Some we can do, some we can’t.

It’s the second question where the rubber hits the road. And I continually ask the question of myself, and of our brilliant music team, ‘how best can we  serve the congregation musically?’ To that end these are things that cross my mind.

Is it credible? In our context, with the types of people whom we’re likely to reach with the gospel, is what we can do something that will pass muster. It’s unlikely that we’ll have the kind of resources to produce music that competes with whatever people usually listen to on their i-pod. And so our expectations are somewhat lower than that. But we must avoid the cringe factor. We don’t want it to be embarrassing. In some ways that’s easy because of the popular caricature of church music. Unbelieving visitors have very low expectations. But Christians usually don’t. And so in our context we need something that doesn’t mean that people won’t stay put.

Is it possible?  Can we do it? In other words, have we got the necessary musicians with the requisite skills to pull it off. For an evening congregation in London, you need something. Church planting teams need to recruit a musician or two. In fact, after the Bible teacher and the part-time administrator, I’d put the muso next on my list of priorities. It’s a prett hard ask to plant a church without a team of musicians. That’s not to say that God can’t grow a church without music or with inadequate msuic. He can. He has. He did. In the early days, when we were 20-30, the community life was the key thing. We loved that our musicians helped us sing. We were fiercely loyal to them and would appreciate whatever they could offer. Only recently have people’s begun to have stronger opinions on what a church of our size ought to be offering. But at the beginning we were happy because we knew what we’d sigend up for. It’s just that other Christians didn’t really want to sign up. And they traipsed off to central London, or more charismatic alternatives. That happens less these days because our music is so good. Over time it’s been possible to do more and be more adventurous. It just takes time and God bringing along those with the appropriate gifts.

Is it sustainable? We need to have a long term view. It’s only responsible to look into the future and ask ‘with our resources can we keep it up?’ The early days of church planting are exciting. The air is awash with possibilities. But church planting teams need to work our what’s a sustainable level of sacrifice. If one guy leads the music and he plays every week, as well as trying to hold down a job, lead a Bible study and love his wife, he’s most likely going to be dead on his feet within six months. We need to look after our guys and make sure that we’re not killing them, their Christian live and their relationships. We used to pull out all the stops for the big events like Christmas or mission events. But those occasions need to be few are far between until God brings you more musos.

I’m looking forward to hearing what Andy has to say. He may well tell me that I’bve got it all wrong. It wouldn’t be the first time. And it won’t be the last. And that’s a good thing! Where music is concerned, especially.

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