This article from Ashley Danyew's blog on worship ministry
The church year (also known as the liturgical year and the Christian year) is made up of seasons and holy days that connect us to our faith history, the stories we read in the Bible, and Jesus’ life and ministry on earth.
The church year begins with Advent - a short season of waiting and preparation, beginning four Sundays before Christmas. After Advent, we have the season of Christmas, which begins on Christmas Eve and lasts for 12 days.
We celebrate the season of Epiphany, beginning January 6, remembering the journey of the magi and Jesus being revealed as the Savior of the world. The season of/after Epiphany is often considered Ordinary Time (based on the word “ordinal,” meaning measured or counted).
Next, we move into the season of Lent, beginning 40 days (plus Sundays) before Easter. During Lent, we remember Jesus being tempted in the desert, the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the Last Supper, the crucifixion, and burial.
On Easter Sunday, we celebrate Jesus’ triumphant resurrection - the beginning of the season of Easter, which lasts for 50 days.
The final season of the church year is Pentecost - a celebration of the descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples after Jesus’ ascension and sometimes considered the birthday of the church. The season of/after Pentecost is often considered Ordinary Time, lasting until Advent.
“The Christian year contains two cycles: the Christmas Cycle (Advent-Christmas-Epiphany) and the Easter Cycle (Lent-Easter-Pentecost). Within each cycle are two preparatory seasons symbolized by the color Blue (advent-Christmas-Epiphany) and purple (Lent-Easter-Pentecost) and a festival season symbolized by the color white. After each cycle there is an ordinary time of growth symbolized by the color green.”
The rhythms and seasons of the church year keep us rooted in our Christian heritage and are an important part of our spiritual growth and faith development. How do we teach this to our littlest members?
By celebrating it all throughout the year. For most of you, it would probably look something like this:
Lent: February/March or March/April
Easter: March/April or April/May
Here are a few fun ways to celebrate the church year all year long:
01 | Choose music that ties in with each season.Find simple songs, hymns, or anthems that you can use throughout the season to reinforce the biblical stories and help children remember what makes each season unique.
Pull relevant anthems from your music library or look for collections like these:
Seasonal Songs for Young Singers
Seven Songs for the Church Year
Singing the Seasons
Songs and Seasons
You might also look in your hymnal to find hymns and songs that tie in. Use these as gathering music during the season or as a hymn- or song-of-the-month that you introduce and reinforce week after week.
02 | Use colorful visuals and symbols.Use visuals to help your singers learn about the church year and follow along with the changing seasons. Consider making a liturgical calendar wheel or a timeline to hang in your choir room. You might also incorporate the color of each season into your decorations, song charts, or other visuals.
Choose a corresponding symbol or two and have the children find and uncover one somewhere in the room at the beginning of each new season. This adds a fun game element to your first rehearsal of each new season and gives the children a visual, tangible reminder of the season you're celebrating.
Here are a few ideas for symbols and colors you might use:
Advent (purple or blue): candle, wreath, star
Christmas (white): manger, star, nativity, angels, shepherd/sheep
Epiphany (white, then green for Ordinary Time): magi, star, crown, water (baptism)
Lent (purple): footsteps (journey), praying hands, palm branch (Palm Sunday), bread and cup (Last Supper), cross
Easter (white): cross, lily, butterfly, “Alleluia,” empty tomb
Pentecost (red, then green for Ordinary Time): dove, flames, world
03 | Design special take-home projects.This is a great way to engage parents and caregivers and encourage children to continue learning about the church year outside of rehearsal. For older and younger elementary singers, have them fill out a simple worksheet at home with questions like:
04 | Celebrate the start of each new season in rehearsal.Throw a mini party during your first rehearsal in the new season to kick things off. This is such a fun way to capture children's attention and help make it more meaningful for them.
You don't have to go all out here, but plan a few special things and play it up - your children will think choir is the most fun thing ever!
Here are a few simple ideas:
Sing the Stories of Jesus: Twenty-Five Songs for the Youngest Singers (ages 4-7)
Sing the Stories of God’s People: Thirty More Songs for the Youngest Singers (ages 4-7)
Sing the Stories of God’s New People: Twenty-Five More Songs for the Youngest Singers (ages 4-7)
In need of some more complete resource kits and ideas you can incorporate into worship? Take a look at these:
The Church Year Worship Kit - includes worship activities, posters, prayers, related songs (melody-line notation and recorded CD), and other resources and activities
Coloring the Faith Story - creative ideas for celebrating the church year with children, in worship, in Sunday School, and at home
How will you celebrate the church year with your choir this year?
The goal of every church music minister is to build and grow his ministry. Sometimes, though, you can't do that. We have a paid culture that was created when I came here, the pastor insists we need to keep this culture going and I have not been able to persuade him otherwise in 8 years.
The flip side of this is that our church is out of space. There is no more physical room to grow the music program. We have bells, we have praise band and singers, we have brass, strings. We have organ, piano. We have a choir. But the choir can never get larger than 18 people. There is just no room to put them if they do. The bells can never grow larger than a 2 octave group (thought we have 3 octaves) because there is no room for the tables to ring from.
So, how do you grow your program? You prepare for rain. Begin laying a foundation for your band and singers, and really all of your ministry, that is one of excellence. Begin to tell them,s how them and read to them what type of culture you want. By selecting the right musicians, and by placing into their hands the measurement for ministry success at your church, you have empowered them to grow to a point where, when you do have space, you will fill it up with solid, dedicated people, willing to serve.
Don't be afraid to set the groundwork now, while you are still waiting for the new building, to fill that new space with the best dedicated musicians you can. Train them, raise them and equip them. Do not let the rehearsal dictate the spiritual growth opportunities. Take time to devote together, praying for one another.
I regularly play piano for my bell choir, and close with a hymn as prayer. One of the ladies in my choir is also principle violin in our orchestra, and tonight we just did It Is Well With MY Soul, and closed with a prayer from our hymnal.
The response was stellar. They have all commented in one way or another how touched, and how changed they were at rehearsal tonight. -- Growth, while it would be nice, does not have to be numerical. Sometimes, it is better to have a mental or spiritual growth taking place. NO, all the time it is better to have spiritual growth first. This sets the stage for excellence in worship later.
Bless you friend where ever you serve.
I have done both. But now days, you see a lot of church praise bands and music programs that are using a lot of technology and digital enhancements in their worship. There's also a lot of "stress" involved with the teams that are creating this music to sound EXACTLY like the CD or Demo on Youtube.
I stopped trying. We have one hour on Sunday morning to be as authentic, to be as pure and true to our presentation of Jesus as possible. Why try to be something we are clearly NOT.
Authentic music used in worship can be strangely peaceful and relaxed. Instead of trying to make the keyboard hook up to the midi-controller and seamlessly generate smooth musical transitions introductions to songs that sound just like the band on the CD, why not use what you have been given and create a sound that is unique to your congregation.
There is a lot of money involved in all that equipment, and I just don't see that it is really bringing in new converts and making them totally sold out on Jesus. There can be money better invested in bringing quality musicians who know their craft and can create a beautiful sound, naturally and with much less stress to 'be exactly like the demo.'
Recently our church brought on a new drummer. He's from a large church in town that plays with all those fancy digital toys and he said, there was a lot of stress on the worship team to produce that exact sound -- and it just became meaningless to him. He and his fiance both came to our church and he's drumming for us now. Regularly. He says he enjoys that we like to just enjoy what we are doing and it is so much more fun and exciting to play and serve.
I couldn't agree more. When we want brass, I bring them in. Many times they are from the local high school. When I need strings or want them, to enhance worship, I bring them in. It's important to me to have as authentic a sound in our worship as possible. If that means that some people won't come or be involved because we are not using the latest toys and bells and whistles, I'm okay with that. Because we are still doing great things in worship and we are not synthesized. We are being authentic with our sound and our resources.
It's true. If you start off by creating a SWOT analysis of your new or current ministry, it will help you be more effective in determining next step goals. This will really help you establish yourself as a leader in your music ministry and your pastor can readily get behind you because he will know what you're planning.
Strengths within the ministry
Start making notes of all the strengths that are present. This will help you because you will already know what needs to be done to be an effective music & worship program... that was drilled into you by college professors. But you need to know what you've got going in or at least before you put your other foot in the water.
Weaknesses within the ministry
Ahem. Duh? What are some weaknesses you see right off the bat that can help you launch forward with a tighter better ministry? List them. Then try to put them in order of what needs fixed first, next and so forth. When I first came to where I am now, I realized quickly that we had several weak spots in the music ministry and in our worship program in general. Actually, this was basically a deck of cards. Which card do you pull out first to work on? The answer is, it doesn't matter, they will come down in the end and that's alright too. But do keep your Pastor involved in the goings on of your music program.
Opportunities for the Future
Yep. What are some opportunities you see right now that will have a positive outlook on the future of your current program. These are things to point out and celebrate and to keep close at hand so you don't lose heart or track of your forward motion.
Threats to the health of the Ministry
Believe it or not, there are going to be threats. People can be threats. Wrong Theology can be threats. Diva attitudes can be threats. A since of entitlement by members of the programs can be threats. You get the picture. Quickly try to identify these threats. Log them and categorize them by: Urgent Response, Needed Response, Final House Cleaning. This lets you and your pastor know what needs your immediate attentions and then what else. Encourage him to help you navigate these responses above so that together you can build a bright program that honors God, celebrates people and exalts creativity for the creator.
Goals for the Year
Based on the above, state significant new goals for your area of responsibility, being as objective as possible. The goals should be aligned to your job profile and the vision of your congregation. Seek out your Pastor's goals for you and the ministry as well... these will definitely help you and the process along. After-all, if the Pastor ain't happy, ain't no staffer happy!
It's Monday morning and you just received your Pastor's sermon notes and ideas for the week. You have a pastor that rarely plans his message themes and titles ahead more than a few times per year. And when he does, they are as vague as randomly opening the Bible for a reading session.
What do you do?
I get this all the time where I currently serve. While I'd like to say that I have the dream job of having everything 3-4 weeks out ... I rarely get anything more concrete than the week of. I don't despise this though. We are a church that follows a Lectionary cycle, and my Pastor's personal philosophy is: "If it's about Jesus, Communion, God, The Holy Spirit, A Creed, Confessional... it's all good!" With that I can plan a wide variety of services.
I suggest, you first get a lectionary and try to stick to common themes and ideas. Most lectionary programs now actually work within the broader scope of themes. You also have the seasons of the church year. If you do not use Lectionary or The Church Year cycles, then you may want to plan based on you hymnal or use a hymnal for more sturctured planning before you fill in with praise/modern songs.
Blessings as you try to plan your week.