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Seeking and Filling Music Ministry Church Positions

By Rev. Larry D. Ellis, Denver, Colorado

In many ways the process of filling a church staff position for the church's ministry of music will parallel those of persons seeking such positions. The church assesses its needs and desires for musical leadership. The musicians assess their skills and musical desires as well as the type of spiritual environment in which they wish to work. However, they should both be examining some of the same issues from their respective points of view. All should be looking for an enthusiastic match for both sides. This article will present thoughts on both sides of the process. These ideas are based on personal experience, conversations with many who have filled these important positions, some of whom made wise choices in their discernment process and some of who did not. The goal of this article is to stimulate your thoughts to a great extent with questions that you must answer in your particular situation. While the scope of this subject will not be exhaustively explored with this article, the author has tried to be comprehensive. He welcomes input from readers about additional areas that should be explored as well as suggestions that would help both the churches and musicians.

From the Perspective of the Church

Know Your Church

Church traditions especially in the area of styles of worship, church politics, denominational influences, secular culture of the members of the particular church, church architecture and church budget all typically play a major roll in the formation of expectations placed upon a church musician. All these factors are important. However there are additional arenas that should also be considered and in some ways are more important than responding to the felt needs of some of these listed areas. Just as with all church staff positions, an assessment of the person's character is important. Their worship and spiritual values must be consistent with those of the pastor and the congregation. Their theology of worship, music, evangelism, church outreach as well as their musical skill levels are all very important, but are often not a part of the church's discernment process. They should be. In successful church search processes the staffing of the music ministry position should be conducted very similarly to that of seeking new clergy, except that the entire decision will rest within the local church, where in connectional churches there are those outside the local congregation that are an integral part of the process of selection.

Agree to and Write Down Your Process of Selection

In some churches the pastor who makes the complete decision and unilaterally fills the position with the person that he or she selects. However, there is often a search committee appointed by the governing board, clergy or elected by the congregation, depending upon your church polity (church government). It is important that the committee consist of representatives of the major musical institutions within the church that will be directed by the person hired. This committee should meet weekly first to define their process, anticipated time frame and formulate a budget request for the search process. If the search goes out of the city, you should have the church authorities authorize a budget for funding of expenses related to the search process. This could be anywhere between a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars, depending upon the number of persons that you bring in for interviews and extent of advertising purchased.

The author recommends preparing a prospectus on the church along with a written job description and placing it on the church web site. This provides an excellent place for persons to go to all receive the same information about the position. If the information is placed there, your parishioners can also easily link the web page to emails to their friends who might be interested or have friends who are interested in applying for the position. You should also have a printed copy of your information that can be mailed to interested persons and persons who will be friends of your church by referring others to your church for its consideration. Be very clear as to what type of person you are seeking, whom they should contact and how they are easily reached, what your anticipated time frame for moving ahead with the decision is. The author will present discussion on some of these areas, which will hopefully stimulate your committee to come to concrete written assessment of your particular church and its needs.

In order to accurately present information to possible candidates the selection committee should be absolutely clear about their process for selection, their areas of assigned ministry responsibilities and corresponding authority, scope of hours and days which are necessary to be physically present at the church or other locations, staff meetings schedules, salary to be provided, continuing education funding provided, vacation and sick leave policies, benefits to be provided such as insurance and retirement contributions by the church, church music budget and what expenses are to be included within the church music budget. When it comes to fiscal areas the following questions should be processed and answered by your committee. What is the budgeted amount of money to be invested in one year for the music ministry? What does this amount include - choral music, paid accompanists, paid soloists, guest instrumentalists, care and maintenance of musical instruments such as piano and organ tunings, guitar strings for musicians, drum skins and sticks, musical copyright licenses, printed programs for special events, publicity on local television and/or newspapers? If you regularly produce recordings for resale, how are the production costs recovered? Does the church sound system, its maintenance and its operation fall under the responsibility of the director of music?

The most obvious needs to be stated are related to the musical portion of the position. Is this a single staff, part time position where the director is to direct one choir for one service per week with no salary or is this a head of musical staff position where the director will be planning the musical worship, coordinating other paid or voluntary positions of accompanists, orchestral musicians and directors of other youth and bell choirs? Most church music ministry staff positions are somewhere in between these two ends of the spectrum. What are the absolute expectations musically of the church? Will the director be expected to also play the organ, providing a wide spectrum of classical organ literature? Will they be expected to formulate, organize and conduct a praise band to lead in worship? Will there be more than one musical style presented in worship? Will the services be blended or will these varied styles be maintained within distinctive separate worship services? Is a church sponsored concert or recital series be a part of the responsibilities of this position and why or why not? Will the musical teaching and equipping of the saints be individual in nature such as with vocalists and instrumentalists or will it be ensembles or well developed choral experiences? How well received is traditional historical classical church music even sung in Latin or other languages received? How well will new musical works written today be received? What is the church's level of commitment to support local Christian composers and musical artists? Does the church seek to employ a musician who comes in and performs music with their own musical skills, or are they seeking one whose primary vision is a coach, one who equips the church to sing, play and praise God with their musical gifts or both?

What level of musical education and experience do you require and why? It is particularly common to not address this area, but be careful that you don't place arbitrary requirements that might eliminate suitable candidates or give overdue credit to stated academic credentials. It is also prudent for you verify any stated academic credentials with the institutions.

Will the person hired be expected to work within the denominational activities or in outreach ministry in the community? What are the pastoral rolls that you want the person to take on? Will or could this be a clergy position on the staff? It is assumed that the musician will contact the sick and do pastoral work beyond with those who are active in the music ministry? Some churches and musicians mutually agree that there be a three or six month trial period after which the church and musician can part company without any hurt feelings either way. An evaluation can be made at that point based on everyone's actual experience together. If agreeable then the position may be defined as permanent.

As you prepare a church information report and a written job description that incorporate many of the issues detailed here, it would be wise to have the church authority that will actually authorize the hiring of this persons approve your final documents before distributing them outside the committee. The committee should publicize the job position and solicit resumes. You then would typically review them and reduce the list to two or three final candidates. Sometimes telephone interviews can be helpful in this process.

Publicize Your Opportunity

How will you publicize the job opportunity? Will the search radius be national using denominational employment offices and publications such as The Diapason and The American Organist or the Hymn Society of America, the American Choral Directors Association or the Choristers' Guild? Will it be more local in scope using the local American Guild of Organist chapter, other pastors and musical contacts such as music teachers, high school and college faculty persons to assist in your search process? Sometimes even local newspapers are used for job opportunity exposure. Most denominations have regional and national publications where these job openings can be publicized at little or no cost to the church. Identify several musicians in other churches whose ministry you respect. Contact them and seek any referrals that they might be able to make. This type of networking is how many positions are filled, both in the church and also in business. Persons who respect your church will often be eager to help you when possible on this important task.

Prepare for the Interview

Identify a list of important questions that you will ask each person interviewed. You should ask them all the same questions so that you compare answers to the same questions. Identify what are the big issues in the church that should be disclosed to potential staff persons. What will be the reception of women on the church staff and worship leadership positions? What are the skeletons in the church closet? How involved is the person expected to be in activities beyond the walls of the local church?

Your committee would be wise to formulate in writing ten to twenty questions, which you will ask each candidate in the interviewing process. Ask these core questions to each person and take notes on their answers so that you can later discuss their answers and evaluate these answers against what type of leadership you are seeking. Be certain to check the references for the applicants. However, all references will be glowing and full of praise of each respective applicant. Try to find out information from third parties if possible. Have the integrity to respond in writing to each person that contacts your committee. They will greatly appreciate your candor on all levels. By all means do not get so excited when your committee makes a final decision and the candidate accepts the position that you forget to immediately notify the remaining applicants that you have selected someone else. Hopefully, your committee desires to minister at some level to each of those whom God brings into your process, not just the one that you select.

Making your Selection

It is both smart and almost universal for one or more from the church committee to observe several candidates in the context of their present music ministry. Church representatives should exercise caution in their assessments. Certainly one can gain insights, but many facets of what does in one context might be very different in a different context. Some of the things the author did in a church with sixty members were much different from those activities in a church of six hundred. Resources available, scope of talent and styles of worship will vary greatly depending upon the context. If you are interviewing persons working in the musical academic environment, their circumstances will even be more divergent from those who are presently in church positions. It is also wise to bring (and pay the travel expenses for them and their spouse) the final few candidates to your venue and have them lead and/or play for a typical worship experience in your church. This might be in a Sunday service but the committee certainly should have them conduct a choral rehearsal with your singers. At one such event, the applicant learned that they had "stacked" the choir with several professionals and each choir member filled out a written evaluation on their impression of each candidate. This was provided as input to the committee for their consideration. In another position the candidate was interviewed, recommended and hired by a committee and the church board when not one person from the choir or those in the music ministry in which he was to lead, was a part of the selection committee. He was shocked to learn this fact, but not until after he was employed. Work very hard to disclose to the candidate the real world environment of your church music ministry. Prepared audio and video audition tapes by applicants can be helpful, but your committee cannot substitute these perfectly prepared and edited recordings for the in-person musical skill evaluation.

The committed along with the person authorized to hire the individual should prepare a written job offer detailing the scope of work to be done and the salary and benefits to be paid to the musician. It is normal to expect a written response if the position is accepted.

Welcoming the Musician into the Church

Once you have made your decision and the person has accepted the position in the church, it is a good thing to prepare a warm welcome to the musician and family into your church family. Certainly you should present a biography of both professional and personal information to the church and the community via the local newspaper as well as the professional trade publications. Many churches prepare a special dinner for the entire congregation where the committee can share some of their selection and discernment process and the new church musician can share some of the process that has brought him or her to this new opportunity. A special installation and dedication service as a part of regular worship might be included. You should pray for the newly established ministry, the musicians and the new leader of the music ministry. Certainly a time with the musicians that will be lead by this persons should have the opportunity to welcome the new person as well in suitable personal setting. This should present an element of enthusiasm and optimism.

From the Viewpoint of the Musician Seeking a Position

Assess Your Personal Sense of Call to the Music Ministry

One of the most basic questions that persons seeking church music employment must answer is what are your musical and worship related leadership strengths? Are you gifted at being an emcee styled music worship leader or do your strengths lie in the direction of musical worship with others in the center exposure in a more liturgically structured environment that is more independent of the personality of the musician? Most churches will probably be seeking one or the other type of musician. Some will require both types of leadership.

We all understand that there are wide variances of worship within most denominations. Some Episcopal churches sing praise music and use guitars; some Southern Baptist churches use pipe organs and process with banners; some Methodist churches sing their congregational hymns with accompaniment tracks, some Pentecostal churches develop outstanding choral music programs. Never make the assumption that given a particular denomination you can expect to have things the way they are in the one church of that denomination that you know. Every individual church is different and you must make certain that you discern where you are in this area and learn what is the historical preference for musical style for each church you are considering. Erring in this area by either party will probably lead to a short-lived relationship. Almost all churches, say that they are open to change and want to serve a broad taste in musical style. Do not believe them. They probably are not nearly as inclusive and eclectic as they believe that they are. Ask for copies of their bulletins for the past year and look them over very carefully. See if they have been practicing what they preach. If you like what you see, say so and why. If you discover things absent or present that concern you, ask questions about what they do and why they do it.

You might consider the formation of a small advisory board consisting of one or two close friends with whom you may share everything about your discernment process. Hopefully, they will be faithful to ask you the tough questions and provide their counsel on the decisions that you make. You might consider using an emailing group with each of them to keep in close contact. This would even allow you to include persons who may be far away.

Prepare a written Resume

Prepare a short written resume including your vision of music ministry in a church. Include your academic and private study education as well as your work experience. You might wish to provide additional personal information either on the resume or in the interviewing process. There are legal limitations that preclude employers asking certain questions, but all employers including churches like to know about your marital status and personal interests and any special needs that you might have in the area of disabilities. People often place their resume and additional information on a personal web site as an aid to their in their seeking a church staff position. You can then provide a link to the site in your email correspondence and give the web address to persons who might be able to easily pass along to their friends who might know of church positions that are open.

Personal Relationship with Staff

Come to grips with what level of personal commitment you want to make to the other staff persons at the church. Will you be able to build relationships with them or will you be primarily alone in the leadership of your ministry. The author has a friend at a very large Presbyterian church in the south who have several paid assistants, a large choir and orchestra, a large budget, a pastor who exercises very little control over his music ministry, but also who does not lead staff meetings and never attends musical activities where he does not preach. After 20 years on staff he has never been invited to the home of his pastor. Is this type of staff relationship one in which you can personally grow or not?

Some pastors and priests are very knowledgeable about music. Many are not, but seem to still have strong opinions about music. Some are very collaborative in their decision making process. Some are autocratic. Some clergy consider the church staff as personal friends and give and receive personal friendships that are life-changing. Others see themself as an administrator whose primary function is to keep the overall organization on the right direction and toward that end, might find their personal spiritual support outside the staff. If you both do not have the same expectations here, this can bring for a great deal of stress an unfulfilled expectations. Know the environment in which you will flourish. Ask candid questions about this area with your head of staff and other staff persons should you interview at the church about this environment.

What are your spiritual goals and in what kind of church ministry can these be realized? What kind of church will this be for your spouse and children? Will they be drawn into existing ministries of the church such as Sunday school, musical groups, and small groups? Will they be uninvested and actually take energy away from what you are doing if you go to this church?

Locate Music Ministry Opportunities

Just as with the publicity information described earlier for the churches, those seeking such positions should avail themselves to professional and denominational publications containing job listings. The role of personal networking probably plays the largest role in finding a good ministry opportunity. Identify the church musicians in the area where you wish to serve, perhaps a few composers and contact them asking if they know of open opportunities. Give them information about yourself. Most persons will readily try to assist you in your process or put you in contact with persons that they know who might know of opportunities. Expect this process to take some time. Be patient and keep your musical skills polished up.

Your Interview Process

After becoming clear as to what type of music ministry you wish to lead, prepare a list of questions that you will want to ask during the telephone and/or in person interviews. Find out why the previous person is no longer in the position. Attempt to talk personally with them. If the person you are replacing is not yet departed, and they don't know of this search process to replace them, stop the interviewing process at that point. If they are moving out a person that they are not pleased with and they have not been notified, they might very well do the same to you some day.

.What is the church's position on you having other part-time work such as writing, composing and private teaching? Will the church facilities be available for your teaching and your students who might not be a part of your church? Is there a presumption that you will provided music for weddings and funerals as a part of your regular workload and without additional compensation, or will you be free to charge a reasonable professional fee for these extra professional services? In addition to your salary, will the church provide paid time off for vacation and continuing education and adequate expense reimbursement for continuing education? What benefits will be provided such as medical insurance and retirement contributions?

Ask for a written job description where you can see the best guess of stated expectations upon your labors. Understand that this is not a work contract, but the beginning of your understanding of what needs that they want met by your coming. Prior to the interview ask what is expected to happen at the interview. The musician should also pursue all the items that were discussed under the perspective of the church discussed above

Your Response to a Call to Join a Church Staff

If you are selected by the committee you should expect a direct communication from the chairperson of the committee. Hopefully this is a phone call followed up by a letter. You should also respond by letter accepting the opportunity. Be certain to notify any other search committees with whom you are in close communication that you should not longer be considered for their position.

Concluding Thoughts

When both the musician and the church committee have come to an agreement, the church and the musician should finalize the job description that was tentatively prepared for the search process. In addition it is wise to have a written employment agreement between the parties. This agreement should reference the job description that is signed by both parties. It should include the stated salary and benefits to be provided to the musician as well as the process by which job performance will be evaluated. It should specify who does the performance evaluation, how often and state what the criteria will be. This is usually the written job description. It is also customary to identify the terms for dissolution of the working relationship should that happen.

Do not forget to commit your entire discernment process to prayer. Have your friends both inside and outside your church pray for you. Ask for the Lord guide you through the entire process. Do not be in a hurry. When things appear to be too good to be true, they probably aren't. Each musician and every church has both strengths and weakness. All are greatly blessed if we are honest, open, frank and loving to one another. When the candidates and the committee meet, work very hard to be natural and well prepared on all levels. Remember that God works in all things to bring good out of circumstances. There can be wonderful ministry to the musicians being considered by the churches interviewing even if all agree that they are not the person to be called to this position. It is a good thing for a musician to identify challenges for churches to discuss even if they are stressful. Seek to glorify God in all your search process with all persons with which you come in contact. The kingdom of God on earth will be richer because of your process.

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