In most churches, the pastor (or senior pastor, if there is more than one) is the chief decision maker. This includes decisions about whom to hire and fire. I’ve talked about job security in the church, but not in terms of the pastor-musician relationship. As a church musician, this is the one relationship you can’t afford to ignore. A strong relationship with your pastor is arguably your best source of security. It would be far too painful for a pastor to fire someone who makes their life easier.
To that end, here are six of my ideas for how you can make yourself so valuable to your pastor that s/he would never consider letting you go. A strong clergy-musician relationship is more than the sum of its parts. The two of you together will accomplish much more than the total of what either of you could do alone.
Talk or meet regularly to discuss long-range goals and short-range tasks.
A true partnership begins with communication. Without it, you risk (at best) creating silos or (at worst) making enemies. What long-term goals can you and your pastor agree on? How are these informed by your shared ideals? What are the next steps that can be completed in the next few weeks? Open and honest dialogue creates a sense of safety and helps everyone relax into productive conversations.
Remember that it is your pastor’s job (as your boss) to give you clear directives. If you’re ever uncertain about which tasks to prioritize, ask your leader to help you choose.
Demonstrate your willingness to explore the unfamiliar.
Many pastors (perhaps for good reason) assume that their musicians don’t want to try anything new. Too many of us are quick to dismiss the unfamiliar in favor of what we already know. Make it clear that you are open to experimenting with unfamiliar styles. Offer up new hymns, songs, choir anthems, and instrumental music.
Don’t assume that “new” music does a worse job supporting the church’s mission than “traditional” music. You can find tasteful, well-crafted examples in nearly any style; you just need to know how to weed through the crap. (For a few ideas, try out my Lean Thirteen Choral Anthems.)
A small amount of fresh material can make a large difference in the worship life of the congregation. Contribute new ideas as often as you can.
Support him or her in public, even when you don’t feel s/he deserves it.
Few actions destroy a relationship more quickly than publicly undermining it. You will not always agree with your pastor. You might even feel strongly that s/he is in the wrong. Nevertheless, it is neither dishonest nor insincere to support him or her anyway. It is not your job to influence the “public opinion” of the church. Allow others to make up their own minds; honest, observant people will see the truth for themselves.
Ask lots of questions.
You learn by listening, not by speaking. The more questions you ask your pastor, the better you become at asking them. Here are a few questions and prompts to try out.
- How do you view the role of music in worship?
- How do you decide which hymns to program for a particular Sunday?
- Tell me about a time when you felt that music and scripture supported each other perfectly.
- What about a time when music and scripture were at odds?
- How can I make your job easier?
Of course you should find your own words, but these are good conversation starters. You might be pleasantly surprised by what you discover.
Affirm his or her strengths.
Each leader has strengths, even when at times they are less apparent than weaknesses. Simple statements of encouragement help create a relaxed environment, which improves communication.
Many pastors pursue their chosen profession out of a need to right the wrongs of their past. These are the wounded healers of the world, and they need encouragement at least as much as everyone else.
I don’t mean to suggest that you should invent empty compliments to bolster your pastor’s ego. What I do hope you will do is be mindful of the moments when your pastor does something you truly admire, respect, or appreciate. Make a point of it to say so.
Acknowledge the difficulty of a pastor’s work.
In addition to his or her regimen of study and meditation, your pastor must respond to any number of issues that arise in the daily life of the church. Personnel concerns, pastoral care, and committee meetings sometimes require intense and sustained energy.
Acknowledging these challenges can be as simple as saying “I can tell you have a lot going on right now. How are you doing?” This simple prompt shows genuine concern for your pastor without “talking down” to him or her.
What if any of these ideas seems impossible?
All of these ideas assume that you and your pastor are reasonably well-aligned. Poor ideological or philosophical alignment is a major problem because it will always limit what you can do as a team. Your church will suffer as a result.
Poor philosophical alignment is especially destructive when one party wields power without regard for the other’s principles. It feels terrible to be forced to act against one’s own ideals. Sometimes the only honorable choice is to search for a new job. Find a place where your pastor will view your principles as strengths instead of liabilities.
For more useful articles on how to fulfill your calling as a church musician, check out the Church Music Sense blog page.
Do you crave a particular topic you want me to write about? If so, drop me a line! I’d love to hear from you.