Strengthening the Partnership

Strengthening the Partnership
N. Lee Orr

As John looked over his sermon titles for the next six weeks, he realized that he had jumped a week ahead, and was off from the list he had given Gene, the music director. “So that’s why he used an anthem on ‘Amazing Grace’ when I preached on the Holy Spirit,” he thought to himself. “I need to call Gene.”

As he dialed the telephone, he thought about the almost nine months since he had come to Ascension Church, and how he was starting to really like being there and starting to like working with Gene, as well. At the beginning he had some doubts as to Gene’s commitment, but the two had been growing more comfortable personally as well as professionally during the past few months. Worship had seemed to gel, and that is why the disparity on Sunday seemed so odd.
The phone rang on the other end, and Gene answered, “Hello.”

“Gene, this is John. I just wanted to share something amusing with you. I could not for the life of me figure out why the choir sang ‘Amazing Grace’ yesterday when I preached on the Holy Spirit. I thought we had made such progress on worship planning and this seemed so odd. This morning when I was looking at the list I gave you, I realized I skipped a week ahead. This Sunday is the Sunday I should have preached on the Holy Spirit.

“I should take this moment to tell you how much I do appreciate your desire for us to work together as a team. I feel that we can look forward to a number of good years together here at Ascension Church. Let’s make sure that we keep our communication clear so that problems do not grow to where they will interfere with the good working relationship. I’ll see you at staff meeting on Wednesday.”

Forging a partnership between the minister and musician is only the beginning; keeping it strong and healthy requires just as much attention. The story about John’s willingness to admit he was wrong and to affirm Gene shows how good partnerships remain healthy. Few good relationships continue confidently without care and attention. Successful relationships continue because each of the partners makes a decision usually a conscious decision, but a decision, nonetheless to work at strengthening it. Fisher and Brown- identify three attitudes that help strengthen a partnership: (1) understanding, (2) dependability, and (3) persuasion.’

Strengthening a Partnership Means Genuinely Understanding Each Other.

The need for genuine understanding may seem self-evident, but achieving it in reality is another thing. Many problems that defeat successful partnerships result from one or both partners thinking they understand the other, when in truth they continue working from false assumptions. This lack of understanding then gives them mistaken confidence in their future responses and decisions. If left unchecked, the lack of genuine understanding will impede the development of a good relationship.

Genuine understanding of the other person starts with a realistic awareness of our own views and ideas. In essence, it means making sure that we recognize our own assumptions and how they influence our decisions. Doing this gives us a solid confidence that we know what we are doing. This allows our choices to rest on a clear understanding of what we want. It also gives us the courage to take responsibility for our decisions, knowing that we have minimized future surprises. Finally, by deepening our knowledge of our self, we become better prepared to understand the other person.

One new pastor assumed that since the music director had a doctorate in conducting and taught at the local college, he held elitist attitudes toward music in the church as well as toward any but the best singers in the choir. To make matters worse, one disgruntled former choir member, who had quit the choir six years before and was no longer an involved church member, told the pastor that the choir had become too professional that the music director did not understand church music. This was all the pastor needed to hear. From that point, the pastor was suspicious of everything the music director did or said. It made little difference that the music director enthusiastically welcomed all to the choir, worked carefully on teaching the parts and improving singing, and selected anthems that pleased most people every Sunday. The pastor’s false assumption became an obstacle to their working relationship.

Only after the pastor confronted his own prejudice did he view the music director on a reasonably objective level. Then he delightfully discovered that the choir had grown, the members enjoyed it more, and that the congregation was almost unanimously pleased with the music during worship. Understanding his false assumption seeing that he had been wrong, to put it bluntly enabled him to strengthen his partnership with the music director. Soon he discovered he had a reliable, hardworking, and successful ally in helping build the church.
Admitting we may have been wrong involves changing our ideas. Once we understand that this change is an inherent element of the human condition, embracing rather than battling it gives us new freedom. Grasping this freedom means that we can finally stop doggedly fighting only for our own interests and walk toward the common ground of our mutual interests. Working together toward a solution gives the partnership double the energy, rather than siphoning off forces in protection of narrow self-interests. Pursuing common solutions also gives us new flexibility, which helps us to avoid drawing hard and fast positions to avoid becoming an autocrat.

Flexibility gives each of us room to maneuver should a problem become difficult. When things seem at an impasse, simply asking “What are our common interests in finding a solution?” will help point toward a workable solution.

Strengthening a Partnership Means Being Dependable.

Being dependable shows that you can be trusted. And trust is the most important factor in strengthening a partnership. One can forge quality relationships, but without a bedrock of trust they soon founder.

Everyone wants to be thought of as trustworthy, but trust is not earned quickly or easily. Most relationships fall somewhere between complete trust and total suspicion. We should do what we can to push our relationships toward the trust side. This happens only when we do what we said we would do and when we establish a pattern of keeping our agreements. Sometimes this means going the extra mile doing things that we might not have agreed to do. But when we realize that the other person understood the agreement differently, we cooperate and reinforce our dependability. When the president of the adult Bible class asked if you, the music director, would provide music for their Christmas party and you agreed, she thought you would ask someone to sing a solo. You thought she just meant for you to play some carols. Once you understood what she really was asking, you were able to increase your reputation for dependability by asking someone to drop in and sing “0 Holy Night.

Sometimes we give others reason to mistrust us. Inconsistency causes mistrust, even though we may have good intentions. This is why keeping our agreements is so crucial. People remember broken agreements. When broken agreements form a pattern, then others rightly view us as undependable and untrustworthy. Assuring the secretary that you, the pastor, will give her the materials for the bulletin by Wednesday at four means just that. Thursday morning is too late far too late. Although it might cause her little hardship, it tells her that she cannot trust your assurances that you are inconsistent about keeping your agreements.

Hidden agendas promote mistrust as well. In fact, there is no quicker way to arouse suspicion than when others sense we have a hidden agenda. For one thing, hidden agendas almost always result in inconsistent actions. For another, they demand a great deal of energy and scheming to conceal. Often the same ends can be achieved with an honest admission of what you want. Here are some tips for trusting: anticipate problems; avoid hidden agendas; be specific; discuss conduct, not personality; and focus on solutions, not problems.

We are each responsible for strengthening our partnerships through dependable, trustworthy behavior. This is the best way to encourage others to trust us. Reasonably trusting the other people also encourages them to trust us in return. While we cannot control someone’s decision to trust us, we can foster that decision. Working hard to understand the other person, communicating clearly, and keeping our agreements will go far toward establishing mutual trust.

Strengthening a Partnership Means Learning How to Negotiate.

How we negotiate demonstrates our commitment to the partnership. Negotiation comes down to three choices: fight, flight, or make a deal. Only the last choice will strengthen a relationship. Our willingness to learn how to make a deal, how to compromise, how to negotiate effectively and positively is critical to working together. Fighting simply cause s people to retreat behind their own lines; it reduces their commitment, understanding, and even their interest in negotiation. Flight forces every issue into becoming a hidden agenda. Fleeing repeatedly causes people to explode, either in the open or behind closed doors in personnel meetings.

Unfortunately, when it is the minister who refuses to negotiate, the result often is the dismissal of the musician. This may seem to resolve the problem, for the moment, in the minister’s view; however, this kind of treatment of the musician symptomizes the minister’s general relationship style, one that easily undermines his or her effectiveness. Fleeing from partnerships with the church staff and lay leadership puts the most incredible burden on the minister to run the church alone. While some have the energy and skill to pull this off, they remain the exception. Most of the time it results in a quietly desperate cult of the ego. Having made it clear to everyone that the minister alone contains all wisdom, holds all pertinent data on any issue, makes all the decisions, and brooks no serious input, the minister gets just what he or she wants: responsibility for everything.

Working with a minister or musician who commits to a partnership, who wants to solve problems and build trust, obviously makes negotiating easy. Following through on the other issues of understanding and dependability sets negotiating up for a large chance of success. Each success makes the next problem that much easier to approach. Even more, it continues to strengthen the relationship. When a serious conflict arises, the partnership has the dual strengths of trust and successful negotiations to carry it through.

Negotiating well making deals, if you will often come down to avoiding certain behaviors. A primary behavior to avoid is taking absolute positions or making absolute statements. These only force the issue and cause people to respond emotionally rather than rationally. Taking absolute positions forces others to harden their position, cease to communicate honestly and clearly, become suspicious, increase their hidden agendas, and/or avoid future negotiations if possible.

Intimidation stated or implied should be scrupulously avoided, as well. Granted, the line between stating my needs and requesting compromises is often unclear. Nevertheless, it must be worded carefully. Stating “I would like it if we could . . . goes much further in helping negotiations than the threatening “If we don t . . . . Threats are easy to make. Our egos are never far from the surface. How quickly we retrieve the files of “injustice on your part” and “extra efforts on my part.” Fair negotiating involves focusing on the problem, not the person; staying open to other ideas, not arriving with a closed mind; listening genuinely, not simply waiting until it’s your turn to speak; remaining flexible, not stating absolutes such as “always” and “never”; staying committed to the process, not retreating when things become difficult.

Focusing on the problem, not the person

Focusing on the problem and the solution can be difficult if the issue involves egos and self-esteem. Discussing the problem of chancel choir membership can easily become personal if not handled carefully and objectively. If the minister makes statements such as “If you would make choir rehearsal more fun, you would have more members,” the musician becomes less interested in hearing the next thing the minister says. A less threatening approach would be to say, “What can we do to encourage people to come to choir? Maybe we could relax for a while and let the musical preparation slide toward more fellowship.”

Staying open to other ideas, not arriving with a closed mind

Closed minds do more damage to negotiations as well as to lots of other things than any other single element. If I arrive at staff meeting with my mind made up on how often choir should rehearse during the summer, then I will not hear the solid reasons for changing my mind. When the pastor explains to me that some choir members really want to continue rehearsing, that new people express interest in the choir during the summer, and that it continues the program better, I do not hear her. I also discount what else she tells me. Not only does this meeting not produce a satisfactory resolution or good feelings, but it also forces both me and the pastor to harden our resolutions. She resolves to watch me more carefully, not trusting my motives; I resolve to have my own way, even if I have to become more deceptive. How much better it would be if I simply would remain open to the possibility that she might have very good reasons for her suggestion.

Listening genuinely, not simply waiting until it’s your turn to speak

As discussed in chapter 5, genuine listening determines whether or not you hear what the other person is actually saying. Unless you genuinely understand what the other person means, you have no firm basis from which to respond. Sometimes listening intently takes an intentional decision to do just that. Ask yourself, “What is the other person really saying to me?” Hearing is enhanced further by watching body language and manners. Paying attention to nonverbal communication makes it easier to focus on listening as well as to identify hidden agendas or discrepancies. Clarifying techniques work as well, such as “I don’t understand what you mean by . . . or “In other words, you mean that I should. . . . Checking out what you think the other person has said will verify and clear up the conversation, enabling the negotiating process to move forward.

Remaining flexible, not stating things in absolute terms

Using absolute, declarative phrases can impede negotiations as it prematurely forces a response to an issue. The pastor’s statement that she will never agree to using prerecorded music in worship may be how she feels and may be an understandable position; however, such a statement robs the pastor of any bargaining power that she might have had. The pastor has only two options left: agreement or disagreement. Depending on her particular style of communication, she may not immediately reveal how she feels; but she will make a decision, which may become a hidden agenda. The pastor might have responded by saying, “I am very uncomfortable with prerecorded music; couldn’t we try something else?” Or the pastor might creatively reconsider how to use prerecorded music to advantage in the worship service. Whatever the particulars, avoiding absolutes goes a long way toward keeping negotiations open, positive, and flowing.

Staying committed to the process, not retreating when things become difficult

Sometimes when everything else has been tried, the last resort is to stay in the process, talking and exploring the issues until a solution seems in sight. A firm commitment to working together on solutions will forge and strengthen partnerships when other attempts fail. This becomes necessary when some problems prove stubbornly resistant to solution. If both parties commit themselves to working through to the end, then an agreement can more likely be reached. Even more, the very process of forging the solution by negotiation means that the partnership has the strength to return to the problem in the future for reconsideration. Now the partnership has two positive results: an answer to a difficult problem and a firm and working partnership.

The above article, Strengthening the Partnership was written by N. Lee Orr. The article was excerpted from The Church Music Handbook For Pastors and Musicians.

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.