Elizabeth Broschart on Planning Music in Small Churches

Elizabeth “Beth” Broschart is the pastor at First Presbyterian Church, a small congregation in Boyne City, Michigan. Before that, she pastored a small church in Pennsylvania and helped lead music in churches where her husband was the pastor. In this edited email conversation, she talks about the joys and challenges of planning music in small congregations.

Elizabeth “Beth” Broschart is the pastor at First Presbyterian Church, a small congregation in Boyne City, Michigan. Before that, she pastored a small church in Pennsylvania and helped lead music in churches where her husband was the pastor. In this edited email conversation, she talks about the joys and challenges of planning music in small congregations.

What musical challenges have been most common in small churches that you’ve served?

Challenges usually include a shortage of people and musicians who are trained in worship. Often there are excellent musicians sitting in the pews who fail to participate because they see church music as performance, and they choose not to perform with those who are less gifted. The challenge is to increase the competency level of the music program while remembering that God hears with his heart. The sound of worship done “to the best of our abilities” is pleasing to God’s ears.

How have you dealt with those challenges?

Direct pleas to those God has gifted with musical talents is key. Those individuals need to be nurtured and encouraged to share their gifts with the congregation.

Obviously, the goal of a church music program is to aid in worship and to stir the hearts of the congregation toward love of God and service in his kingdom, but too often we are tempted to rush through our preparations or to settle for “good enough” rather than working toward a higher performance standard. This is frustrating to both musicians and the congregation.

How can small churches choose music that’s simple yet effective?

Finding music writers who write arrangements for small choirs is sometimes a challenge, but there are some publishers who know we don’t have 50-member professional choirs and write accordingly. Sometimes a hymn arrangement written with a subtle harmony or an interesting piano part creates a worship experience which is simple yet effective. Effectiveness means not wasting your time on drivel. Instead, select music which undergirds the message for the service and creates a setting for worship.

Also, if you can’t put together a choir, then put together small musical groups. Or utilize soloists and then work toward choral music.

What has helped you maintain momentum for improving church music?

I stay enthused and encouraged by participating in worship events such as the Calvin Symposium on Worship. Another source of encouragement, as well as a focused opportunity for selecting music for the church year, is to attend an excellent choral workshop. I attend the Berean Choral Celebration every August in Canton, Ohio. I go because it “gets the work done” but also provides a spiritually uplifting and encouraging environment for church musicians.

Your congregation recently hosted a Psalmfest. What were some highlights and what lasting changes do you foresee from this event?

We hosted a Psalmfest for our presbytery meeting in May 2012. This was an intense, fast-paced presentation of Psalms for All Seasons for pastors and elders. Those who want to use musical resources to further enhance worship snatched up the available copies of the new hymnal. Here at First Presbyterian Church of Boyne City, we are introducing these selections at a slower pace. We often have the choir sing them for several weeks prior to implementing them into congregational singing. The reaction to new music has been overwhelmingly positive. Hearing the words of the Psalms in new settings has made them fresh again.

You already have a musical background. In small congregations where the pastor is not musically gifted, what are some good ways to choose and introduce new music?

It is true that I have a 40-year background in church music, having played for my first church service at the age of 12, but I am not a professionally trained musician. What makes my background important is the careful nurturing by pastors and worship leaders on the art of worship preparation. The most elaborately prepared musical selection is the wrong one if it doesn’t enhance the worship experience or if it is not led by the Spirit. A deep love for Christ and the ability to incorporate music that fully encompasses the Trinitarian nature of God is onekey. The other key is recognizing that my talents are God-given and for his use. Failing to use them for his glory would constitute a total lack of gratitude.

What have you found helpful to prepare for worship?

It’s hard to put together effective worship services, but that’s mainly because we don’t think far enough ahead in our planning. The bulk of that planning has to be done by the minister, who sets the course for the upcoming church year. The years that our worship has been most effective is when we have taken the time to plan at least a quarter in advance, and preferably a full year in advance.

Once the scripture has been selected (sometimes by lectionary passage and other times by sermon series), it is vital to circulate that selection to those who are involved in worship planning. The most effective two weeks of my ministry are the two weeks that I devote to charting a course for the upcoming year. Another tool is to find effective worship resources such as the online resources found at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship’s website. When we don’t have time to create and prepare original resources, it is vital to find resources that are creative.

Check out musical resources for small churches recommended by Beth Broschart and others.

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