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Finding Balance in Music Ministry: The Struggle of Saying No

Many people struggle to say no at times, and that includes people in ministry. Having a servant’s heart and wanting to help can be a good thing, but it can also lead to overcommitment and burnout. Finding balance in music ministry is important, even if that means saying no sometimes.

I personally struggle to say no. I love being asked to sing, play, volunteer, contribute, and help. However, there are only so many hours in a day.

I recall a time when I was teaching music full-time and was asked to take on an after-school drama program with two plays per year and lead the church choir while still leading a youth band. I said yes to both invitations.

In the years that followed, that meant conducting choir at 10:30 Mass, leading the youth band at Noon Mass, and volunteering with youth group at 6 pm on Sundays. During the week, I taught classes, played for two school Masses, and had rehearsals for drama, adult choir, and school choir. On any given week, I was responsible for 20+ different pieces of music and was working 50-60 hours per week, every week.

After three years, I needed a break, but I didn’t know how to say that. God knew I needed a break, too, and an abrupt leadership changed lightened my load. Although initially hurt by the decision, I quickly saw that my time was better used with less on my plate and my energy level increased.

Here are some of the lessons I learned from that experience and others where I needed to find balance.

Know your limits for time and energy

Knowing our limits for both time and energy is crucial to producing good work. Proverbs 16:25 says, “Sometimes a way seems right to a man, but the end of it leads to death.” Looking back on that period, I see the truth in that statement. I didn’t set any limits on my time or energy, and it led to a difficult lesson for me.

Identify your priorities

God is our first priority, and family is our second – whether that family is biological or chosen. Make sure you are allowing time for your family, friends, and community – keeping good and Godly company is crucial to our faith. You may have other priorities as well that must be balanced with your work or volunteer roles in music ministry. Make a list of what’s most important to you, and check in with family or friends periodically for accountability. Knowing your priorities and staying accountable to them is key to finding balance in music ministry.

Pray for wisdom and to follow God’s will

When you have a servant’s heart, as many of us in music ministry do, how do you adequately discern when to say yes and when to say no? The answer is simple: pray for wisdom and surrender to God’s will.

A good friend once said, “When we begin our day with prayer, those minutes are not deducted from our day.” Begin your day by relishing in the goodness of God and laying your petitions and concerns at His feet. That doesn’t mean the day will be easy, but the way in which you react to adversity will change because, as St. Paul says you will have “peace that surpasses all understanding.” (Philippians 4: 4-7)

It is lovely and heart-warming to be asked to take on an additional role, to play for a special service or event, or to substitute at other churches, but take time in prayer to assess what you can truly add. Then, once you have laid it all down at the feet of the King, you can trust St. Paul’s words to the Corinthians, “Each must do as already determined, without sadness or compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. Moreover, God is able to make every grace abundant for you, so that in all things, always having all you need, you may have an abundance for every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9:7-8)

Grace and peace to you, my friends, on your path to finding balance in music ministry and learning to say no when necessary.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, on your own intelligence rely not: In all your ways be mindful of Him, and he will make straight your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5)

Written by Ray Mullins, a CLEF supporter who has served in music ministry and music education for two decades. He is a music teacher in Fayette County Public Schools in Tennessee and volunteers as a music minister in various parishes in the Memphis area.

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