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Church music professor: Volunteers are
the backbone of church music ministries

RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)–By all accounts, little David was a holy terror at church. He didn’t sit still, didn’t listen and distracted other children. By the time he turned 5, his special behavior problems were causing teachers to take a year off from teaching before David came into their class.

Elaine, a busy career woman with grown children of her own, wanted to help with the children’s music ministry, but had no time for preparation. So she volunteered to become David’s “special friend.” Each week, her job was simply to be with David during music class and help him stay focused. Through kindergarten, first grade and second grade, she remained committed to her special assignment. By the time David reached third grade, he had outgrown most of his problems.

“Special situations sometimes require special volunteers,” said Martha Hicks, a church music professor at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Mo. “Elaine needed something she could just show up for, and this was her ministry. She not only was a help to David, but she also ministered to his family, which no longer had to be pulled out of their own classes to deal with David.”

Volunteers are valuable to any church ministry, but especially so in music ministry, because of the size and scale of planning and activities, Hicks said. The former full-time music minister with more than 20 years of experience was one of the workshop leaders this year at Music Ridgecrest, a weeklong music training conference hosted by LifeWay Christian Resources at LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center in Ridgecrest, N.C.

“Motivation is the key for any successful volunteer program to work,” Hicks said. “You have to show how something is important and why.”

Building relationships and observing the strengths and weaknesses of people are vital for a music minister or director looking for help. Not everyone is cut out to direct handbells or lead a preschool choir. And observing potential leadership is only part of it — the challenge to convince someone to take on that role comes next.

“The biggest danger is abusing a volunteer,” Hicks said. “We don’t always understand the difference between motivation and manipulation. It’s very easy to guilt someone into doing something we know is good for the Kingdom. It takes longer to motivate than to manipulate.”

Starting a volunteer out slowly is a good rule to follow, she said. When Hicks served as minister of music at Central Baptist Church in Lawrenceville, Ga., she worked hard to develop a stronger children’s choir program. She noticed a young woman, Harriet Brawner, and asked if she would help.

“She didn’t know anything about it, so she wasn’t sure whether she could handle it,” Hicks recalled. “So I asked if she could just sit in a class and watch the helpers. Within a few weeks, she felt comfortable enough and decided she could do it.”

Brawner, who is now on staff at Hebron Baptist Church in Atlanta, admits it was intimidating at first, although her nervousness gradually changed to confidence.

“I worked with the kindergarten and first grade, which was a lot of fun,” recounted Brawner, chuckling. “They were old enough to do things for themselves but still young enough to think I was funny.”

Eventually, she became the church’s children’s choir coordinator. Two years later, she served in the same capacity for their church’s regional association.

Training for volunteers is extremely important and something that is somewhat neglected, Hicks said. Whether it’s traveling to a weeklong conference like Music Ridgecrest or hosting a motivational speaker in a church, training motivates and gives volunteers the confidence to succeed. Hicks also suggested contacting the state convention music staff for suggestions on speakers.

“You can also contact another local church with a thriving ministry in a particular area,” Hicks said. “Ask them to come and talk to your workers and give some pointers.”

The most important thing that can be done for volunteers is recognizing them, she said.

“People need to feel good about what they’re doing,” Hicks said. “If we work and work and work them and never compliment them, they get burned out.”

Volunteering brings eternal rewards as well, Brawner said.

“There may be a child in your class who doesn’t have a great home situation, and you’re the one person that shares with them how much Jesus loves them each week,” she said. “We may not see the benefits today, but who knows how God will use our seeds for tomorrow?”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: HOPSCOTCH and ROCK-A-BYE.

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  • Sara Horn