Overseeing a Music Program

Overseeing a Music Program
James D Berkley

Music has always been at the center of the worshiping community. It is one of God’s most glorious gifts, able to move people beyond the realm of mere words. Without doubt, music touches the eternal.

Many times, however, it is the center of temporal turmoil, even among God’s people. Although there are moments of sublime harmony between pastors and musicians, there are also times of painful dissonance, as opinions traditions, and egos clash.

Who is to decide the proper role of music in the church? Most ministers of music will say the responsibility is theirs. Most pastors will remind them that they still lead the church. Members of the congregation offer more opinions than Bach has cantatas.

Some congregations see music as a distant cousin to the “real” ministry of the church and basically, hire someone to do it for us, to dress up the services. As a result, services (and often the music minis try itself) become more performance than participation. The people tend to assume the roles of critics rather than worshipers. The music director produces rather than ministers, and the gap between musician and congregation only widens.

The pastor is forced to side with the congregation or the minister of music. If he or she chooses the congregation, a staff member is alienated. If be or she sides with the music director, his or her own minis try becomes more vulnerable to criticism.

Neither approach is the solution. Too often these conflicting attitudes and expectations can threaten congregational health. Must music be a continual battleground between musicians and pastors? No.

There is a better way, but it’s not a quick formula to guarantee a spectacular music ministry.
A pastor can bring a strong, balanced calm to a church through hard work, patience, and skill. The following principles are characteristic of such a pastor who encourages musical excellence in his or her church.

Minister to, Not Just Through, Musicians

Musicians are real people with real needs, just as the rest of the parishioners and the pastor are real people. Obviously, ministers of music differ in age, gender, training, and abilities. They may be part- time or full-time. Their musical tastes may well be very different from those of the pastor. Yet, they almost always share one common trait: commitment.

Most music ministers see their ministry as a distinct calling, al though they often struggle with the same things that hinder pastors insecurity, feelings of inadequacy, exhaustion. They need someone they can trust. They need a pastor.

Everyone in ministry exhibits a reasonably confident leadership style by necessity. But no one should mistake the reality that few of those called by God to minister have an overblown view of their own ability and position of leadership. Indeed, deep within everyone whose vocation lies within the church is a yearning for profound and abiding friendship. In times of personal crisis especially, those called to ministry need a friend, someone who can listen. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “Christians have forgotten that the ministry of listening has been committed to them by the One who is Himself the great listener and whose work they should share. We should listen with the ears of God that we may speak the Word of God.”

No one knows whether there was a song leader in that happy, calamitous band that traveled with Jesus, but if there was, certainly he knew he could share his burdens with his Master, whom he knew would listen. This is no less true regarding the relationship between ministers of music and pastors.

One also surmises that Jesus was more than willing to share a laugh with his disciples. Ministry to colleagues means sharing glad times as well as struggles. Laughing together is a life-giving exercise.

Malcolm Muggeridge once commented that the steeple and the gargoyle of the medieval cathedral provide a healthy pattern for the Christian life: the steeple symbolizing the heart reaching for the infinite God in heaven, the laughing gargoyle reminding humanity of its earthbound limits. What a pattern for healthy co-ministry relation ships! Amid the urgency of the task, the joy of shared laughter can lighten heavy loads, calm ruffled feelings, refresh weary pilgrims, and renew an eternal perspective.

Good relationships must be worked at, but the result is worth the effort. Mutual concern and joy are contagious. Congregations should be encouraged to see that their leaders not only work well together but actually enjoy being together. Listening and laughter are two gifts any pastor can offer. Musicians, like anyone else, care about ministry because they’ve received a ministry of care. Belonging is the foundation of all motivation.

Fix the End; Flex the Means

People tend to work better, certainly more enthusiastically when the end is clearly established but the freedom to develop the means is fluid. As Peters and Waterman said in “In Search of Excellence”, people are motivated by a simultaneous need for both meaning and independence. Unfortunately, it’s easy to try to determine the meaning for people without allowing them the corresponding independence to reach it.

For instance, one seminary graduate approached his first parish keenly aware of the inadequacies of his church and the solutions for solving them. It was a rather arrogant ignorance with a spiritual veneer. He planned great moments for the congregation, where the worship could finally be what God intended the saints to experience. He took particular care to select hymns of substance, structure, and style. No gospel fluff was allowed.

This particular young pastor, however, wasn’t aware of his rather limited knowledge of hymnody, nor of his ignorance of the tastes and abilities of the congregation. These liabilities, although real, did not deter him, for it was he who knew best.

Eventually this sincere but misguided young minister was graciously reminded by his minister of music that familiarity and sing ability aren’t sins. The musician worked with the pastor to broaden his use of the hymnal helping him to incorporate hymns that might be less sophisticated yet that still provided excellence in worship. The pastor this was an area better known by the minister of music.

Indeed, music ministers are generally more knowledgeable than pastors and they are often more creative. We pastors often need to learn to heed their creative ideas.

Another story: One year during Advent, one minister of music decided to have the Christmas choir concert in the t hail. She wanted people to invite unchurched friends who might not come to a church service but would come to a more intimate evening of music, hot cider, and cookies. The fellowship hail, however, when tightly seated, had about one-third the capacity of the sanctuary. This meant at least three performances, with tickets to regulate the crowds.

Inwardly the pastor shuddered as he thought, Welcome to the Covenant Cabaret! Top on his mind were the logistical and ecclesiastical headaches. When it was over, however, it was the unchurched friends who seemed to enjoy it most. Again the lesson came borne: Allow freedom for individual gifts to be expressed and grow, but do it within the context of structure.

Planning is the key. The more strategy employed, the better the harmonization. Thus, regular staff meetings are a must. Regular calendar reviews, both long- and short-range, anticipate seasons and special events before they spring up as surprises.

Is it possible for the pastor to give to the music minister his preach ing schedule for the next six (how about three?) months? It is, and it is amazing how much this helps. The choir doesn’t have the pastoral luxury of waiting for last-minute inspiration to decide what to do on Sunday. They need weeks of rehearsal time. Musicians must plan ahead even if the pastor does not. Why not work together?

Such planning not only gives direction to the music ministry but also enhances corporate worship and probably makes for better preaching. It even eases the pastor’s Saturday-night nerves.

Working with Organists and Pianists

Working with an organist or pianist means that you’re working with an artist someone who is creative, who has imaginative ways of accomplishing goals, who strives for perfection, whose work is intensely personal. How can this creativity be channeled to benefit the whole church? How can personalities in the music staff and the pastoral staff work in harmony? How can excellence be achieved by both?

What Musicians Need

Church musicians need pastoral support when facing difficult situations, whether the problem be complaints about the tempo or volume of their hymn-playing, their choice of prelude or postlude, or even disagreements among staff members. The important thing to remember is that one person’s negative (or positive) comment doesn’t necessarily mean that immediate, drastic changes must be made in the music program. Specifically, an organist/ pianist need the pastor or worship leader to do these things:

– Provide the hymns and service music early enough in the week (or month) so musicians have time to practice, consider free hymn accompaniments, and/or cross-reference hymn tunes to preludes, offertories, and postludes.

– Ensure that dates and times of rehearsals and services are coordinated with all musicians well in advance.

– See that the choir director pro vides copies of anthems to the accompanist for competent preparation prior to the scheduled performance date.

– Meet with the director of music and the organist/pianist to plan and schedule the music and to determine who will be responsible for each aspect of worship planning:
Who chooses hymns? Who suggests a change of music for service music? Who will provide titles to the secretary for inclusion in the bulletin?

– Evaluate Sunday services: Was the choice of hymns appropriate?

Were the hymns singable? Were there awkward moments due to poor preparation or planning? Did the ego of the musician interfere with worship in some way? In what ways did the musician encourage congregational participation?

What Pastors Can Expect

Organists/pianists have varying degrees of musical training. Some have had a few lessons; some play only by ear; some have doctorates in their instruments from major universities. Some may serve as choral directors or as overall music coordinators in their churches. Others may be responsible for working only a few hours a week. These factors, of course, help determine what to expect and how to establish channels of communication.

Remember that most organists/pianists feel fulfilled in their service to God during a worship service if:

(1) the service flows smoothly, (2) there is a sense of cohesiveness between musical elements and the spoken Word, and (3) the musician is satisfied with his or her performance. Effective service planning and open communication among all the worship leaders is the key. Encourage musicians to:

– Learn new music and keep their creative and imaginative juices flowing.

– Attend professional conferences, workshops, and seminars, ideally at the church’s expense.

– Join professional or denominational music organizations, such as the American Guild of
Organists or the Association of Anglican Musicians, again, at the church’s expense.

– Share their concerns_ and personal with you. This will require establishing a nonthreatening atmosphere that will slowly build in levels of trust as you learn to communicate with directness and love over the years.

– Ask questions to understand the pastor’s reasons for particular aspects of the services.

Since both pastors and church musicians share in common a sense of professional pride and ownership in their ministries, mutual respect makes the best foundation for an effective working relationship. – Joseph M Galena

Should Church Musicians Be Paid?

Some churches believe music is a ministry to be carried out by volunteers. There always seems to be someone available who will play the organ or direct the choir in the weekly anthem. Other churches expect to pay to maintain a certain level of music performance. The music bud get is quite large to make certain that this standard continues. Let’s look at how Christians might argue key points on each side of the question.

Points in Favor

– The music ministry is important to our worship and outreach philosophy. Since the amount of time needed to do the work exceeds what is reasonable for a volunteer, we choose to pay a person to ensure that the ministry will stay strong.

– When we hire someone as a minister of music, we are providing leadership to equip the congregation for ministry, not just to maintain a program. Our music minister brings a significant historical perspective and vision to our worship. He or she actually is much more than a song- leader, spending considerable time selecting music and planning our corporate worship.

– We are called to be stewards of God’s gifts to us, music in particular. We also wish to employ a wide spectrum of music in our worship. For that reason, we feel we need leadership from people who have prepared themselves for the minis try of worship and music, just as our preaching pastor has been prepared for the ministry of the Word.

– We use many people from our church in our music ministry. How ever, there are some significant needs that cannot be met from with in our church. Therefore, we supplement our work with professionals from outside our congregation from time to time. This actually strengthens our overall ministry and allows us to attract musicians into our church who might never other wise be a part of our ministry.

Points Against

– We are a small church with a limited budget, so what is done here with music must be done through volunteers. We do provide great opportunities for those who would like to test their spiritual gifts in music.

– Our theology of spiritual gifts tells us that God provides all the re sources needed to do what he calls us to do as a church. Therefore, to go outside the church to hire some one to make this happen seems to contradict our biblical understandings.

– We aren’t looking for a “professional” church musician. We prefer the older hymns, and since we really like a full orchestra for the choir, we use prerecorded accompaniment sound tracks.

– Our church has other priori ties that seem to override the desire for a paid music director. For in stance, we concentrate on social ministries. Because we have paid staff members in these ministries, we do not want to add a music minister’s salary to the church budget.


There may be no universal answer to the question as to whether or not musicians should be paid. However, evaluating some of these ideas in light of a particular situation may assist any decisions.

In any case, if churches hope to develop and improve the celebration aspect of their worship, Christian musicians must be able to spend the time necessary to provide the leadership. Volunteers are paid only in the satisfaction of their work well done. For some people this is adequate. For others it means they can not offer ministry to the church as they would like, because they must work other jobs to provide for their financial needs. Larry D. Ellis

Encourage Musicians to Grow

Professional development and spiritual growth are crucial to any ministry, including music. Unless the pastor personally encourages such growth, it might not happen. Such encouragement is both direct and indirect.

First, the direct. It’s good to thank the minister of music regularly or the hours spent preparing for Sunday morning, and say how much the music ministry means to the church. When musicians bring success, they need to know it.

It’s easy to focus on areas of weakness, thinking that correcting faults will lead to better performance, but success is usually a more powerful motivator than failure. After affirming strengths, then we can strengthen weaknesses based on a firm foundation of accomplishment. Direct, honest encouragement pays rich dividends.

Encouragement can also be indirect. There are times when it is appropriate to be a music ministry ally, sometimes even an advocate, to the church board. For example, it may require pushing to increase the budget so new music can be purchased. Some may feel the choir can still sing the old songs, but these same folks never want to hear the same sermon twice.

Freshness is part of creativity, so encourage musicians to improve their craft by attending seminars, workshops, and classes at the church’s expense. Why not provide money for subscriptions to professional journals and music libraries?

Then, if the musicians are paid, there’s the issue of salary. Here’s where the baton hits the podium. Pastors need to be willing to recommend realistic raises at annual-review time. Raises inspire pastors to do their best better, and it’s no different for ministers of music.

One last form of encouragement: We should pray with and for musicians. Too many times these colleagues relate on a solely professional level. Musicians need prayer as much as anyone. It’s tough ministering week by week to a media-blitzed congregation whose tastes run from Amy Grant to Giovanni Gabrielli. Musicians feel the pressure and need to know they are being prayerfully supported.

Dignify the Ministry of Music

To dignify the ministry of music, we must be willing to go public, to let the congregation know how valuable music is, to develop appreciation for the musicians. Corporate worship is a prime time to affirm the work of musicians and ministers of music.

Some churches offer a prayer of consecration at the beginning of each choir season. Some regularly refer to the anthems and solos (even to unsung accompanists) during worship. It’s one thing to say “Nice anthem last Sunday” passing in the hail. It’s something else to express the same on Sunday morning from the pulpit.

What of applause? While we want to avoid the entertainment complex, heartfelt applause out of adoration for God and appreciation for his gift of music can sometimes be a genuine form of public affirmation.

Congregations enjoy showing public gratitude. Surprise the music minister with an evening of recognition, and it’s practically guaranteed that the ministry of music will become even better as a result. Such is the value of giving the music ministry the dignity it rightly deserves.

Even with all this, however, problems can still arise, so there re mains a need for at least one more principle.

Know When to Intervene

There are times in any organization when a part runs ahead or away from the rest. This can be true of a music ministry, usually as the result of exuberance and enthusiasm. When the rivers overflow their banks, there are times the pastor has to sandbag.

Knowing when to intervene is an art that demands patience, wisdom, firmness, and love. Because people and situations are different, lists of what to do aren’t always useful. Instead, it is helpful to try seeing the situation two ways: through objective and subjective relationships.

Objectively, pastors need to be concerned about the relationship of music ministry to the larger ministry of the church. Subjectively, they need to be concerned with their relationship with the minister of music. Both must be weighed to solve any problem successfully.

Private intervention is always best. When a problem arises, it’s wise to talk with the music minister. Chances are a mutually satisfactory solution will be reached when the larger ministry of the church is kept in view. Two heads work better than one, and this will prevent major conflicts from developing out of single-minded and, many times, narrow perspectives. Often, early intervention can be timely and helpful.

Other times, however, intervention is a mistake. For instance, early in one pastorate, I decided to bring a different emphasis to Christmas. Instead of the annual Christmas Eve service the church was used to, I proposed a traditional Scandinavian Julotta service at 6 A.M. on Christmas Day.

My concerns were genuine but not well-informed. The minister of music was less than enthusiastic and pointed out that the Christmas Eve service was an opportunity for outreach; a 6 A.M. service probably was not. But I was adamant, so the plans went ahead as I instructed.

Although the service was reasonably well-attended, it was lifeless, as though everyone was being dragged along through the worship experience. The lesson learned: Worship is corporate, not just individual. The pastor�s taste and prerogative may not alone be a sufficient foundation on which to build.

While wise intervention by the pastor is occasionally needed in the continuing duet with the minister of music, the ability to admit un wise interventions is also a necessity.

“Music,” said one minister of music, “comes from the Chief Musician. Finding it, however, demands hard work.” Hard work is required to sustain music in the life of the church. The continuing improvisation between pastors and musicians will keep on going. Simplistic solutions are not to be found. But it’s better to strive for a duet, not a duel, in our service for the kingdom. – Garth Bounder

Purchasing Musical Instruments

Most churches depend on a variety of musical instruments for a number of needs. Though typically the music staff will assess needs and do the purchasing, it’s best to involve a small committee of parishioners interested in music, worship, art, and education. These people represent the congregation to the visionary musicians and will help sell the purchasing plan to the rest of the congregation. A consultant, someone who can go into a room and know just what would work in that environment, can help guide this committee through the choices.

Here are the instruments you will likely consider over the years:

– Pianos. Try to find at least a six-foot grand for the sanctuary. The rich sound of a fine grand piano will not only be an inspiration in worship, but will encourage young musicians to want to play it. Uprights are good for other rooms in the church, where you will save money with a clean, functional style. For classroom use, secure a good electric keyboard with a built-in speaker.

– Organs. Pipe, electronic, or a combination? You be the judge after you’ve listened to a lot of different organs. The old adage that an electronic organ costs less than a pipe is no longer as true as it once was. Any organ is expensive, if it’s a good one. Also, insist on the ability to interface with a computer (MIDI). Even if you don’t use that capability now, one day you will.

Don’t be swayed by dealer arguments about lower maintenance costs with either pipe or electric. It costs to maintain them both. The Associated Pipe Organ Builders of America (P.O. Box 155, Chicago Ridge, IL 60415; 800/473-5270) can give a lot of good advice, even if you decide to go electronic.

– Hand bells. You can start with a two-octave set of good quality and expand to a larger set when more people and money become available. There are also less expensive hand- chime products available, which are easy to maintain and carry. Consult the American Guild of English Hand- bell Ringers, Inc. (1055 East Centerville Station Road, Dayton, OH 45459-5503; 800/878-5459) to start on the right track.

– Carillons. Now in digital electronic form, carillons provide many worship enhancements and can be played from an organ or synthesizer keyboard, or can be preprogrammed
to do just about anything. Major dealers advertise in leading organ and choral journals.

– Synthesizers. These electronic marvels have invaded the church with good results. Since technology is constantly changing, the church musician must stay alert and up-to- date by attending workshops and seeking out those musicians who are using synthesizers successfully. Synthesizers can be expensive but so versatile and enriching.

– Other instruments. In some cases churches may want a harpsichord, although a real one is costly to acquire and maintain. Some find a good synthesizer substitute acceptable. Timpani are nice if a church frequently uses orchestral ensembles. Other orchestral instruments customarily are provided by their players.

– Recycled instruments. You can find bargains in various stages of use or abuse at any price. However, beware of the donated instrument; do look a gift horse in the mouth, because donated instruments can turn out to be musically worthless. By careful shopping, reading the ads, talking to other churches, and get ting a second opinion, you may find a quality buy, however. Check with the Organ Clearing House for used organs (P.O. Box 104, Harrisville, NH 03450; 603/827-3055). You can find used pianos through local dealers or tuner/technicians.

In general, it’s important to visit other churches, big ones, little ones. See what works. Hear what works. Ask who’s happy, who’s not happy, and why. -William Phemister

Excerpted from: �Leadership Handbooks of Practical Theology� Volume One �Word & Worship�
General Editor: James D Berkley

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