Thursday, January 26, 2012

"Hell In The Choir Stand"

Have you ever asked yourself the question, why is the Devil always in the choir stand/loft? There is always somebody complaining about something. Then there are those who are just plain nasty and you can't figure out why they are even there. Hold up!! Then you start to believe they are there just to get on your last nerve as a choir director.(lol) Many people believe its because Lucifer was a chief musician thriving and working through music so naturally the choir stand at church would be a  prime target. While the first part of that statement is very true, the last part I choose not to believe. If you are having problems with your choirs at church its not Satan's fault. It's yours(Pastor or Choir Director) The reason why your church choir acts the way they do is because some of the people in it DON'T BELONG THERE.

Regardless of church affiliation or denomination, it seems we all have something in common. We believe in placing people in positions of authority who belong there such as Deacons, Trustees, Stewards, Ushers, etc. These positions are filled with people who have the passion to serve in those capacities and the gifting/skill set to fulfill the need.  Isn't it ironic that most of our church leaders do not require the same scrutiny for people who wish to sing in the choir or praise team. It's amazing to me that we open up the doors to the choir stand for all to come when its the choir who is responsible for singing and ministering the songs of Zion unto the Lord and a waiting congregation. The praise team or the choir has the awesome responsibility of setting the atmosphere for true worship. Why on earth would you want to have someone, who doesn't belong trying to fulfill that responsibility? The only folk who can fulfill that responsibility are minstrels and psalmists called by Almighty God. You got to be "Called" and a "Anointed" for the work of ANY ministry and that includes the MUSIC MINISTRY.

People who have a passion and gifting for a certain ministry tend not to raise hell or complain because IT'S A PASSION. People who are passionate about music are intense individuals who are in a constant state of growth, learning and application. Passionate people do not have the time to raise hell. In church, choir members who are passionate about learning, singing and ministering the songs of Zion have a different zeal then the ones who are not. I have NEVER seen a person passionate about any subject try and sabotage that which he/she is gifted to do. 

I have tried on many occasions to remove folk from choirs, that I have directed in church who obviously don't belong, only to be thwarted by the Pastor who doesn't see music ministry the way that it should be seen. Some Pastors value "quantity" more than "quality". If you are a choir director you have either heard or said this statement before "I'd rather have 10 folk who want to be here then 100 in the choir stand occupying space and not here to glorify God". If the Deacons, Trustees and other "important" positions in the church require approval and scrutiny, so should the potential choir members who wish to minister during service. 

It's not longer cute to have hell raisers singing in worship. We need  people with the right attitude, right gifting and right living to minister on Saturday/Sunday morning. If you don't have any minstrels in your church then play some anointed tracks. (lol). Time out for folk who think their doing us a favor by gracing us with their presence in the choir. They need to consider what their REAL gifting is and then the hell raising will stop immediately. You've heard of the expression before that your "attitude determines your altitude". If that statement is true, and I believe that it is, some of our altitudes during worship could be much higher if we had the right attitudes leading us in worship. 

Phillip Carter

Monday, January 23, 2012

"Should Church Musicians Be Paid"

This is one blog that is easy to write. The answer is "Yes", absolutely unless they opt to volunteer their time and some musicians do. I think the bigger question is how much should they be paid? That answer is based on the job description and the economical status of the employee and the employer. I remember this debate being heavy in my youth especially in the more charismatic churches. Well actually it wasn't, if you were a musician in the Pentecostal church you were not going to be paid. The philosophy was you (the musician) were supposed to volunteer your time and talent for the Lord and the Lord is going to bless you as a result. This debate is still a heavy one in our christian churches. Today there are many who believe that paying musicians is terribly wrong and on the flip side their are many musicians who refuse to do anything for free.

I am not going to quote biblical scriptures on the reasons why I think musicians should be paid because I have had the experience of hearing preachers and church folk twist the Gospel up and down to make it fit their perspective on the situation. I will say that in the OT musicians were NOT paid but their needs were met by the Temple while they were working. The Temple provided shelter, food etc.  In this day that would equal to mortgage, car note, insurance, retirement, clothes and food. Who would need a check if this were taking place? However that would be ever so costly wouldn't it? So compensation would be the most logical solution. 

I think what most people do not fully understand is the amount of skill and time it takes for a person to become a skilled musician yet a alone a skilled church musician.  Many people like myself have gone to school, studied and received degrees in order that we might perfect our craft. Then their are some who never went to school but through experience and mentorship have become excellent musicians sometimes better than the ones who went to school. It take equal amount of time and effort to become a skilled musician as it does becoming a preacher or Pastor. I know that's a controversial statement because many Pastors do NOT see musicians as equals in any way but that's more of a philosophical belief then a biblical one. 

Church musicians are not equal to deacons, nurses, trustees or any one else. You can't wake up one day and decide to be a musician. It's a gift from God that some have from birth and others develop later on in life. You can't go to a few training courses and learn to be an excellent musician. IT'S HARD WORK.  Some of us just make it look easy because we've been doing it for so long.  Now if your in the Black Church you most likely will have to play, sing and direct at the same time unless you have other persons in the church who assist you in the other areas.

As I mentioned earlier, churches should compensate musicians based on their(the churches) needs, economical status and musicians qualifications. If your church cannot pay a musician, for whatever reason,  to play for your church then you should consider other options unless you have someone who is willing to donate their time and talent to the church which is perfectly fine. I am in awe of the musicians who have the financial resources to not have to ask for compensation from the church. If I could play for free I would. Many churches think that musicians are money-hungry freaks that go to the highest bidder and some are but the majority of us are Disciples of Christ and we wanna see the ministry flourish. However we have needs to and they must be met. Many of us have outside jobs as well as church jobs trying to keep our families afloat. My father always told me to have an extra job because churches can flip the script on you in a heartbeat and you will be out of work and money. I pass that on to you young musicians who are relying on the church for your well being. YOU BETTER GET A DAY JOB. (LOL)  

Lastly, if the church has enough money to pay the Pastor,  the electric company, the water company, the insurance, gas, and the accountant (all who provide services for the church) then they SURELY ( I feel the organ coming in right now) they can compensate the Levite in the temple who provides the sweet melodies of Heaven here on earth. 

(There are many who read these blogs but don't leave comments. Please leave your comments. It helps us as a body to engage in these meaningful discussions)


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

"Musician vs. Pastor" -Round 1

Sometime between the 80's and 90's there was a shift in the Black Church concerning the role of the Musician/Minister of Music in the church. When I was growing up, the musician/director was just that. They came and played/directed the choir and then the preacher would preach and there was minimal confusion because it seemed like everyone knew their role in the ministry and worship service. I could not remember a time when I was growing up that their was noticeable confusion between the Pastor/leadership and the Musician/Minister of Music or Director.

We are in an age now where, in some of our churches, one can see and feel power struggles going on in worship. The Musician wants to preach and the Pastor wants to direct the choir and tell the musician/director how to play/sing and direct. We have gotten so self-centered in our approach to worship that we have forgotten that the worship service is about our Praise/Worship and service to God and the salvation of lost souls. We've traded those commands in for the longing of "Self Glory" and "Recognition". Also, their is this other underlying thought that if the Spirit doesn't move when it's my turn to shine then it must not be present today or the people didn't come with a mind to worship today. lol

Pastor's and musicians need to understand that  they both hold significant roles in the worship and servitude to God and infighting doesn't help or enhance anything. Now infighting is different from disagreements. Disagreements are sometimes healthy and often lead to a greater understanding between the Pastor and Musician. Ultimately the Pastor is the Spiritual leader of the church and is in charge of the spiritual health of the congregations he/she serves . The musician should respect the Pastors role and wishes concerning worship and try to assist the Pastor in carrying out the vision that has been laid out. If there is any discrepancy regarding the musicians willingness or ability to carry it out then changes need to be made.  However that does not mean the Pastor has the right to use the musician as a stepping stone for his/her(the Pastors) glory.

Musicians should be clear in what their role(s) are in a particular church. If the Pastor asks you to play, direct and lead Praise and Worship then that's what you should do with all of your heart. Notice the Pastor did not ask you to preach or teach "Sunday School" during worship. That's the Pastor's job. The Pastor wants you (the musician) to lead worship and usher Gods people into the presence of the Lord with accuracy.  Pastors you should trust your musicians to do the job you assigned for them to do and not attempt to do it for them, or in some cases, with them. Even if you were a choir director yourself, back in the day, you should still allow your musician/director to do their job and if the Spirit leads, then you jump in on the reprise(my opinion). If the only people you hire are the ones you can fully control then your are an insecure leader.  

The churches that have successful music ministries are the ones where;
1. Everyone understands their role and open dialogue is welcomed
2. No one individual is above reproach including the Pastor
3. Visions and Roles are understood and accepted by all parties involved

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Hiring of a Church Musician Vol 2 (From a Musicians Perspective)

It seems that the latter part of 2011 heading into 2012 was a changing of seasons for a lot of musicians including myself. When those changes happen we find ourselves in a sort of wilderness as to where God is taking us. Some of us know where we are going because God has already hooked it up before we left the last assignment. However there are those of us who had to exit the premises because it was time to go and staying at that assignment would be detrimental for us and the church. Of course some of us were let go for various other reasons as well. I think it is important to take some time to reflect on your last assignment before taking another position in a church. Reflect on what went right and wrong. Reflect on what you can tolerate and no longer tolerate in the next assignment. If you didn't know, the older you get the more intolerable you get when it comes to certain characteristics of a church job but in the end you love it because it is what God has called you to do.  SO HERE WE GO. 

 The word gets out that you are free and available and here comes the Pastors, Bishops,  Deacons, heads of search committees, music committees, loddy, doddy and everybody calling you inquiring about your availability to come and help with their ministries.  You find yourself in a sea of newness eagerly anticipating the interviews and opportunities that you are now exposed to and often consider the interviews without doing some investigative work first. Here are some suggestions as to what you should consider BEFORE you walk in the door to interview.

1. Who was there before you? You should always try and find out who was there before you and, if possible, talk to that person to get an idea of their perspective of the ministry. There is always to sides to every story so its important to get both sides (The Musicians and The Churches). I recently resigned from a church and the new Minister of Music called me before he took the job and we discussed the pro's and con's of the ministry there so that he would know what he was getting himself into. Pastor's do it all of the time. They call each other and have conversations about you (the musician) before they even talk to you so you should do the same.

2. What kind of Pastor does the church have?  You REALLY need to know what kind of personality the Pastor has before you walk in the door. You absolutely need to know if the persons a very hands-on Pastor or not because if they are, they most likely will be controlling every thing you do. You should ask the previous person who held the job and, if accessible, other Pastors as well about the Pastor you are interviewing with. You will be surprised as to the insight you would receive.

3. What is the financial position of the church? You need to know if the church is bad with their finances for OBVIOUS reasons. lol 

Now!! If you are satisfied with the answers to these questions then you can go into the interview with the next set of questions.

1. Ask the Pastor or leadership, What is your vision or what is the vision of the church? You want to make sure that you can fulfill the needs of the church and its Pastor so get a clear understanding as to where they are trying to go. You need to know if their vision lines up with your spiritual beliefs. WARNING- Keep in mind that visions do change throughout the course of your potential employment that's why its important to know the personality of the Pastor.

2. What is the position entail?  Ask plenty of questions to make sure you get the most accurate answers about what they are asking you to do. KEEP IN MIND that the leadership doesn't always know how to explain there needs so its important that you help them by restating to them your understanding of what they said to you. 

3. What is the pay?  Please understand that, more than likely, whatever you walk in the door with that's what its going to be for a long time or for good. Most churches make promises that they cannot keep to musicians regarding pay raises again for various reasons.

4. What are the benefits? Now you know that most of our churches DO NOT offer benefits to musicians for various reasons but it doesn't hurt to ask. "You have not because you ask not"

5. PAID VACATIONS?  Everybody needs a vacation. You wanna know if the church is willing to supplement that and for how long each year.

6. What is the Music Ministry budget? You defiantly want to know how much they value the music ministry. Value=Money. Anything a church places value on, they will invest money into.

7. Music workshops? Many musicians really deprive themselves by not asking or sometimes demanding that the church pay for there future development as a "Minstrel in the house of the Lord". Pastors have no problem, if the church can afford it, charging the church for their educational development. You should do the same. You should be able to attend local and/or national workshops so that you can be exposed to new music, new experiences and new approaches to music ministry. 

These are some basic questions that everyone, who takes a leadership role in the music ministry, should ask before considering the position. You as the musician know what you can deal with and what you can't. Just know that you are a human beings and not herded cattle and never take a job JUST BECAUSE OF THE MONEY because it will backfire on you. Churches who pay a lot demand a lot. Lastly and most importantly, pray about every potential situation and let the Lord lead you as you go through the various interview processes.  

Phillip Carter

Monday, January 9, 2012

Praise Team Do's and Don'ts

The Praise Team aspect of our modern day worship is here to stay. We have successfully called out a group of our best singers from our choirs and put them out front to lead us in songs of worship. However most of us have resorted to religious jargon that we use to pump our congregations or crowds up which creates a false since of a REAL MOVE OF GOD.  I will be the 1st to admit that I have been guilty of this sometimes myself in an attempt to get the people on one accord. Anyone who leads in worship has to be very careful in the choice of words they use. There is a fine line between a "Leading others in worship" and "Manipulation". We spend to much time trying to manipulate our people into doing what WE think they should be doing under the sound of OUR voices. I submit to you that God's intention for us when we come together is something totally different. The whole purpose of Praise and Worship (which is a lifestyle) is to bring us to a point of total surrender unto God which will allow Him to move.

The effectiveness of Praise and Worship in a congregational setting depends on the understanding of the people involved. Understanding comes from teaching. The teaching comes from the leadership. If  leadership doesn't teach the concept then the concept cannot be applied effectively. Most of our congregations have not been taught to Praise and Worship in a way that ushers in the Glory of God.  Most of us have been taught to react to "Feelings" thus creating an atmosphere where one has to be "Prodded" or "Pumped Up" to do something. All of this leads to some of the carnal comments that are made by Praise Leaders just to get us to participate in something that is supposed to be lovely, refreshing and life-changing.

This leads me to my comments about Praise Leaders. I am one so I am speaking to myself as well. We need to stop using certain catch phrases because they are not working and they create a FALSE atmosphere. While it is our job to lead the people, it is not our job to judge the people. Here are some of the phrases and why you shouldn't use them.

1. "Come on and let ME hear you tell Him that you love Him" or "Come on let Me hear you Praise Him".    Any Phrase with the word "Me" in it is not a phrase that is going to lead the people toward the Glory of God. You are the leader have put yourself in the judgement seat as to whether the congregant is accurately worshiping the Lord or not.

2.  "Touch Your Neighbor and tell them ............"  . This phrase, in my opinion is not a bad phrase as long as you explain the reason for asking someone to touch their neighbor. If I use it I often explain to the congregation that this is an attempt for us to witness to each other or share a brief testimony which is a biblical thing to do and it will get you a greater response. It's when we use it "25" times in one service that makes it ridiculous and totally unnecessary. By no means should you ever ask someone to "Slap Their Neighbor" . If you slap me.............well that's another blog.

3. "Lift up your hands, open up your mouth and Praise Him". This phrase is used by someone every almost every Sunday in many of our churches. Here's the problem "The one making the command is usually the one not doing it" (Lol) . The leader is often watching, standing in a seat of judgement as to whether the congregation is doing what THEY commanded INSTEAD of "leading by example". As the leader YOU should first open up YOUR mouth and bless HIM and then you can encourage others to do so as well as David said "Oh Magnify The Lord With Me" but before he made that statement he gave God a personal praise in the 2 versus before He invited others to join Him in (Psalm 34:1-3).

4. "What's The Highest Praise" and everyone responds "Hallelujah". There is only one problem, I can't find that phrase anywhere in the bible and it also suggests that one has reach their pinnacle in praise to God by merely saying or shouting the word itself. Romans 12:1 states that we should offer our bodies as a living sacrifice which is your reasonable service. With that being the case, then Hallelujah is NOT the "Highest Praise" but rather a High Praise which lines up with bible more accurately ( Psalm 149:1). The Highest Praise unto the Lord is a lifestyle dedicated to him.

5. "When The Praises Go "UP" the Blessings come "DOWN" This is NOT false statement but it is false in how we imply to our congregations that the blessings are mostly material rather than spiritual. It is the spiritual blessings that really come down like Joy, Peace, Self-Control etc. Those are the real benefits of acting upon this phrase, not to say that God will not bless someone materially  because God can do anything. However that should not be the intent(in my opinion) in using this phrase.

These are just a few of the phrases, there are many more. I invite you to comment below on some of the phrases that you hear on Sunday so that we can discuss the meaning.I am attempting to get us to think and pray about how we approach our congregations or audiences. Remember we are lead to "Lead" and not "Command" If you insist on commanding then command yourself to Praise Him and maybe others will catch on based on your example.  Remember "Shepherds" lead sheep, they don't bang them over their heads with chastisement to try and get them to follow.  Have you ever noticed that when "REAL WORSHIP" comes into the room words become obsolete an inadequate.

Note: If you ever need something to say to the people of God in and attempt to create an atmosphere of worship, just use 'The Word". It still works and it will yield greater results then "Catch Phrases"  every time.

Phillip Carter

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Hiring of a Church Musician Vol 1 (From The Church's Perspective)

Music plays such an important role in our worship that hiring the right or wrong Musician, Minister of Music or Director could move your ministry forward or backwards for years (in some cases). Whoever is doing the hiring in your church should have a clear vision on where the ministry God has blessed your church with is going. Without that answer you have no idea who to hire. In most cases, the Pastor has the responsibility to share that vision with the potential candidates.  The Pastor or Leadership should never hire someone just based off of ability or popularity. There should be open dialogue about personal and spiritual things concerning both the Pastor and Musician. Every decision made concerning worship in the church should be a spiritual decision.You (Pastor and/or leadership) should be clear about your expectations, needs and your personality as a leader and/or congregation. You should investigate the spiritual and musical strengths and weaknesses of your potential applicants.

For some this is a whole new level of relationship. Back in the day it was just "I need a musician and this is what  I am or am not paying" and you hired the 1st one available. No talk of vision or ministry. Of course salary/benefits is a major issue. It's important to be open and honest about what you can afford before you waste your time and the interviewees time with frivolous conversation. Musicians/Directors wanna know "How Much". That's not a greedy question. Its a necessary question that often gets answered last (Oh how frustrating). Most musicians, that I know of, really care about the needs of the church but they also wanna know about the payment as well. 

Pastors, Leaders don't hire anyone you are not willing to support and trust as a leader or future leader. You should hire someone that you are going to respect and vice versa. 

Every hire, unless you have previous history with the Musician/Director, should be on a trial (60 to 90 day) period so that if things don't work out you can get out of the arrangement. Sometimes you have to search and pray hard and long for that person(s) to come your way but it's well worth the wait. Just ask the Pastors or Leaders who are happy with their Music Ministry leaders.  They will tell you that the marriage between Pastor and Musician can be wonderful when two are in agreement and operating correctly.

Phillip Carter


God Is Good