9 Aspects of Being a Great Music Ministry Leader

9 Aspects of Being a Great Music Ministry Leader
Marilyn Wilgocki

All This and Sixteenth Notes Too!

The professional church musician is a “different breed of cat.” Some are fresh and impressionable, while others are seasoned veterans; some are multitalented, others have minimal skills; some administrate a fine arts program in a large metropolitan church, others manage with a zero budget in a tiny rural setting; some have music staff with whom to interact, others are a “one person act.” It’s difficult to categorize. But overall, the dedicated music minister is in this business to make music to the glory of God. So how do you measure up?

As a Director of Church Music, Minister of Music, or Choir Director, the ability to “minister” means different things to different directors. Effective music ministry must be built not only on musical expertise, but also on one’s ability to relate, interact and be responsive to people.

In their book. Creating Four Part Harmony, Fred and Lois Bock state that ” as minister of music, we are probably the most informed and knowledgeable persons on the church staff when it comes to church music.”

Regardless of the humor here, the reality of the statement is in where the statement stops. If professional church musicians truly perform their responsibilities, then they are not only musicians: instead, they are “ministers” in the finest sense of the word. Looking at one’s job in this light might have a startling affect on a church’s program. Facilitation might create a real sense of community among singers, ringers, instrumentalists, and coworkers on the staff.

Love the Work

A professional church musician must first love what they are doing! People will know if the director truly likes his or her work. Choir members can smell it, see it, hear it, feel it. They can read it in the director’s eyes, body language, in offhand comments, in enthusiasm and energy (or lack thereof).

If the interpretation of a phrase, of a difficult rhythmic passage, or of a change in dynamics becomes the focus of great frustration, annoyance and even animosity between director and music makers, then the point has been missed. Instead, if that problem is lifted up as a challenge, held forth as a goal, placing into succeeding rehearsals as part of the scheme of things, the end result, although perhaps not perfect, will be one of proud achievement, both for the director and, more importantly, for the choir members themselves.

Establish Rapport and Trust

Rapport and trust must be established in a ministering environment. Obviously, this cannot be done overnight, or even in one choir year. Some history, some tested time period, is needed. It could certainly take a year, perhaps several. The ability to honor confidentiality must be proven. An “open door” policy must be practiced to be believed.

Taking the time to talk and to respond in an appropriate Christian manner must be shown as an obvious constant. All these experiences build rapport and trust. Little events will present themselves; in a sense the director is being tested every time interaction occurs with any one of church’s musicmakers.

Be A People Person

Effective music ministry requires being a “people person.” A successful director must possess workable “people skills.”

Is the director an effective listener? Does the director treat each person as an individual, rather than lumping him or her together with others with similar problems? Is there effective follow-through? Are the antennae in place? Does a casual comment catch the director’s ear? Is this soprano hurting? In some ways perhaps people skills are a top priority!

A colleague of mine has a marvelous sense of charisma, an undefinable skill in connecting with people. His musical skills are strong, but not stellar. However, his ability to lead, inspire, and really care about people pulls him through musical dilemmas. Of course he works to sharpen his own professional growth, but his approach to and with people makes him an enviable professional church musician, exceedingly more successful than many extremely well-schooled professionals.


Communication is one of the most critical factors of a healthy music program. An effective director must speak explain, demonstrate, illustrate, use humor, tell a quick story, and utilize imagery. Choir members must be told and shown what is needed; they aren’t mind readers. Sure, the score shows a martellato attack at the end of a handbell piece, but an explanation, better yet, a demonstration, is what is commonly needed.

Yes, the Bach chorale presents an understood fermata at the end of each phrase, but it’s not written in, and singers will have to be educated, at least at first. The conductor needs to shape that phrase using gestures, the face, and even the whole body. Most church choirs today are filled with volunteer musicians who need to be treated with respect and honor. The effective music minister shares personal insights with choir members, so that the end result might be appropriate for the piece and for the desired interpretation of it.

Utilize Time Management Skills

At today’s life pace, strong time management skills must be utilized. A director must respect the considerable amount of time given to the church’s music program by the many volunteer musicians. Rehearsals really must start on time (even though there will always be some folks who arrive late); rehearsals should also end on time, respecting the volunteers schedules.

If a multichoir program is in place, publishing a music schedule for each month helps people plan, it’s an appreciated gift to busy people. When doing sectional work within a rehearsal, others can assist so that rehearsal time can be used to the best advantage possible.

Soloists and accompanists need separate rehearsal time with the director and shouldn’t use the choir’s time. Today’s society is packed with activities; therefore, rehearsals need to be well planned and run efficiently and in an expedient manner. If the director appears organized, the singers (or ringers) will respond in the desired way. It should be noted that these time/respect premises also work remarkably well with children, reducing discipline problems greatly.

Express Gratitude

Volunteer musicians need to be thanked, over and over and over again. “Seventy times seven” comes to mind. They need to know of the director’s pride in their work. Following the commendable presentation of a major work, a letter should be sent to each participant. Congratulations can be extended upon a casual meeting in town. A note might be left in a singer’s music folder expressing appreciation for a special job well done, for a solo executed with joy, for time and effort extended beyond the usual.

The church’s newsletter provides another avenue for thanks as does the opportunity to speak appreciatively of them at church staff meetings. The presentation of outstanding attendance awards at the end of a season takes little time and effort but means a great deal. (Think how meaningful it is to you when a parishioner tells of an anthem which spoke especially to him or her in worship.) One never tires of receiving a word of gratefulness.

In rehearsal, little “snippits” of thanks can be tactfully interspersed, without it appearing patronizing or becoming obnoxious or insincere. If, following a rigorous workout to correct a difficult rhythm, a director says, “Great job; you did it!” it makes a subtle but vital point that will cause even the most tired singer to give a little more for the balance of the time. As a group, the choir needs to know that the director is actually listening and truly cares about the effort that is given. Often we ask and ask, and over and over the choir gives and gives, all without the sense that the improvements are noticed and appreciated.

Practice Prayer

An effective music minister prays for and with the choir members. If this is an area in which growth is needed, a pastor might help. One-sentence prayers can be created. A stanza from one of the chosen hymns for worship might be read. The Lord’s Prayer can be prayed as a devotional moment, encouraging everyone to think about each word as it is recited more slowly than normal. Even in the most hectic of situations, a moment for prayer is a leveler. It brings one back into focus and causes everyone to look upon the intent of church music, that of glorifying God and thereby ministering to God’s people.

Take Time for Fellowship

Taking time for fellowship and social activities is mandatory. However, fellowship does not and should not always mean that the entire choir is involved. Participating in the individual lives of choir members is equally important in this area. Invitations for parties, open houses, a walk in the park, a trip to the local ice cream hangout provide wonderful opportunities for music minister and choir member interchange. The epitome of fellowship, of course, is travel.

In June 1989, our Chancel Choir took a 17day concert tour of England, Scotland, and Wales. The time available to truly get acquainted with each person was incredible. Travelling and touring as a choir magnifies quality time by 50 times, compared to being together a few hours a week. The forty-five singers who visited Great Britain together will remember that trip the rest of their lives, and so will their director!

Experiences, good and not so good, should be shared. Community can be built by being part of that community. As much as is possible within a daily/weekly schedule, and effective director needs to be accessible.

Walk with Your Musicians

Effective music ministry allows the director to walk with each music makers. Rejoicing in the baptisms or dedication of babies, praying with those experiencing marital difficulties, listening to parents whose children are having personal problems, sharing in the joys of weddings and graduations, being a source of comfort to those who have lost loved ones, these and many other opportunities present themselves as avenues in which the music minister can truly “minister.” And then there are times when the director should allow the tables to be turned.

In 1986, my husband, a bass singer and handbell ringer, died, at the age of 50, after battling leukemia for five months. Family and friends from all over the country shared in the untimely loss. However, it was the support and love that poured out to me and to my two daughters by our church friends that became a gift we shall always treasure and revisit during tough times in the future.

An effective director also knows when to “back off.” Some people are very private persons; that need must be honored and respected, even though the director feels helpless, unable to be of support in a particular instance. Keeping the “door open” allows that person the opportunity to share in their own time frame. Forcing oneself into another’s life is inconsiderate and ineffective. However, when connection is made, then music ministry becomes more meaningful, more complete. When choir members and directors know each other well, then a community of faith, which is expressed through this wondrous vehicle of music, can be built.

Imagine, all this, and sixteenth notes too. What an awesome ministry we have!

The above article, “9 Aspects of Being a Great Music Ministry Leader” was written by Marilyn Wilgocki. The article was excerpted from www.creatormagazine.com. Creator Magazine All Rights Reserved June 2017.

The material is copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.

This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”