Can we get a life over here?

by vernsanders on June 9, 2009

To paraphrase an old country tune: “It’s moving time again…”

This is the season when a considerable number of church musicians find themselves “leavin’…on a jet plane…” and they know they won’t be comin’ back again. At Creator (did I mention I’m the publisher?), because our readership is so large, I routinely hear from people who’ve been let go, and not always for financial reasons (isn’t it wonderful that confidence in the economy is beginning to be sensed…as almost any financial advisor will tell you, people’s perception is the single most significant factor in economic prognostication…).

I’ve recently read another heartfelt outpouring of grief from a person doing music ministry. Now I hate to disappoint those who expect me to point fingers, but the circumstances are not the point. It is the frequency of the groaning that, continues to hold my attention. Loyal, talented, spiritually grounded worship leaders are walking away from the upheaval that has become worship ministry.

Oftentimes it is “traditional” (let’s see, how many out there immediately painted a mental picture of a white male “choir director,” over 50, in a denominational church, “left of center”) person who simply can’t adapt to the new technical, technological, and emotional versus intellectual demands of “seeker sensitive” worship.

Sometimes it is a “worship leader” (OK, let’s play the game again…in his twenties, full head of hair, plays a stack of electronic keyboards, writes his own tunes, serves in a “community” church that was recently “planted”) who turns out to be way ahead of the congregational curve (often this means “too loud”).

More and more it is a “long- time part-time” Minister of Music (let’s see, we’re getting good at this game now…a woman, early forties, who is the choir director at the local high school, clearly the “best musician” in town, and well-connected in the community) who finally gives up trying to balance the increasing demands of  the church “job” (I’m leaving pastor/musician relationships out of this at the moment) with the reality of having a life away from the church campus and the tyranny of the 24 hour day.

Time continues to be a real crisis in music ministry. As Bob Burroughs so eloquently refers to it, time is the most important “currency” now. I had a conversation with a friend in the financial industry this week, and he opined that the jobs we are losing in the US economy (anybody know a GM employee? Give them a hug…they probably need it…) are, to a large extent due to the shift from “making things” to “sitting at a computer”…all day… If enough of us don’t make things, eventually there is nothing to sell…

oops…sorry…don’t want to go down that rabbit hole right now…

Those who do worship ministry, particularly the part-timers, have, if they’ve kept up, become increasingly productive through the use of time management, computer technology, and experientially understanding how not to re-invent the wheel. Unfortunately, along comes something to “change” the dynamic—a new pastor/staff member, a new worship service, a financial crisis, a building project, but most often, frankly, the ministry’s own success borne growth—and the system hits overload. Now because the worship ministry person (fill in your own picture here) has been able to “do it all” for so long, and because the church, as an institution, changes ever so slowly,  etc., the expectation is that the person will just suck it up and give another couple of hours a week “off the clock” out of love, devotion, whatever…

But then there is that 24 hour problem. At a certain point, the money is not worth the time. And then, you guessed it, another groan escapes…
quite literally…This is not a matter of burnout…or even of equal pay for equal work, although I suspect that at some level both are true. It, rather, is about having a life, and the time to enjoy it. We’re losing good people over it.

*An earlier version of these sentiments appeared as an editorial in the Mar/Apr 2000, issue of Creator magazine

{ 1 trackback }

Can we get a life…revisited
June 11, 2009 at 8:40 am

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Carolyn Wallace June 10, 2009 at 7:54 am

Add me to the list of those whose hours and salary have been cut in half. Here it is due to the hiring of a 25 year old “Director of Modern Worship” with one college degree not in music or worship. My job now is to do everything that I did in 40 hours/week in 20 hours/week. This will be interesting.

Jerry August 11, 2009 at 9:06 am

You know when you have burn-out when you do not enjoy Saturday because it is the day before Sunday. Knowing you must face a Pastor who wants you gone and a congregation that is not sure why they are there, except that it is the Bible belt and “everyone” goes to church on Sunday. Especailly those who are in a 1960′s time warp.
I know, I sound like the old Mark Lowry line…..Bitter, party of one, your table is ready. HA

vernsanders August 12, 2009 at 5:38 pm


Thanks for the post. The corollary, particularly in this economy, is working so hard that you can never get it all done. One of the trends in churches these days is for long-serving pastors to get a sabbatical, much like an academic. The truly enlightened churches understand that staff members need a break as well, and sabbaticals can provide new perspective and a refreshed staff members. The difficulty is, though, that not every church can manage the financial, logistical, and emotional aspects of sabbatical, even though the concept is Biblical.

Previous post:

Next post: