The Talent Agent’s Hat: Equipping the Saints

The Talent Agent’s Hat: Equipping the Saints
Cheri Walters

How’s the new music minister working out? Well, came the sarcastic reply, He’s got the choir whittled down to a manageable size.

And so it goes for the leader who is not willing to recruit and train volunteers. He or she will never have a group larger than one person can manage.

There are lots of other reasons to recruit. None of us can do everything, much less do it all well. Helpers multiply our hands, our eyes, our voice. Perhaps more important, the call to ministry includes a call to “equip the saints” for ministry. If we don’t provide places and means for people to serve, we are robbing them of ministry in the Lord’s church; we’re amputating parts of His body or not allowing them to grow and develop in the first place. That is, the Church, local and universal, is a living organism, a community of believers working and worshiping together. The apostle Paul used the analogy of each individual as a member of the body with its own specific function. How many of us can afford to lose body parts?

“Alone I cannot serve the Lord effectively, and He will spare no pains to teach me this. He will bring things to an end, allowing doors to close and leaving me ineffectively knocking my head against a blank wall until I realize that I need the help of the Body as well as of the Lord.”
-Watchman Nee

How do we help others discover their function in the Body? There’s no formula or equation when you�re dealing with human beings, but there are a few qualities good talent agents share.


Share not only your “holes that need filling” but also your goals and visions for the music department and how others can help you reach them. Include them in your goals and allow them to add to or refine your plans until they begin to make your vision their own.

Communicate the needs of the music ministry through every means available to you: music brochures, bulletin and pulpit announcements, church mailing lists, newsletters, calendars, and even follow-up of new visitors.

Jane, a music director for a large church, makes it a point to meet visitors each Wednesday evening at the church fellowship dinners. One way that church welcomes newcomers is by offering them their first Wednesday dinner free of charge. Jane seeks these folks out, introduces herself, and asks them if they are musical or interested in knowing more about the music program. She’s very good at it, too. Her music department boasts more groups and directors than many churches triple the size.

Another quality that makes Jane such a great recruiter is her lack of professional jealousy. She’s not afraid of using someone with greater technical skill or a longer string of music degrees for fear they’ll upstage her. In fact, she’s pleased to have them and has built a varied music program around the strengths of many talented people, instead of arranging it to revolve around herself.

Not that it’s always easy. All of us have our own areas of insecurity, try as we might to hide or overcome them. Perhaps the insecurity is in an area of weakness, and to accept help would be an admission of inadequacy.

But for me, I think jealousy or insecurity is more likely to rear its ugly head in my areas of strength, where I don’t feel I need help. For example, I do not feel confident in some of the technical matters like staging or blocking a production or designing sets or lighting. Consequently, I have no trouble asking some one with more expertise to handle those tasks for me. But I do consider myself a trained vocalist and a good conductor. I’m more apt to feel threatened by someone with a string of degrees in voice training or conducting than by someone with a theater and drama background.

Regardless of what inhibits or threatens me, I have to get beyond that insecurity. Once again, it helps to remind myself of my calling, to be secure in knowing this is where God has put me for this time. Then I can look past my needs and at the other person’s need to be involved in ministry. And I keep praying that God will make me the kind of leader who is big enough to rejoice in the strengths and talents of others and not so small that I can’t allow others to succeed.

Finding Potential Leaders

When looking for other leaders, it’s important to listen to the ideas and conversations of people around you. Do they express dreams and goals?

Jane began to watch a young mother in her congregation, Carolyn, whose take-charge organizational ability stood out. Carolyn’s faithfulness to the women’s ensemble in spite of three young children also impressed Jane, who asked her to direct the children’s choir. Five years later, the same creative and organizational skills that made Carolyn a good children’s director were put to use coordinating the Singing Christmas Tree program at that church.

“Make all, within your society, members of the crew and permit no passengers.”
-Elton Trueblood

Perhaps the two most important qualities to look for in potential leaders are dependability and teachability. I certainly believe such qualities are far more important than musical skill or experience.

Shannon was an extremely talented pianist, one of the best I’ve ever known She could play any kind of music, classical, southern gospel, and everything in-between, with or without a score. But she was a “floater”. She floated in and out of our church and our music program two or three times in a half- dozen years, never sticking for more than a few months at a time. Was she a nice person? Sure. Talented? Without a doubt. Was she an asset to our music ministry? No. We never knew if she’d be there or not.

Watch people you are considering for leadership. Those who are responsible in one area tend to be responsible in other areas as well. Is he on time? Does she often call at the last moment and cancel? Does he carry through on a project or abandon it half-done?

Look for the quality of teachability also. How does a potential leader respond to your suggestions? Does he automatically dismiss them, or does he stop to consider your point of view? A per son with limited talent or experience but with an eagerness to learn is eminently more qualified for leadership than someone who thinks he knows everything already and thus has nothing left to learn.

Trying to create an effective, growing music program from scratch is sort of a catch-22. A good music program attracts good musicians, but you need good musicians to have a good music program.

You can chase your tail. You can fold your hands and wait for those good musicians to show up on the church doorstep. Or you can start with whatever and whomever you have.

Some Ways You Can Recruit People

1. Music brochure. Design one describing activities and requirements of each music group. Include the brochure in the visitors packets for each service.

2. Personal contacts. Call or meet newcomers personally. Search them out at church social functions and before and after services.

3. Music surveys and questionnaires. Include these periodically in the church bulletin or mailer on a quarterly or semiannual basis.

4. Music recruitment programs. Develop your own theme, or check into professionally done membership drive programs.

5. Music teachers and schools. Talk to teachers in the congregation or call local schools and colleges, especially for instrumentalists. Many music students are eager for any opportunity to play. This can become an outreach of the music department to unchurched musicians.

6. Lists of support ministries. Don’t overlook nonmusicians. Publish and distribute lists of support ministries like construction, costume design, electrical, publicity, scenery and poster painting, fund-raising, and other nonmusical needs.

“If you think you are too small to do a big thing, try doing small things in a big way.”
-Author Unknown

When my husband and I left associate positions on a large church staff to pastor a church of our own, I found myself facing this dilemma. The music resources I started with totaled two terrified soloists who hadn’t sung since high school glee club, a sound system that was shipped via Noah’s ark, an organist who had been playing for all of six months, and on the piano, Yours Truly, who had passed piano proficiency in college eleven years previous and then had promptly forgotten all of it.

The soloists sang with accompaniment tapes. The organist and I practiced a lot, both separately and together, working our way through the keys an accidental at a time. My husband and I created our own little “Microphone of the Month” club by purchasing a new mike or other sound equipment one piece at a time, provided the church mortgage and light bill had been paid that month.

And it got better. (After all, how could it have gotten worse?) Because I provided the opportunity to sing, as new believers joined the church other soloists came forward. Those who were inexperienced or were “unknown quantities” “to me anyway” were allowed to debut on Sunday or Wednesday evenings when visitors were scarcer and it was “just family.” I explained to would-be soloists that this is my policy with first-timers, and that there is less pressure with a smaller crowd.

All of them have grown immensely, not only musically but in ministry and in confidence. The organist eventually left us, but we’ve since gained a drummer, wind and brass players, a couple more keyboard players, and a guitarist, all of whom stepped for ward because they saw others being given the opportunity to minister through music.

Expectations and Standards

Ministers who’ve been around the church block a few times say that individual churches have personalities, much as people do. After you’ve been in more than one or two, you begin to see the truth of that statement.

Churches have different histories and different leadership; they’re made up of different people with their own unique experiences; churches even come into existence for different reasons. Consider the contrasts between a church that was pioneered by an individual when there were no other churches in the area versus a church that was lovingly and carefully birthed by a nearby “mother” church versus a church that was the result of a local church split. The three would exhibit radically different “personality traits.”

These personality differences make a minister’s life more interesting, to say the least. It makes it nearly impossible to carry a fixed set of expectations to every place of ministry because those expectations are sure to be disappointed in some ways but surpassed in others.

I’ve learned, particularly in a small church setting, that I can lower my expectations without lowering my standards. We didn’t have enough singers to form a choir, so we called it a worship team, and they helped to teach new choruses and lead the congregation in worship.

When we did finally have enough people to start a choir, the first rehearsal completely blew away all my expectations. Mike, one of the newly recruited men, asked in all sincerity, “What do you mean when you say, Sing parts? Do you mean we sing only part of the song?” Neither he, nor several others present, had any frame of reference to understand the concept of harmony.

We began with unison singing. We moved to dividing into men and women in unison, then two-part harmony, and finally four parts. Nine months later we presented our first Christmas musical, and Mike sang the tenor part from memory.

I had to lay aside some expectations. I had previously had choirs with a large percentage of music readers, strong section leaders, and experienced church choristers. The challenge for me as a director had been to keep up the pace and to challenge the choir. Now my challenges were completely different. I had to explain concepts I took for granted and encourage beginning singers to keep trying.

I could not reasonably expect three altos, four sopranos, and two tenors to sound like the fifty-voice choir I heard in my head. I could not expect them to sight-read a piece the first or third or even fifth time.

But lowered expectations do not mean lowered standards. I could and did expect them to watch me, to perform precise entrances and cutoffs, to enunciate their words clearly, and to improve on a piece each time they sang it. I had to discover what their best effort was and then require it of them.

Providing the Right Tools

One of my favorite old TV sitcoms, “The Dick Van Dyke Show,”  has this great scene when Rob’s jeep breaks down in the middle of nowhere. Rob, knowing nothing about automotive repair, pops the hood, looks in, and says, “Yep, there it, is the engine.”

Sometimes we ask someone to lead in an area of music ministry, perhaps to direct a children�s choir, and they may know nothing about it. They are likely to go to their first rehearsal, open the door and look in at the children bouncing off the walls, and mutter, “Yep, there it is, the kids choir.”

It’s intimidating to feel so unprepared. As music ministers, we need to equip those we recruit. Here are some tools:

– Internship. Allow a potential director to follow you around, see how you organize and plan for a production, watch you write up a rehearsal schedule, stand by your side as you conduct. Let him learn by watching, little by little learning to do it himself.

– Workshops. If you’ve ever attended a music convention or workshop and come away enthusiastic and ready to make music, imagine how wonderful it would be to have others working with you who feel the same way. Encourage your directors and potential directors to come to workshops and conventions with you, and do everything in your power and the church’s means to make it feasible for them to attend.

– In-house seminars. If it’s just impossible for your laypeople to get away for a workshop, have a workshop expert come to them. Call a large church in a nearby area, invite a speaker you met at a convention, prevail upon a music colleague, or even do it yourself.

– Task forces. Unlike a committee, a task force has a specific purpose and a limited existence. Appoint a potential director or leader to a specific project, preferably one that will last three to six months at most. Let her gain some leader ship experience without committing her, or you, to a long- term position. If she does well, you can always discuss a more permanent place of leadership.

– Director’s notebooks. Get a big three-ring binder for the director of each group or potential group in your music department. Fill it with everything that relates to that group and present it to the director as a tailor-made resource kit. He should be responsible for keeping it up to date so that when leadership of the group changes, the note book can be passed on to the new director.

What to Put in a Director’s Notebook

1. The group’s past programs, rehearsal schedules, flyers, recruitment themes, formal rules or requirements
2. Attendance lists, names, addresses, and phone numbers of the members, as well as those of support personnel: sound and lighting technicians assigned to that group, parents (if it’s a children’s group), assistants, people who have helped in, past productions
3. News releases about the group and its past performances.
4. Repertoire lists detailing what music the group has performed in the past, what musicals it has performed, what is in the church music library
5. Inventories of props, scenery, costumes, or equipment available to the group, and where items are stored
6. Any pertinent magazine articles or workshop notes that could help the director of the group

Motivating People

As ministers of music, one of our biggest challenges and joys is to cultivate and nourish others in ministry and service to the Lord. It isn’t easy, but it is worth the effort.

Unfortunately, we sometimes become discouraged by the lack of commitment, the fickleness of human nature, the good intentions that fizzle before they are acted on. In our frustration we may fall into the trap of trying to motivate others to service by making them feel guilty.

Guilt may occasionally motivate people but only for a little while. More often it drives people away. Guilt is what the enemy uses to beat us down and convince us we’re not worthy to serve God. Conviction is what the Holy Spirit uses to make us want to repent and serve God. But remember, only God can convict. So lay down those guilt prods, and get creative about motivating others to join you in ministry.

The best motivator I know is the one we started with: communication! If you can share your vision for a music ministry that glorifies God, edifies the believers, and reaches out to the unsaved�and others can latch onto that vision and make it theirs, they’ll be your best recruiters.

And if you want to keep your fellow “visionaries” motivated, then your theme song needs to be “Accentuate the Positive, Eliminate the Negative.” Focus on what people do well and allow them room and time to grow in their areas of inexperience. A part of your role as talent agent includes cheering on those you’ve recruited to ministry. Be their biggest fan!

When those inevitable moments of discouragement come along, when you’ve asked nine parents to act as room monitors during children’s choir rehearsal and you’ve been turned down nine times, remind yourself what Talent Agency you’re working for. Keep before you the goal, not that of fame or fortune, but that of helping the members of the body of Christ find their function in it. And remember, you’re not getting a measly 10 percent of something that “moth and rust will corrupt” but bountiful royalties of heaven that will last forever.

Excerpted From, “Advice to the Minister of Music” “Get A Giant Hat Rack” By Cheri Walters

This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”