Becoming God’s Instruments through MSM

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.

Colossians 3:23

Called to serve
Many of us long to serve God, but don’t know how. So, we rely on our natural gifts and expect God to work miracles and open the way.

Local churches rely heavily on volunteers to serve in the worship and music ministries as musicians, singers, worship leaders, etc. They are expected to adapt their skills, often with minimal training, to fit the church’s needs. This often results in a mismatch of skills, or worse – disillusionment. If we want to be instruments for God’s use, we must first be trained and shaped. We must give our best, even if it costs us time and effort.

Faith to serve
In the past, besides enrolling full-time in a seminary, there was no dedicated resource in Singapore for individuals to be equipped for church music ministry.

In 1995, what was then the Council on Worship & Music of The Methodist Church in Singapore proposed setting up a music school. The vision was to equip people for service in church music and worship ministries, and to reach out to the community through music education.

Stoked by the vision, the Methodist School of Music (MSM) opened its doors in January 1997 at the former Methodist Girls’ School at Mount Sophia, where it stayed until moving in 2001 to its current, more spacious premises at Upper Bukit Timah Road.

Mr Chow Kok Fong, Chairman of its Board of Management, explains: “The School was set up to support the Methodist Church in drawing on the richness of our Wesleyan heritage. In their ministry, the Wesley brothers were inspired to use the medium of hymns and spiritual songs to teach, edify and equip the body of Christ.”

Ms Mary Gan, the founding Principal (1997-2009), recalls: “The Dedication Service was held even before we had any students or classes because of the deep awareness that we could not work on our own… we wanted to dedicate the project to God first.”

Vision to serve
With a few Christian teachers, 18 beginner-level students, and humble facilities, the School stepped out in faith. MSM offered weekly music lessons to people of all ages, as well as modular workshops in singing, conducting, children’s choir, and hymn-playing.

Tapping into the expertise of clergy and worship specialists, MSM has gone on to develop a range of programmes catering to specific ministry areas. (See sidebar.)

One such effort was when MSM collaborated with Trinity Theological College to offer a Master of Theological Studies in Church Music / Worship & Liturgy programme (2007-2011). Commenting on its impact on her ministry, alumna Ellena Yeo shared: “Through instilling the correct attitude (in biblical or theological or liturgical aspects)… through songs, music, and order of worship (including prayers, liturgical actions, congregational participation etc.), congregations realise they can have a deeper connection and experience with God in worship.”

Now, MSM offers the Certificate in Christian Worship (CCW) programme, which is in its second year and incorporates theology, worship foundations and practicum in bite-sized modules. CCW classes are held every last weekend of the month from June to November. Among the speakers and teachers for this year are Bishop Dr Wee Boon Hup, Dr Lim Swee Hong, and the Rev Tan-Yeo Lay Suan.

MSM also has a regional reach beyond Singapore shores. The Biennial Worship Symposium, which began in 2006, is a three-day gathering of lay persons and clergy to share ideas and resources. Typically, over 100 participants from across Asia come together for panel discussions on ministry matters, skills training, samplings of different worship styles, and various workshops.

MSM’s major community efforts include choral outreach. Having formerly amassed choirs for Aldersgate Hymn Festivals and the like, the School embarked on a bold, new project – to organise a platform for Methodists to grow and edify one another in the choral ministry. The Methodist Festival Choir was formed in July 2013, with over 80 pioneer members from various Methodist churches. It has so far presented two musical worship events and sung at other Methodist events; two more projects are scheduled for the second half of this year.

To widen its reach, MSM continually explores new avenues, such as the Contemporary Church Music programme, an Asian hymnal project, and preschool music education.

MSM Acting Principal, Dr Yeo Teck Beng, extends an invitation: “If there is a need for training or an issue in music and worship in our churches to be addressed, look no further. MSM exists primarily to equip the people of God to glorify and praise Him.”

Becoming God’s Instruments
To the casual observer, MSM may seem like yet another commercial music school, offering music lessons to all and sundry. What is less apparent is its underlying goal – to nurture each person’s talent, in the hope that one day, God will use him or her as His instrument. Who knows whom God has ear-marked – perhaps a young child beginning his first piano lesson – to be a future pioneer and leader in church music?

If you have been called to be God’s instrument, don’t settle for what you can comfortably give. In Colossians 3:23, we are exhorted: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.

Be equipped and transformed, pursuing excellence in both music and ministry!

A young piano student at her first performance.
Dr Frank Senn from the United States of America conducting a Certificate in Christian Worship module on “The Sacraments: Baptism & Holy Communion” in
The Methodist Festival Choir during its Lenten presentation this year.

Join our ensembles
• MSM Ringers (handbell)
• Methodist Festival Choir (voice)

Other resources
• Studio rental (piano, organ, drum, dance)
• MSM store (student books, examination papers, composers’ music pieces, instruments, cards, bookmarks, CDs, and cassettes)
• Holiday music camps for students
• Concerts, recitals, and competitions
MSM News (newsletter)

Courses available
General Music & Dance
• Piano
• Classical Organ
• Strings (Violin / Viola / Cello)
• Winds (Flute)
• Ballet
• Voice
• Music Theory
• Aural Training
• Band Instruments – Drums / Guitar / Ukulele / Keyboard
• For the Young – Little Mozarts / Young Organist
Church Music & Worship
• Basic Choral Conducting
• Church Music Seminar
• Organ
• Hymn and service playing
• Voice
• Acoustic Guitar for Worship
• Electric Guitar in Worship
• Certificate in Christian Worship

Photos courtesy of the Methodist School of Music

Dr Evelyn Lim is Vice-Principal (Musical Arts) at the Methodist School of Music and a member of Wesley Methodist Church.