Strive for excellence, with what you have

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…all of them trained and skilled in music for the Lord (1 Chronicles 25:7)

Music rang out from Bible Faith Ministries in central Blantyre last Sunday afternoon as Echoes of Grace was joined by Mhairi for a Worship Seminar.

Opening with a set of popular and very joyful Malawian choruses, Echoes of Grace got everyone to their feet, praising God. Mhairi was introduced, and sang two songs with the choir, the first really summing up what was on everyone’s heart, and why they had gathered:

You took everything I was,
Made me what I am,
And with all my heart I worship you

For the next hour and a half, Mhairi took the stage, and in her own very personable manner, she taught the worship leaders and church musicians who had gathered. The first part of her talk emphasized how being a worship leader was not something you could just switch on for a Sunday morning, but that you needed to be a person who is worshipping God with your whole life, every day of the week, seen and unseen, a person of prayer and a person of the Word, pointing others to Jesus and not to yourself. Mary and Martha (John 12) are examples of people in the Bible who worshipped Jesus – showed what Jesus was truly worth to them – by their quiet acts of service.

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Having explained what she called “whole-life worship”, Mhairi went on to talk about the power of music, illustrated throughout the Bible, and the role of the Holy Spirit in directing our sung worship. She talked to those responsible for leading the music in their churches as well as other team members, warning them about the dangers of trying to please man instead of pleasing God, and of having a different persona frontstage and backstage. On the positive side, she encouraged them to have a vision, a common goal, to be willing to be under authority, to have fun together, to be committed and reliable, and above all to strive for excellence. She also urged them not to try to copy musical styles from other churches, or even from the West, if it was not appropriate for the people in their congregation. Instead, they should strive for excellence with what they have, and be a glorifying expression of worship for their local community.

The last part of Mhairi’s talk gave practical musical advice on introducing new songs, striking a balance between songs of revelation and songs of response, and the role of instruments. Her talk had been interspersed with four solos, ably accompanied by the Echoes of Grace instrumentalists. Throughout, Stephen translated everything into Chichewa, so that everyone was able to understand, and hopefully go away with something that was helpful to them in their particular situation.

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The seminar ended by everyone joining in a wonderful time of sung worship. Mhairi had thoughtfully and prayerfully planned a set-list of songs that would take the congregation on a journey of praise to their mighty creator and good, good Father, thankfulness to the Son for his work on Calvary, calling on the Spirit’s presence, and allowing them to respond by surrendering all to Jesus, and have him reign in every part of their lives. Throughout the previous week, Mhairi had carefully rehearsed with the choir and instrumentalists of Echoes of Grace so that they could powerfully and confidently lead these songs. When the time came for the worship session, the seamless and musical production allowed the congregation to focus, not on the choir or on Mhairi, but on the great God they had come to worship.

People will have taken different things away from this seminar. It was clear that many of the church musicians present were challenged by the importance of their own personal spiritual growth if they want to be used by God in his service. Others were challenged by the need for discipline, hard-work and commitment in order to give God the very best they can. Being strongly led and meticulously rehearsed, Echoes of Grace also reached a quality and confidence-level that they have not attained before – an experience they can now aim to replicate themselves as they continue to develop their own skills fast.

For Mhairi, it was a wonderful experience. She loved having the backing of a full choir, and hopes that her example will encourage those particularly strong singers to take more of a lead. She also learned to sing the refrain of “I surrender all” in Chichewa and to have an awareness of cultural and language differences; something which will be very useful in her upcoming internship in multi-cultural London.

For Ruth and Myles, it was rewarding to share our ministry here in Malawi with our daughter, and in particular to see her inspire and encourage the young musicians of Echoes of Grace.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men (Colossians 3:23).


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