Finding Value and Purpose for the “Builder” Generation in Your Music Ministry

Being an intergenerational music ministry means that we value and find places of services for ALL ages. While this sounds easy to write, it can more challenging than one might think. Folks from each generation are at different stages of life, which affect their ability to participate. The question that runs through my head for all on my team is: how can I make things easier for folks at different stages of life to participate and make a valuable contribution to the kingdom of God? This may mean helping the young mother who has to miss so much for her kids understand she is wanted and valued while she is away. This also means not making the older adult feel guilty because they have to miss so much for doctor’s appointments or illness. Someone once told me, people always make time for the things they love and are committed to. I’ve found making our people feel valued and appreciated means they’ll be here as OFTEN as humanly possible. We leaders must be open and embrace the strengths each generation brings to the table while learning to manage the weaknesses of each as well. For the next few posts, I want to highlight some perspectives from folks in our ministry from different generations.

In this post I want to share of the JOY it is to have music team members from the Builder Generation. Builders, as defined by Pete Menconi in The Intergenerational Church: Understanding Congregations from WWII to http://www.com, were born from 1925-1943. Our youngest Builders today are 75 years old. If what I found in Georgia is true, no more than about 10-15% of any music ministry is made of folks from this age group. Most have simply “retired” out of being in music ministry or, sadly, have been made to feel inferior and simply dropped out when they simply didn’t feel valued anymore. Issues folks from this generation face in music ministry include: sickness, loss of mobility (standing, balance, getting in and out of loft), breath support—vocal issues, etc. It’s our responsibility to help minimize and alleviate these issues as much as possible. Otherwise, they will simply drop out.

In our church we have several folks from the Builder Generation in our choir and orchestra. Today I want to share about one particular lady in our choir who God has used to encourage me countless times. It is a double blessing that she gets to sit next to her daughter in the choir…serving alongside. Here’s a bit of her story from her daughter’s perspective:

Mother grew up in a musical family so music is very much a part of her DNA.  As a child, she was attending “singing schools” led by her Dad.  He would lead and her mother would play the piano.  Part of the requirement of each singing school was that each participant got to lead the group as a music director.  Mother began doing that before she was a teenager. 

Music has been one of the dominant themes/patterns of her life.  She majored in music in college and has had piano students, vocal students through the years.  She has also served as pianist, organist and minister of music in many of the churches and military chapels.  Her love and passion for music makes her heart sing. Again, music is in her DNA and God has used that in her life.

She has and continues to dedicate herself to serving God.  As she is aging, there are many activities she can longer participate in and/or lead. The opportunity to sing in a choir again has allowed her to reconnect to her joy of music and her sense of value.  It is filling a void that existed since music is so much a part of her life.  Some comments she has made:

  • I am so thankful to be singing in a choir again.
  • I didn’t think I would ever get to do this again.
  • (to me) You don’t know how much this means to me that you make this possible.
  • I know all these songs! (She does know many due to her vast knowledge of music however not 100%!)
  • I prayed and prayed that God would allow me to sing in a choir again.
  • At least there still something I can do.
  • I bet I am the oldest one in the choir! (to which I have told her she is not!)

Will, I think I have shared with you that I was not sure how well she would do and if she could manage to keep up as she ages.  When she is in her seat with her folder, she is in her “sweet spot!”  Although she has difficultly following some of the scores (that’s where I come in as her guide!), she is spot on with diction and notes.  Her voice is not strong but it is on key. Being part of the choir reinforces her call to ministry and allows her to continue to serve God.  Not all choirs would welcome her (and others of her age) that you so willingly embrace. You find value where they are in their lives and in their musical experience. 

For me, it’s an honor to be a small part of how God is answering Mother’s prayers and seeing her engaged in what is so much a part of the very fabric of her life.  It has, for now, altered some of the ways I am able to engage and interact with others in the choir as I am her guide and support.  I am good with that.  I can only imagine there were many times when I was growing up that she was in the same place, sacrificing some of herself for me and my brothers for that moment in our times of growing up.  The fact that you embrace people where they are and find a way for them to fit is a leadership characteristic I value and appreciate about you.  It’s one of the many characteristics that sets you apart from your peers. 

I wept as I read this.

I have to tell you, not a week goes by that my Builder generation member doesn’t grab me lovingly by the arm and thanks me for letting her sing in the choir. She keeps me in check, friends. She reminds me we’re in this together till the end; we are spurring one another on, submitting our own needs to those who need it most for the sake of the gospel and the kingdom of God.

Shared Leadership

If any church claims to be truly intergenerational, her leadership must reflect the generational diversity of the church. To be clear, there is little need for an 8 year old with limited perspective to make unilateral, major decisions requiring a broader perspective of someone older. However, there are definitely ways that folks of all ages can be integral in shaping the vision and practices of many church ministries. The concept of “shared leadership” simply means that folks from all backgrounds (and ages) have the opportunity to lead (both in planning and execution of various ministry areas). Music ministry is a great way to implement the use of shared leadership. Here are are a couple of considerations when implementing this strategy:

  1. Implement worship leadership planning team(s) with members from all generations.  In this process those seasoned leaders invest in the younger, while the younger gives fresh ideas. This is potentially tricky, but allow those younger members opportunities to look at events, programs, and times of worship with fresh perspective. As a seasoned leader, ask questions of those younger members about their understanding of the worship experience and what might resonate with them to help them connect to God. You might be surprised at what you’ll find.

    My 10 year old son LOVES to doodle and draw during a sermon. Having plenty of room for notes (not always text notes—but pictures) allows him to stay focused and engaged. If your church doesn’t have room on your worship guide for this, consider having a separate worship guide for those creative types. In fact if the theme/scripture/application for the day may be added to this guide, that would help engage those (adults too) that are primarily visual and kinestetic learners.

  2. Develop musical leadership from all generations in your church. We value all our generations in worship so much, we regularly schedule time for our children and youth to share their gifts and talents in worship leadership. It’s a very intentional process. We don’t just teach them music performance, but also the importance of modeling worship behavior for participation. For our students that show great musical potential and feel the call of God to vocational ministry, we work hard to invest in them specifically. We do this by using the “Gradual Release Model,” developed by Pearson and Gallagher in 1983. This model (seen below) does exactly what the term suggests, it allows the “student” to assume responsibility as they get more opportunities to serve. Ultimately, it is our prayer is that the Lord will call some from our church to vocational music ministry and because they’ve been leading throughout their lives, they will already be equipped to lead elsewhere.

Obviously, the role of the “teacher” changes as the students are developed. This “passing the torch” approach is not without its difficulties. Obviously, the budding leadership still needs guidance along the way. Sometimes, for instance, the developing leader gets very excited about trying something new, but hasn’t considered the theological content or the context of the situation when giving leadership to planning and executing worship experiences.

Next week, I will discuss some of the tensions and struggles that may arise from developing nextgen leaders and how we as seasoned leaders can encourage without stifling the energy, creativity, and passion of these budding leaders.

 

Are Solo-Driven Choir Songs Anti-Intergenerational?

Have you thought about how many songs your choir sings that feature a solo that “drives” the song you are singing? I don’t mean a simple verse solo or a small section in the song, but a full-song solo where the choir essentially takes a “back-up” choir role. If you are in my choir, you’ll sing plenty of these types of tunes. There are a few reasons this is the case in my choir and possibly yours as well:

  1. Some of the most popular songs for choirs today have solos that drive the song. I’m not in a popularity contest, but there are some great church choral songs (new and not so new) that have solos in them. I want my choir to learn lots of great things that have great texts and are solid musically.
  2. I can because I have lots of soloists. Having lots of great soloists makes it easy to present these types of songs, especially when you have some that really communicate the message in a special way…like Spencer in the feature photo here.
  3. Sometimes they are easier or faster to learn because the soloist has the bulk of the song. Sometimes the hardest part of learning a choral song are verses because of the variances of texts and rhythmic structures that can be tricky. If the choir is learning choruses only, which often repeat, the process of learning the song is expedited.

While we enjoy the flexibility to do lots of solo-driven choral literature, I am often conflicted about over-using these types of songs because of my commitment to value the contributions of all the singers in my choir. It’s a constant battle; one I’ve been contending with for years. When I researched intergenerational choirs in Georgia in 2014, I asked the leaders of those choirs how much of their own choral literature was solo driven.  Here are some results:

  1. Over half of them indicated that they only used solo-driven choral literature in about 20 percent of their anthems.
  2. About another 25 percent of those interviewed said they used solo-driven literature up to 40 percent of the time. 
  3. Smaller church choirs sang fewer solo-driven anthems than the largest church choirs.

A couple of observations from this data…

  1. Solo-driven literature does not “generally” dominate the choral offerings of churches that are intergenerational.
  2. Small church choirs probably have fewer soloists than the largest church choirs. Therefore, it’s plausible that more soloists could possibly equated with more opportunities to sing solo-driven literature. 
  3. There were no indications that age of leader or choir members had any bearing on the percentage of solo-driven anthems used.

One area that seemed to have a bearing on how much solo-driven choral literature was sung was the publishers frequently used. Those leaders who frequently purchased from more traditional publishers rarely used solo-driven anthems. Conversely, those who used only one or two publishers from the evangelical side reported much higher use of solo-driven anthems.  My personal observations (a quick count at any current choral pack from any publisher will reveal) Prism, Word, and Brentwood-Benson publish more solo-driven literature than other evangelical publishers (Lifeway, Lillenas, Praisegathering). I love, and use music from, each of these publishers, so do not think I am speaking negatively about any one publisher. I am simply commenting on what I see when I open their choral club packets/boxes.

The long and short of it? Broaden the number of publishers you listen to as you search for choral music for your church choir so you may find all types of songs—especially if you find yourself leaning towards solo-driven literature all the time.  This it is often hard to achieve, but necessary for balance if your goal is to create an atmosphere where all members of the choir feel valued and important.

Personally, I am guilty of relying on solo-driven literature at least 40 percent of the time, sometimes more. We sing tunes from every one of the above publishers and I love the variety of music types that can be found, but often I find some of the best tunes I can find (in my opinion) are solo-driven. But, since I firmly believe that valuing all in my music ministry is important, I know I must be careful to look for balance, which includes purposely looking for choir only literature that fits our context.

As a side note: thankfully, some solo-driven songs can be adapted to include more of the choir. For instance, verses that a solo would normally sing could be sung by the women or the men. I’ve done that on several songs and it has worked very well.