When I was dating my soon-to-be wife twelve years ago, my prospective father-in-law said, “So, you’re a church music director. That a part time job?” It was 45 hours a week.
From the outside, a church music job looks like a piece of cake. Glamorous, even. Or, at least extremely rewarding. Come on–you’re working for God!
From the inside, it’s a different story. It usually pays poorly (sometimes not at all), the hours are long, and the frustration level is high. Not only that, but the turnover rate is high among church staffs (staves?) in general, and churches change direction like a paper bag in the wind. It’s okay to have mixed motives—everybody does. But take it from someone who’s done it, who’s been all the way through the cycle and come out the other side:
If you don’t really know why you’re doing this—or worse, you’re lying to yourself—then you’re setting yourself up for frustration and failure.
Here’s a short list of (in my opinion) legitimate reasons to be a church music director:
- You’re good at it, and it’s better than working in a factory
- You want to further the cause of Christ by elevating the level of music in church
- You have a passion for helping people connect to God through music.
- There’s no one else at your little church who can do it, so you’re pitching in.
- You can’t imagine doing anything else.
- It’s a way to make money and serve the Kingdom at the same time.
- God has called you to do it.
- It’s a career you’ve always wanted to pursue.
Here’s my illegitimate list, bad reasons to do this:
- Your church music department SUCKS, and you have to fix it.
- You want control over the way things go.
- You love the attention.
- You know better than everyone else.
- Your music will change the way everyone does church.
- Your church will fail if they don’t do the music right, and you’re the only one who sees it clearly.
- God will like you better if you work for the church.
- Joining the church staff puts you on the inside.
You get the picture. Here’s why I bring this up: sooner or later (if it hasn’t happened already) you’re going to be treated unfairly. This is a foundational truth, an undeniable tenet of church music directing.
So you’d better know ahead of time how you will respond when:
- The church adds a Saturday night service and expects you and your band to perform at exactly the same level.
- The Committee-That-Decides-Stuff—with three week’s notice—decides there will be a Summer Concert Series, featuring your music department.
- The worship song you wrote when you thought your spouse might have cancer—the song that everyone loves—is discontinued because the elders feel the congregation shouldn’t dwell on such dark issues.
- You’re told (by the pastor and elders who went to a church growth conference without you) that drums and guitars are critical to your church’s growth strategy, and that they will be featured on every single song from now on.
- The budget is slashed (again), and your administrative assistant will be let go. Every program you started because you had extra help will be expected to continue as before.
- You’re asked to work extra hours for no extra pay.
The bigger the church, the more likely something like this will happen, because folks, it’s a little nutty out there. Yes, you should work with your superiors (*see below) to build a good working relationship. Yes, they should do the same. But it doesn’t always work that way. Do your best to make it good, but don’t, don’t, don’t assume that it’s going to be like starting a club with your best friends. It won’t be.
Maybe your situation is working absolutely great for you. If so, and I say this with all sincerity, good for you. Bask in it. Thank God for it. Don’t take it for granted. Just be aware that churches are fertile ground for political maneuvering, backroom deals, and people who hear from God and aren’t afraid to tell you so. Everyone’s read a book, everyone’s an expert.
Listen—church work isn’t for everyone. Some people aren’t suited for it temperamentally, or for a variety of reasons, but you will not hear that talked about at any church seminar. I routinely heard this, or some variation of it, at practically every conference I attended:
”If you’re in a position as a church music director, it’s because God called you to it. If God has called you to it, He’ll equip you. You just need to work harder and smarter.”
No one EVER talks about how to know if you shouldn’t be doing this, whether it’s right for you, or when to get out of it. Ever. I even asked one time, “Okay, so what if you just really feel like quitting?” The guy really didn’t have an answer. So if nobody else will do this, at least I will: I give you permission to think that maybe this just isn’t for you. Or maybe it’s good for now, but not forever. Be happy.
At the very least, be honest with yourself and know why you are doing this.
Next week: How I did not take my own advice, and ended up burned out.
*I steadfastly maintain that I have no superiors, and very few equals.