Small Beginnings (with a Big Heart)

by Dr. Harold Burgmayer

You are not alone! In your leadership you may be saying that I’ve been at it with my kids for weeks and there is not much to show. Or my older groups are just not getting better. As we move into the culminating year of the Live Music in Every Corps by 2020 campaign, we are anxious to share your stories of the “small beginnings.” Put quite simply, all of our corps centers have weekly worship services and require musical support. Using live musicians and artists engages young and old, but it all starts somewhere…with a leader who sees and believes beyond the moment.


Allow me to borrow a short dialogue between the Queen and Alice in Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll:


‘I can’t believe that.’ said Alice.

‘Can’t you?’ the Queen said, in a pitying tone. ‘Try again: draw a long breath and shut your eyes.’

Alice laughed. ‘There’s no use trying.’ She said: ‘One can’t believe impossible things.’

‘I daresay you haven’t had much practice,’ said the Queen. ‘When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.’


What do you see when you look at your corps? If you pause long enough, you will see and even believe! Consider the young boys and girls coming through the corps building for summer day camp. See them holding instruments in a young people’s band under the watchful eye of admiring parents. A choir made up of recovering addicts declares the Gospel message as they sing together. See God using their music to change lives. A guitarist and drummer “jam” in the corps hall between meetings. See the beginnings of a praise band. A youngster can’t seem to stay away from the corps piano, endlessly repeating basic block chords. See her as a future songwriter. Some boys and girls seem to move their bodies naturally to music. See a vibrant dance team painting vivid pictures of redemption and restoration.


“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1, KJV) If you are a leader who has served for years, imagine a musical section in your corps remade into another vessel. “So the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.” (Jeremiah 18:4b) What might it look like?


Start small

Reggie McNeal, in the preface to his challenging The Present Future reminds us that too often we think of the present in terms of the past behind us, rather than in light of a future that is speeding toward us. One person who sees––and believes––represents the “present future” of Salvation Army music–making.


Usually this starts small, with simple first steps. “Do not despise this small beginning, for the eyes of the Lord rejoice to see the work begin.” (Zechariah 4:10, LB) Although first steps in leadership require patience and focus, remember that every musician or artist starts somewhere. The missing cog is often the encourager–leader who sees and believes in another’s potential for the future. How many young people and adults, for want of a leader, have been denied the privilege and high calling to be included in the musical arts of the Church?


Mother Teresa once said, “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But if that drop was not in the ocean, I think the ocean would be less because of that missing drop. I do not agree with the big way of doing things.” Perhaps it is a blessing when Salvationists are forced to take our energy and resources off the big events, and put our zeal back into doing our small part in the harvest at home in our local corps. We don’t necessarily need a big toolbox but rather a big heart to do our small part.


Excerpted from pp. 16-17 of Dr. Harold Burgmayer’s book The Beat Goes On!––Music as a Corps Ministry.

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