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Deb’s Ministry Blog shares articles of interest to people in a small church, missions, or writing ministry. These are practical and encouraging articles that may be shared freely.

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5 Ways to Nurture New Musicians in Your Church

Maybe you’ve identified musicians in your church who have the potential to play for church someday but currently lack the necessary skill and confidence. How do you help them gain the skill and confidence they need to become regular musicians?

My daughter, Lisa, found herself in a church that needed more pianists. This is her story of how her church encouraged her to begin playing in public.

Lisa’s story

From an early age, I was taught the value of music within the church. My mother, the daughter of a church-planter herself, taught me piano for several years and then found me other piano teachers. When I dragged my feet about piano, my mother would explain: “If you’re ever a part of a small church with no musicians, you’ll understand why I made you take piano lessons. It’s hard to sing in a congregation with no instrumentalists.”

I knew how to read music and play songs written for singing in four parts. I had some training in chords and improvising for hymns, but I was far from being a good church accompanist. As I moved into a season in which I used other ministry skills, I set piano aside. However, I made a promise that I would play again if my church ever needed me to do so.

Fifteen years passed. During that time, I was part of several churches, but none needed an additional piano player. I did not have access to a piano to practice on and played very rarely—perhaps once a year. Surely, I wouldn’t be needed to play piano again, I assumed.

I was wrong. Within a few years, our small church lost five piano players, mostly due to moves out of state. Less-experienced players began dusting off their skills and playing. I thought I was safe—we still had several ladies who could play better than I could. But, our pianists were all young moms. A sick child, an imminent due date or even the nursery rotation could leave us short on pianists.

So I agreed to try as a back-up player. That’s when I learned that our church intentionally did several things behind the scenes to support newer, more hesitant musicians within our church:

  1. Let them start gradually.

Most beginning pianists will be intimidated if they have to play all the songs in a song service on their very first week. But there are several ways to avoid this. Perhaps on the first Sunday, the new pianist could just play for part of the song service (i.e. the first song or two before the Scripture reading.) Another piano player can play for the rest of the service. Or consider having your new pianist play “second piano” on a keyboard alongside your main pianist. This way, they do not need to be the only person playing.

  1. Keep a running list of songs the new pianist can play.

Let’s say the new pianist is only able to add one or two new songs to their repertoire each week. Don’t let this become a discouragement. Over several months’ time, she will likely be able to play many of the songs your church regularly uses. This will build her confidence and likely cut down on needed practice time.

  1. Consider including other instruments.

At our church, the pianist rarely plays alone. There is usually a guitar or some violinists. We even have a flute player who occasionally plays for congregational singing as well as a beginning harpist who has done some special numbers. At times, our musicians have mentored responsible teens and preteens to play their instruments in church. (Similarly, kids can be trained as choir members and soloists.)

  1. Look for recordings to help the musicians get a feel for a new hymn or chorus.

Some pianists need help making sure they are correctly sight-reading a new hymn or chorus. You may find that someone has posted a performance of it online. Listening to the recording will help musicians know that they are playing the song with the right notes, rhythm and speed. (It’s worth noting that some churches and song leaders choose to sing a song a little different from the way it is written.) It is easy to share a link with other musicians via email.

  1. Don’t underestimate the value of an encouraging word.

When I started playing piano at church again, I was very aware of my inadequacies. In fact, the speed of congregational singing usually meant I could keep pace only by playing just the right hand. Yet our pastor, music coordinator and most talented violinist all stopped me to express appreciation for my efforts. They found things to praise in my playing and encouraged me to keep trying. This helped me to persevere in playing for church as second pianist, even when I questioned whether my contribution was valuable.

I’m glad I committed years ago to be willing to play piano for my church if needed. I’m also glad for the help other church musicians blessed me with as I began that endeavor.

Thanks, Lisa. Here are several books I’ve found helpful in teaching piano students  to begin to play church songs:

Joyful Melodies, Volumes 1-4 by Jennifer Hall. I’ve used Book 1 for beginning students. All songs are in the keys of C, G, or F with simple hand positions. Some songs can be played as duets. This comes from a conservative Christian publisher, Bible Truth Music. Most of the songs are hymns. This book worked really well for me. You can order the books or pay for a download.

Religious Favorites by James Bastien These hymns, traditional Christian songs, and songs for special occasions are slightly harder than Book 1 of Joyful Melodies. This one book gives over 100 well known hymns. All are in the keys of C, G, or F. Most of the left hand for most hymns is largely composed of the I, IV, and V chords in their easiest playing positions.

Adult Piano Adventures by Nancy and Randall Faber. This book works well for teaching beginning adult students who have had some exposure to music. The greatest part about it is that it gets students playing melodies with chords earlier than usual, which helps prepare them for playing hymns and other church music. All you need to teach comes in this one book. If, however, you have an adult student who has absolutely no musical background, she may find this one moves too quickly.


Why I Joined ACFW


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If you’re a Christian fiction writer, perhaps you’ve wondered if you should join American Christian Fiction Writers. Maybe you don’t know much about ACFW or wonder if the benefit would justify the membership fee. If so, perhaps my experience in this article can help you decide whether or not ACFW is a good fit for you.

I began writing for Christian publication just before the Christian fiction market exploded in the early 1980’s. I’ve seen great changes in the Christian publishing industry and attended some very helpful conferences for Christian writers such as Write to Publish, other ACW conferences, and the Writing for the Soul conference (which is no longer active.) In recent years I’ve taken note of American Christian Fiction Writers, their conference and their membership.

For several years I hesitated to join ACFW because I can only attend writers’ conferences during occasional furlough years to the States, and only if the conferences fall at the right time in a reasonable location for me. Without the conference discount in my favor, I questioned whether or not the initial fee would be worth it if I couldn’t attend a conference. (It costs $65 to join for your first year, and $45 to renew your subscription each year thereafter.) I heard good things about ACFW, but never had a clear understanding of how it could help me.

In December 2015 I finally joined ACFW. I have gained considerable benefit from a few things and I continue to discover more benefits all the time.  You might be helped in different areas, but I’ll share the ways ACFW has helped me.

{Don’t miss the one helpful hint I share with you at the end that will make the whole ACFW communication easier.}

Critique Group

All members can participate in the Scribes Critique Group whenever they want. Since I have moved from traditional publishing to self-publishing, I wanted input from other writers to make my book as strong as it could be. I wrestled with self-doubt and wondered if certain parts of my book were working. This group gave me objective opinions by Christian writers who were on my side, but honest about changes that needed to be made. It was this benefit which finally convinced me to join ACFW.

How does it work?

To join the critique group you need to join an orientation class that teaches you how to submit and receive critiques. This takes about an hour a day for five days.  If you have already learned to use track changes, that will make this process easier. When you have completed the course, you can submit and receive critiques.

(Don’t miss my helpful hint at the bottom.)

You have to critique two chapters from other writers in the group for every one critique you receive. Some “critters” are more experienced or thorough than others, but you get at least 3 critiques for each chapter you submit. Comparing critiques gives you a good idea of what is working and what isn’t.

You aren’t obligated to make any changes, but if several critters note the same problem in your chapter, you’ll probably want to make a change.

I submitted the first 5 chapters from Broken Windows, which I had already published in 2015. I felt  these chapters needed to be tighter and get into the action faster. Since I had self-published, I could easily change these chapters, which I did once it was critiqued. I also submitted the first five chapters for Deja Who?, the sequel. Since the first chapters of any book are especially important, I decided to have these early chapters critiqued.

I feel the critique process gave me many good responses that helped improve my books, but I didn’t choose to have the whole books critiqued. You are  only allowed to submit 2 chapters a week (or 2500-word portions.) I didn’t want to wait long enough for the whole books to be critiqued, but appreciated the help for the chapters I submitted.

If you’re worried about flooding your inbox with emails, don’t miss the helpful hint at the bottom.

Email Loop

This allows you to ask questions and make comments on the email loop, as well as read other questions and comments. You don’t have to read or comment on anything if you don’t want. The subject headings help you scan the topics quickly and read the helpful entries.

The loop covers topics like punctuation tips, where to find valuable research, information about writing topics and contests, when authors are looking for blogs from other writers, and all kinds writing subjects.

I’ve found many of these entries helpful, but don’t miss the helpful hint at the end that helps you keep your sanity.

Joining Groups

You can also join groups with ACFW. Most, if not all, of these groups use Facebook to interact.

Since I don’t live in America, I belong to ACFW Beyond the Borders. This allows me to interact with other authors who live outside of the US. I’ve even “met” a few who live in New Zealand.

I also belong to two review groups that allow me to post my books for review by readers who agree to give an honest review in exchange for a book. I can also ask for beta readers from one of these groups. I have no obligations to this group, but I can ask or give reviews or comments when I want.

I’m also tiptoeing into a couple of others groups. Though not all of these groups are exclusive to ACFW, I wouldn’t have found them without it.

Other Benefits

You can also take online writing courses with ACFW, attend the national conference, meet other Christian writers, and find places to promote your own books.

Check out more information about membership benefits here.

You can find me on Fiction Finder here.

It takes a while to find your way around the extensive members only section of the ACFW website, but you can find help when you’re stuck. The spirit of ACFW is not competitive, but cooperative. You meet  a community of Christian authors there who understand people like you and want to help.

I can’t say if ACFW is a good fit for you. You can join and get nothing out of it. But membership does offer many benefits if you choose to use them. I have found my membership more helpful than I thought it would be, and plan to continue with it.

I did find out very quickly, however, that one helpful hint really helps you get started on a better foot. This is the tip I’ve been saving until last.

ACFW will work better for you if you have a separate email address for it. If you join a critique group, while you are giving and receiving critiques, you will be receiving many emails every day and it will drive you crazy if your ordinary email is bombarded with these. This separate address works well for the email loop too, so the email loop messages don’t get mixed up with your personal mail. Once you choose a separate address, you can sort the loop messages from the critique group messages. (They’ll tell you how.) That way, when you want to look at them they’re there, but otherwise they aren’t in your way.

I chose a gmail address for my ACFW mail, and that works well. I could have saved myself a lot of hassle, however, if I had used this separate address as soon as I registered.

Broken Windows and Difficult Ministries

Have you ever wondered why some ministries seem to have more fruit than others? Difficult ministries raise questions that can be embarrassing to ask? I’ll be discussing this in the next Deb’s Book Blast that comes out Thursday, May 12.

Broken Windows begins with a prologue in which teenager Jordan Axtell overhears a pastor talking to his missionary parents. The pastor decides that the few results the Axtells have produced in Taiwan are not worth his church’s continued support.

zcover Broken Windows

Q1:  Deb, have you experienced similar setbacks in your own ministry?

Q2: Why do some mission fields seem to produce few visible results no matter how hard the missionaries work?

Q3: Have you experienced a similar encounter as the one in the prologue, in which a church drops your support due to lack of results?

Q4: How can we help missionaries who are working hard, following God’s leading, but experiencing few visible results?

Q5: Does Jordan ever come to terms with the apparent ineffectiveness of his parents’ ministry?

You can find the answers to these questions in the next edition of Deb’s Book Blast. Sign up today!



Teaching your MK’s to Appreciate Their Host Country

All united in the world

Most missionary parents want two things very badly. They want to serve the Lord completely and passionately in the place to which he has called them. And they want to give their children a rich childhood that will prepare them for adult life and make them happy that they could grow up on the mission field. Often the mission field is quite different from their home country. Parents have to make some tough choices.

When we raised our girls in Taiwan, we had high goals. We wanted them to learn Chinese well, become close friends with Chinese kids, and adapt completely to the Chinese culture. We also wanted them to have a great command of English and fit in well in America. In the beginning we wanted them to be equally proficient in both cultures.

Before long, however, we realized that few MK’s in Taiwan fit really well in both American and Chinese cultures. Some MK’s went to Chinese school and had Chinese playmates, but couldn’t talk to their grandparents when they returned to the States. Others lived in the American segment of Taiwan and seemed really well-adjusted in American society but cared little about Chinese people. Like many missionaries, we had to balance ministry needs with the personal needs of our family.

We expected to spend the rest of our lives in ministry in Taiwan, at least until retirement. But we knew God might not call our daughters back to Taiwan as missionaries. They had to be able to function well in America as well. If they chose to be involved in Chinese ministry as adults, we wanted it to be a choice, not something they did simply because they didn’t fit into American life.

How can you teach your kids to appreciate their host country without losing the identity of their home country?

  1. Have a positive attitude toward your host country.

There will be times when life in your host country will seem totally illogical, backward, and ridiculous. You may fight your own battles with contentment on the mission field, but make sure you model a positive attitude to your kids.

Talk about the cultural differences with your kids. Voice positives and negatives of both your home country and your host country. Let them voice their problems but help them to see the positive side of the culture and the people. Resentment is contagious.

  1. Set reasonable expectations for adaptation to the new country.

The Brazil MK’s we met on furlough were so annoying! They spoke Portuguese as fluently as English and played a big part in their parents’ ministry. Our kids were smart, so what was wrong with us as parents?

We had to realize that our situation was different from theirs. Our daughters spoke English at home, heard Taiwanese at church, and took Mandarin lessons at their English school. Chinese is more difficult for Americans to learn than Portuguese. We had slower growing churches and our kids didn’t know Christian Chinese kids. They didn’t belong to a Chinese youth group. We had to quit comparing our ministry expectations with those of missionaries from other fields and make decisions that were right for our kids.

We needed to give our kids good experiences in both cultures. Our kids did play some with Chinese kids. They grew up in Chinese neighborhoods and churches. They took their turns eating strange Chinese foods with chopsticks to please Chinese friends. But ultimately their closest friends were ones who spoke English and shared a similar culture. In our situation, they were able to have close friendships with other MK’s.

It’s easy to get into the trap of comparing your kids to other MK’s, as if all MK’s are alike and all mission fields are alike. Look at the different situations MK’s live in. Home schooling, boarding schools, national schools, MK schools. Dripping hot climates and freezing cold ones. English speaking countries, easy-to-learn second languages, difficult languages with strange alphabets. Deeply religious cultures, very immoral ones, voodoo followers, primitive tribes, wealthy cultures with high expectations. Cultures that emphasize group mentality or individualists. Friendly and emotional or standoffish and reserved. To that you add the countless varieties of missionary kids and their unique personalities.

If you are raising MK’s in your home, ask the Lord to give you a good balance that embraces both your host culture and your home culture. Instead of competing with other missionary parents for how well your kids know the language or how adapted they are to culture of the host country, determine what works best for your family and ministry. Your kids will face enough pressure to return to the mission field simply because they have been raised there. Give them an example of finding the Lord’s will for your life and being content with that.

  1. Take advantage of unique opportunities on your field.

My grandson’s other grandma was making him a picture book about family life and animals and asked me if I wanted to contribute. She and the other grandpa had been to Yellowstone the past summer and had pictures of grizzly bears and buffalo. “Great!” I thought. “How am I going to compete with grizzly bears and buffalo?” We had changed our missionary ministry to New Zealand, an exceptionally tame country. I would be pushed to find anything more exciting about our life than the ostrich at the zoo.  On further reflection, however, I remembered my picture holding a koala bear in Australia, petting a pink dolphin in Singapore, and sitting on an elephant’s knee in Thailand!

Sometimes we feel we’re missing out as missionaries, but if think about it, we have often travelled to some amazing places “on our way” to normal ministry.

All families need to have fun together. Instead of thinking about the things you miss in your home country, relish the differences in your host country. Maybe you can go to the beach on Christmas day or snow ski to school. Raise a pet monkey. Fish or hunt. Ride an elephant. Climb the Great Wall. Snorkel the Great Barrier Reef. Visit Machu Picchu. Ride a double decker bus. Visit a castle. Go on Safari.

Crafts and sporting activities often give us chances to experience local culture. I learned to do elaborate Chinese paper cuttings and origami in Taiwan. Lisa still enjoys some of these Chinese crafts. Your field may give you great opportunity to participate in soccer, rugby, or cricket. You may be able to watch unique musical instruments being played or become acquainted with a musical scale different than the Western one.

Of course, your child can also enjoy crafts and sports and music on the mission field that are similar to that of your host country. You don’t have to only pursue those activities that are different from your host country.  But whatever you do, give your children good memories that them make  proud to be MK’s. Part of that is helping them to appreciate their host country.

Here are two of my fiction books that show kids who learn to adapt to a new culture. Peanut Butter Friends in a Chop Suey World shows Amy Kramer who moves with her missionary family to Taiwan. Two Sides to Everything shows Josh McKay moving from big city USA to rural New Zealand. Broken Windows features an adult who grew up on the mission field and ponders the significance of his experience.

Coming soon: I’ll talk about more ways to make your missionary experience positive for your children.

Free Drawing for Idaho Residents

Keepsies Statue 300dpi

These stunning statues by Ann LaRose are displayed in downtown Boise, Idaho. During the month of May one Idaho reader will receive a free copy of my book, Broken Windows. To go into the draw, just leave a comment. You must be an Idaho resident to enter. Please share with Idaho residents! Minnesota readers get a similar offer in June!

Simplot Kids Statue300dpi