Lessons Learned: Practical Insights into Developing an Effective Adult or Student Choir Ministry, by Randy Edwards. St. Louis, MO: Morningstar Music Publishers, 2012. 92 pp. $15.00.
Randy Edwards is the founder and president of YouthCUE, an organization whose goal is to equip student choir directors with the tools and resources to develop healthy, vibrant, Christ-centered student choirs in the communities they serve. YouthCUE provides yearly conferences for student choir directors, aiding in their professional, artistic, and ministerial growth. The organization also hosts yearly choir festivals around the country where students from varying churches and choirs combine together during one weekend to rehearse as a mass choir and prepare a full length concert with an orchestra for a public concert. Edwards serves as the artistic and creative leadership for the organization and often serves as the conductor for the YouthCUE choral festivals. He received musical training at Howard Payne University and Houston Baptist University and earned the Master of Church Music degree in conducting from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Edwards currently resides in San Antonio, Texas.
Edwards’s first text, Revealing Riches and Building Lives: Youth Choir Ministry in the New Millennium, was published in 2001 and is a seminal work in the area of philosophy and practice of youth choir ministry. In this most recent work, Edwards returns to evaluate some of the lessons he has learned through directing the YouthCUE network.
Lesson 1: Beauty – Directors are encouraged to know beauty and teach students to know, love, and experience beauty. Beauty can only be known through its creator and sustainer—Almighty God.
Lesson 2: Passion – When entering student choir ministry, we are encouraged to count the costs of ministry in a holistic and long-term manner. Meeting the true needs of students means overcoming obstacles. If the student choir director lacks passion, these obstacles will never be conquered.
Lesson 3: A Real Person – The student choir director should strive to be genuine, using the skills, abilities, personality, and love that God has given to shape students for God and make beautiful music.
Lesson 4: Time – It is the most precious of life’s commodities. Edwards asks us to consider how we use our time. Should we be meticulous time managers in rehearsal or is choir rehearsal about having fun all the time? The answer is balance. In order to minister to millennial students, directors must balance the use of time and attention to students.
Lesson 5: Organization – Strong, excellent organization can help any program to better focus its efforts and more effectively utilize its available resources. Strong organization helps to move the program toward longevity and consistency, and immediately gives the benefit of allowing the director to have more free time to devote to building relationships with students.
Lesson 6: Buzzwords – Edwards mentions several buzzwords that pertain to choral ministry. Relevant – Your ministry may not always seem relevant for every situation, but ensure that it is always revolutionary, facilitating change in students, and that it is reusable, creating principles upon which students can build in every stage of their lives. Millennials – We will do well and minister more effectively if we realize that each student, regardless of his or her generational designation, is a unique and beautiful person in the eyes of the Creator. Legacy – The tradition that we hope to leave should be planned and it should not be all about programming but all about purpose.
Lesson 7: Text – Texts serve as the nourishment for the souls of the singer. Time-honored texts should be the foundation for the lyric material of student-choir anthems. The use of scriptural texts aids the student’s growth in spiritual formation; these texts are memorized and are embedded in the life of the student.
Lesson 8: Road-Trip Momentum – Choir tours and mission trips provide the opportunity for students to minister and build relationships during the week, but equally as important, they provide the director the opportunity to build relationships with students that will blossom into further ministry and deeper connections in the future. The choir mission trip will give the director the occasion to gain valuable raw information about students’ lives in order to minister to them and with them in a greater way for the coming year of student music ministry. The bus ride, breakfast, or park-bench chats allow the director to get a glimpse into the student’s life, helping the director know how best to minister to the student and allowing him to assess the leadership possibilities that lie within each student.
Lesson 9: Compassion – Student music ministry allows the director to be taught by God through His word and experience the beauty of compassion. Student music ministry calls the director to impart the heart and the art of compassion to the students.
Lesson 10: Entrepreneurial Spirit – Entrepreneurial student choir ministry has to be willing to take risks and move beyond simply guarding and maintaining an established ministry. Risk-taking in Christian ministry is synonymous with expressing visceral faith in an ever-faithful God, who not only calls people to do special tasks but also empowers them with everything they need to get the job done.
Edwards opens the work by explaining that his goal for this text is not to provide a comprehensive addendum to his first book. His aim, to provide insights into student choir ministry not previously addressed, is accomplished by means of brief chapters that are written in a more conversational manner. Although each chapter is independent in its focus, throughout the work Edwards retains a theme of efficient artistic ministry to students. In his first text, Edwards uses statistics and a more formal writing style. In this work, he frequently employs quotations from world leaders, lyricists, various artists, noted authors, and anthropologists as launching points for his conversational writings about the lessons he has learned. At the end of each chapter, the author asks several questions to encourage interaction on the part of the reader with the thoughts presented in the previous chapter. Following the chapters on the ten lessons learned, he includes ten sections of personal diagnostics for the reader to employ for personal growth. In these diagnostic sections Edwards provides helpful, practical insights on how to improve in each of the ten areas that he mentions in the lessons learned.
Edwards’s newest text would prove particularly useful for those currently serving in music ministry and those training for music ministry. The work is well suited both for staff musicians as well as the lay members of the faith community who serve in student music ministry. Edwards does not shy away from more technical jargon as it arises in the course of writing; however, as stated earlier, the overall style of writing is more familiar and does not lend itself to elevated language. This text would work especially well as a text for discussion among the student choir director and parent volunteers as well as personal reading by the director. It would also prove profitable for the music ministry student on the undergraduate or graduate level to spark class discussion and to provide insight to the budding minister.
Lessons Learned is a distinguished addition to the ongoing conversation about student music ministry. Although the volume is not scholarly in style, Edwards does continue with the insightful thoughts on practical music ministry that he began in his previous work. The area of student music ministry is continually evolving in the second decade of the twenty-first century and this work continues to pose questions and give practical suggestions for ministering to students through artistic ministry. The work could benefit from a bit more cohesion in the flow of each chapter. Occasionally, Edwards uses block quotations that are stylistically interruptive, though each is relevant to the topic at hand.
Randy Edwards’s newest volume is a fresh interaction with current topics in youth choir ministry and aids directors of all skill levels and professional status. It is certainly worth the brief reading time to continue to hone the skills of ministering artistically to this critical age of congregants in America.
Aaron M. Rice