Being a church musician in the past couple of decades has been a challenge for everyone who’s ever figured out where middle “C” is on a keyboard. You’re not immune if you lean toward K-Love Radio, and NPR won’t save you either
No, this is not another article about the worship wars. That topic, BTW, is not actually going to die anytime soon, because we have so many genre within genre possibilities fueling its future.
This brief outburst is about a different kind of battle—a battle for a strategic voice in church leadership for all church musicians (CMs). This is a reminder that we CMs have gone from the (occasional) tyrannical divas who were resented for trying to run the church, to being marginalized within a small cubicle in a basement.
This is evidenced by the fact that we often don’t report to the Senior Pastor any longer (who used to demand direct supervision over us, but now often avoids any contact with us like the plague). We have gone from adequate salaries to marginal ones in many cases. There is less for us to do (a perception), so there is less need to hire us full time. We are frequently being replaced with non-musicians. There is starting to be a perception abroad that suggests that CMs should “strum,” not lead in churches.
What, exactly, should our role be within the leadership of the church? This is an excellent question with absolutely no correct answer, and, at the moment, who cares? Mostly, we’re being asked if we can find a really good, edgy video editor or lighting guy. There’s a huge difference between leadership and utilitarian media tech grunt work. (Please don’t be offended by that last remark—grunt work goes with any job, and some of my favorite jobs require the occasional grunt!)
Getting a piece of leadership within the church is a big issue, an important issue, and I believe we should try to get some back. Why? Because we have some unique things to offer such as...
Greater aesthetic sensitivity
- Better production values
- Strong communication skills
- A sense of balance and order in a worship service
Ah, but here’s the caveat. We’re going to have to earn the right to have a voice. We are going to have to be more diligent in our understanding of spiritual formation, more observant, more adaptable, and more sensitive to how all things “church” work. In other words, we’re going to have to come out of our isolation, often fueled by our fear of speaking up for fear of being fired, and see the whole mission of the church rather than just our piece of it.
If this all seems obvious to you, let me share the following true story.
Ten years ago, a friend of mine (let’s call her Jo) decided she was tired of being in a ministry where she was not being appreciated for her gifts. Jo told her pastor she had a MASTERS DEGREE (yes, she said it in all caps) in music and wasn’t about to be discounted by people who didn’t understand how much she knew and just how capable she was of making great offerings to the glory of God!
Two weeks ago she called to tell me all she had learned over the past few years. She used an old adage to describe her process. She said, “Smart is knowing a tomato is a fruit, but wisdom is figuring out that you shouldn’t put it in a fruit salad!”
She listed some good fruit salad moments:
Don't assume that when a leader wants you to change directions that they don't like who you are or don't appreciate your skills.
Don't respond to every piece of input. Tell your boss you need to think it through a little and get back with him/her later.
Don't send an email when you're ticked!
Don't keep examining little things over and over. Try to see the big picture.