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Building up music ministry leaders to serve the Church

Throughout the world, theologically trained ministers and ministry workers do a wonderful job at pastoring our churches. However, it is relatively rare to find pastors with musical skills or musicians with theological skills to direct our singing. An essential part of the Sunday service, the music ministry of a church is most commonly coordinated by a layperson, who has to rely on their musical talent to navigate leading a ministry of the word.

Equipping people with the theological and practical skills to do music ministry. therefore, is vitally important for the Church. The Emu Music Ministry Associate Scheme is about exploring skills and interests in the leading of church music; in the writing of songs; and the training of others in Biblical music ministry. It involves practical and theological aspects, working in the Emu Music team while doing study at Moore Theological College.

Shaped by on-the-job training

While studying music at the University of New South Wales, James McDonald had been convicted to seriously consider going into ministry. Having grown up serving on the music team at church, doing an internship through the Emu Music Ministry Associate Scheme seemed like the right fit. He says, “When I saw the associateship position existing I thought it was a perfect way of combining both my desire to be trained further in ministry with my desire to use my musical skills that I’ve already developed. And also to be raised up in this kind of specific area that I have a particular passion for and that I really see a need for in the church.”

After applying in 2021, James took the role as an Emu Music Ministry Associate for 2022 and 2023. His work has been varied and interesting, both utilising his strengths and pushing him to learn new skills.

One of the big projects he’s been involved with is Emu Music’s HymnBook, a complete resource for searching, selecting and using songs for the church. James says, “HymnBook has involved a lot of production work, which was something I hadn’t really done much of before I came into Emu. But it was something I had an interest in. It’s given me the chance to work with recording instruments and singers and recording myself and then mixing those together into tracks for the multi-tracks.” 

This was a big learning curve initially, but looking back over the past 18 months is now an area of huge growth for James that Emu has facilitated.

From observation to application

Another large part of his time has been taken up by training conferences and workshops. As an intern, James spent a lot of time watching, learning and assisting in his first year, before moving into the role of facilitating and training in his second year. 

He shares, “I’ve come along to various conferences and been trained up to give a couple of different seminars. Such as the piano for church seminar and I did a song-choosing seminar as well.”

Outside of the public conferences, James has also been given the opportunity to visit individual churches and learn how to work with musicians in their context. He says, “The workshops are more hands-on. The band plays and we give feedback and help them develop their ensemble, and we give them tips to help them lead in their context.” 

Although James has served as a church musician, band leader and even service music director for many years, this experience has been invaluable. Being able to learn from the expertise of the team at Emu and having the opportunity to put those skills into practice with other churches has refined and grown his skills. He shares, “Hearing about it from people who have led in a variety of different church contexts already – that’s been very valuable to me in learning how to lead church musicians in a very practical sense.”

Leading the church in song

The associateship has also developed James’ abilities as a musician and song leader in a practical way. As an Emu employee, he has been a part of bands for conferences and church weekends away, as well as being both a song and band leader on various occasions. Although these are responsibilities James has fulfilled many times in his home church, these opportunities helped to grow his ability to lead big events, work with different musicians and play in different spaces.

James has also been able to apply these learnings to the new, Emu Goes to School program, where the team visit a school to lead singing at chapel and run seminars and workshops for the music students. 

Contributing to new songs

A key part of Emu’s ministry is their songwriting and production of new music for the church. James was privileged to be able to be a part of that aspect of their ministry early on in his internship. He says, “When I started I was kind of thrown into the deep end for songwriting.”

The team split off into songwriting groups and sat together for an hour to work on writing and developing songs for an upcoming album. The songs that James was able to sit in on and contribute to are now being released in 2023. He shares, “It’s been cool to develop a skill that I’d been working on before I came into the associateship, and to do that with people who have been writing much longer than me.”

Integrating education and practice

Over the two years of his associateship, James has been studying at Moore Theological College part-time to complete their Advanced Diploma of Bible, Mission and Ministry. This course includes three intensive subjects taught by Emu Music staff Philip Percival and Alanna Glover, alongside other Moore College staff. 

Reflecting on his first year of study James says, “At Moore, you are covering a broad range of bases in terms of theological content, how to read the Bible, how to explain the Bible and how to understand the Bible. Then doing a lot of focus on how to be equipped for ministry.” 

With these important foundations in place, the second year of study has involved more practical subjects like Leadership in Various Ministry Contexts, which James particularly enjoyed. 

“My study has given me more tools for my tool belt to explain the Bible, which is very valuable in music ministry because we need to be able to explain to people what the Bible says about singing and how we do that in practice.” 

In the music subjects run by Emu Music, James was there as a student and not a colleague or employee. James says his existing relationship with Philip and Alanna as mentors made this a natural combining of worlds. He reflects, “In the first year of my internship, Jenny (fellow intern) and I would often sit down with Philip and he would talk us through music ministry. Since he had already given us that training in a mentor role, it felt natural to be teacher and student in the classroom setting.”

These subjects combined theory and practice in both their content and the required assignments. One such assignment that James found particularly useful was to take a deep dive into a music ministry through the lens of the biblical criteria for music ministry. He says, “It meant analysing the ministry I’m involved in and asking does it meet this criteria, where might it be falling short? What are some things we can be improving? What are we doing well and can be thankful for?” 

This assignment encouraged James to examine his own ministry as well as learn a framework that is helping him as he helps churches in their music ministry through his work with Emu Music. 

Prepared as a ministry leader

For his future ministry, James sees all the pieces of his associateship adding up to prepare him as a music ministry leader. After finishing his associateship, James looks forward to continuing to work with the Emu part time as well as maintaining an active role in church music ministry.

The Bible tells us that singing is a ministry of the Word, therefore how music is led and shaped in our churches is extremely important. James reflects, “Without people trained specifically in this area and having had time to think deeply about this stuff and to turn that into practical as well, we’re not giving the ministry the attention it deserves.”

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