In 40 days it will all be over, but the next 4 weeks can be the most stressful time for church musicians. Carol services might at present be leading you toward a nervous breakdown, but hang in there because these are such great occasions for the gospel.
1. First thing I need to remember at this time of year is that carol services are one of the easiest invites to bring my friends to hear the saving gospel. The Gospel – that Jesus was born, to live the perfect life that we cannot, to die on a cross to take the punishment our sins deserve, so that we might have His perfect life counted as ours – my friends, despite my busyness need to hear this. It can be hard as a musician to feel you can invite your friends, because you might not be able to sit with them if you are in the orchestra or choir or because you can’t easily meet them before the service as you will be practicing. I always need to remind myself each year, that carol services are still popular in our culture, people want to come and all too often I am the barrier to letting them hear the gospel because of my excuses not to invite them. I am a servant of Christ before I am a musician!
2. Over the last few years I have begun to try a few carols in a more contemporary style, particularly at services where the majority of the congregation will be regular church folk – it adds a fresh approach. So for example, this year December 6th is not a week when the church I serve in will be having a traditional carol service, but given it is advent, I think a few carols would be appropriate to sing at each of the services. Therefore I will try and do some of the great old carols lead on the guitar, the major tip here (like in playing hymns on the guitar) is to strip back the amount of chords you play, maybe just get the band just to play the chord at the beginning of the bar?
There are a few examples of this in the video bar to the right of this text, a couple from ‘Sixpence None the Richer’. There is also a classic from the Canandian band ‘Bare Naked Ladies’ (never thought I would write those words on my blog!)
3. Last thing I remind myself about at this time of year is that I am not completely awful at my job! Like everyone involved in music I guess there are some points where we just feel out of our depth and unable to meet the expectations of those we serve. Christmas for me is a bit like that, in that I am unless when it comes to classical music, therefore carols on the organ, choirs, orchestral arrangements just aren’t my bag, I can’t do it…but I know a man who can.
It is easy to feel inadequate, but with humility and honesty we need be clear about our own weaknesses and delegate responsibility to others who are more able than ourselves. I was recently sent a job description from a large church that are looking for a music director, even if you blended together the skills of Andrew Lloyd Webber, Matt Redman and Keith Getty along with the godliness of Angel Gabriel, the person would still not meet the standard required!
We can’t be everything or do everything. Christmas for me is a rest from playing guitar and singing at every service, but I don’t relax rather I serve the person leading the choir and the orchestra, getting everything ready for them, even making them coffee. We don’t have to be up front to serve the Lord Jesus, we are part of the body of Christ and December for me is when I need to exercise the gifts of helps (1 Cor 12:28) and let others be more public in serving Christ.
4. Performance pieces are a great tool for evangelistic carol service, I don’t have many ideas so I hope some of you reading this will offer some for us all to use – I have done the song ‘Mary did you know’ too many times!