One of the most common struggles of church music ministries is our ability to remain focused on Jesus while singing about him. It almost seems counterintuitive that our minds would be able to wander. After all, we’re in church, the lyrics are centered on worship or adoration or the greatness of God, and yet we still find a way to get distracted by a bad rhythm, frustrated by a technical failure, or genuinely concerned that the last sour note sent the lady in the front row searching for a Savior in a whole different way. Ouch. How can we shift our own narrative from singing ABOUT Jesus, and begin singing TO Jesus.

Prayer is simply our communication with God. It’s the mainstay of the Christian faith life, and the only way to ensure that we’re walking with Him. Still it is one of the most difficult things for us to master. Whether it be our daily prayer, our weekly Sunday obligation, or just the blessing before a meal, there are so many things that distract and pull us away from our Center. Our music ministries are no different. I’ve seen it (and done it) time and time again. We’re in love with a new song and want to make sure we play it just right. So the pianist works on getting that voicing exactly like the recording, the guitarist is doing long division to make sure his 4th finger is on the 3rd string on the 9th fret, the choir has launched an AI software in their minds to make sure they’re singing the C sharp for exactly one-eighth note (mostly because of that one soprano who will DEFINITELY let you know if you miss it). Let’s be honest, there’s a lot of moving parts in a good music ministry. Despite all of it, there are some things we can do to keep
the main thing the main thing.

A simple realization that every church music group can find with relative ease is that we’re all in it together. There is one common mission – we’re making music for the Lord. The one thing that has brought us together in the rehearsal room is that we recognize that God gave us the gift of music, and we’d like to offer it back to him and to his people. As simple as this realization is, we need to remind ourselves of it often. A good church music leader draws his/her people together, and takes time to lift the intentions of the group. If there’s a sick member, someone going through a difficult time, a musician who just got married, a singer who just had a birthday, I like to mention them by name and offer them to Jesus. These are the things that connect us as God’s creations, and get us focused on his great mercy and love for us. Directing our hearts and minds to the fact that we’re not just God’s individuals, but also God’s family puts us in the right headspace for worship, and can inspire our song.

I like to send out audio reference files each week to all the volunteers scheduled for the upcoming weekend. On occasion a singer will tell me, “It was good to be able to pray with that song for a few days before we rehearsed.” My heart rejoices when I hear it. Yes! That’s the point! What a great way to prepare! We often get in the habit of showing up to rehearsal, looking at the music and playing it – especially strong readers. However, music is an aural art. In other words, the assembly isn’t inspired by seeing the music we play, they are moved by what they HEAR. Therefore, it’s helpful to listen to various arrangements of a song, so we can identify the inspiring elements: What about this performance led me to prayer? How did I encounter Jesusthrough this arrangement?

There’s an old saying: “Practice alone, rehearse with the group.” I’d like to take it one step further and say, “Practice alone, rehearse with the group, pray with the church.” I encourage my music ministry to listen, learn and practice at home so that when we come together, you’re already familiar with your part. In an ideal world, during rehearsals, we should just be dabbing the whipped cream on an already well-formed Sundae. (See what I did there?) If we know our parts backward and forward, it allows us to focus less on the music technicalities and more on entering into prayer with the congregation.

Not long ago, our choir was struggling with rhythms on a contemporary hymn. The syncopation was tough to blend. They were trying so hard to sing exactly the right notes on exactly the right beats that it sounded like a midi interpretation of a choir… A robot schola. I finally stopped, moved from the piano, grabbed a guitar off the stand, sat right in the middle of the room and asked them to just pray the song with me. “Forget what the sheet says it should sound like. Close your eyes and pray with me.” The difference was astounding. The song ended, and we just let the silence envelop us for a moment.
Our prayer should always lead to stillness – the quiet place where we stop and leave room for God to speak. There is no music without the stillness. There is no prayer without the Spirit of God. It is in returning there that we regain our Center, where we come into communion with The Way, The Truth, and The Life. Perhaps this should be our goal with every song – just a means to allow our hearts to return to the silence.

The truth is, there is no magic formula. We’re humans. Having an attitude of prayer while we play each song is difficult. Life throws curveballs at us – we have bad days, we get tired, grumpy, hungry, sick – or all of the above. Perhaps just choosing to serve despite it all IS the prayer. Often, when I’m on my third or fourth service of the day, I completely lose track of where we are: “Didn’t we play this song already? No, that was an hour ago.” Regardless, the gift, the call, God’s desire for us to serve him is still there, and so the song and the worship entwine, the music and the prayer infuse, and we do our best to be in tune with His Spirit which gives us reason to sing.

About Josh Blakesley

Josh Blakesley has been featured on KLOVE and Relevant Radio as well as performed with Christian artists like Matt Maher, Jars of Clay, and the Newsboys. He is currently the director of Music Ministry at St. Faustina Church in Fulshear, Texas, and is living in Houston with his wife and their two children.‌