Have you noticed? There are a bunch of banged up people in ministry. One large representative group is church musicians (CMs). Every week I come across desperately hurting folks who share their scary stories with me. Many feel expendable, ignored, and too often, unheard.
Incidentally, this is not the first time I’ve written about this.
The wonderful days of dialogue that these dejected musical servants used to have with their senior pastors are almost gone. They've disappeared into the corporate-driven ether, and may not return in the current Evangelical culture.
There was a time when pastors, seeing themselves as the keepers of all things “worship,” trusted and worked with their gifted colleagues to implement worship vision with a special sensitivity to the working of the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately, that is fading very fast as CMs are now often supervised by executive pastors, operations directors, or even communication leads.
Is there anything wrong with that? YES! Pastors have two choices; either they can form strong connections with their worship staff or yield their role of worship shepherd to the dreaded "modular model." With this model, the church hires a guy (rarely a female, unfortunately) to stand in front of the congregation, play guitar, teach tunes to the band, and prepare five songs for Sunday.
When he/she leaves, they just replace the “module” with someone else who does the exact same things. One can’t call this collegial, and you certainly can’t call it co-creative.
Here’s what I hear in the many laments of frustrated musicians. They want...
It takes time to build trust and you do it with measurable expectations, met repeatedly. The pastor asks for something from his worship leader and he gets it. For many pastors, that’s the only required step in this complex “dance.”
Trust, however, takes time to build and it can only be built by the two people trying to achieve similar and meaningful spiritual goals over a long period and by doing it together. It has to include deep connection and, sadly, modular CMs will never have the opportunity to build such bonds—everyone will pay the price.
Most CMs I meet at conferences around the country talk about their desire to have close personal relationships with their pastors—"personal" being the operative word. They are not talking about some dependent, sycophantic relationship. What they seem to want is a sharing of vision borne of real connection, not "drive-by" encounters in the hallway.
They want to be creative. The personality that drives a CM is usually somewhat "out there", and most of them accept the fact that they are viewed as a little freewheeling and they hope everyone else will cut them some slack. That said, they sometimes feel the opposite and find themselves very alone and isolated because church corporate structure often doesn’t take them very seriously.
It’s O.K. for CMs to be creative, even occasionally flakey, but it’s not okay for them to be ignored when they're expressing an opinion or an idea. Pastors sometimes don’t identify the general idea of creativity with practicality and objectivity. They believe that CM’s don’t understand the basic issues of “doing church.”
The truth is, many of the best ideas used by churches come out of the creative minds of their CMs. They rarely get credit for them, but still, those ideas often emanated from the clever and innovative minds of musical creatives.
Look, we all need affirmation. It is a staple for those of us who find ourselves "on stage" frequently. Church musicians, however, need tons of it because that feedback tells them how they’re doing from a community perspective. Church musicians serve the whole congregation every week, and, given that they need to have the prerequisite humility, it’s not a bad thing to seek affirmation. It supports their ability to plan and lead.
Outrageously, one prominent church leader that I came across back in the 90s said to me, “I shouldn’t have to compliment my worship people all the time. After all, what they do is what they’re paid to do!”
These days, I see more botched and hideous HR foibles than at any time in the church’s history. CMs are frequently released without any notice whatsoever. Occasionally, they are let go after long negotiations which have a predetermined outcome. That's not a negotiation.
Not only is this sad, but it frequently leads to legal complications—complications that churches are rarely prepared to handle. It would seem that we need to get our acts together on how we treat staff members—not with top down cynicism, but with compassion and understanding.
Am I saying these things because I am a church musician? You bet, but it is not exclusively about church musicians. Every pastor, every secretary, every youth leader, every usher, every custodian, every person I’ve ever worked with in the church needs understanding, compassion, and an even healthier dose of communication.
Let’s fix this! We’re all about love and grace—let’s BE about love and grace!
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