Music in Ministry—Creating a Harmonious Vision

Published on: March 14, 2016

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“The devil comes in through the choir loft.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. A New Thought minister was explaining to me why she would never have a choir at her center. “You’ve heard that expression, right?” she continued. “Choirs are hotbeds of dissension and division. Plus, they’re usually not very good.” I did my best to offer my own experience and opinion which was vastly different. By the end of the conversation, neither of us had persuaded the other to their point of view.

I’ve been creating and performing music for the New Thought community for 22 years—17 years as a church music director. I’ve had the honor of speaking and singing at dozens of our spiritual communities and have developed close personal and professional relationships with many ministers and musicians. I wish I could say that the viewpoint expressed in the above conversation was rare, but I find that not to be the case. I continue to find that the “us and them” mentality between ministers and musicians is active and alive in our movement. And it’s not just the ministers, many musicians are polarized in this same way.

Having been on both sides of this apparent divide, I can tell you from both principle and experience that it need not exist at all—that it is truly possible to create a healthy partnership between minister and musician/music director. When it happens, both the music and the message are amplified and strengthened in incredible ways!

 

Get Clear

As a minister or spiritual leader, the first thing to do is get clear. Clear within yourself about what you want in your music program. You might start by just asking that simple question, “What do I want?” Try to think about the essential qualities you’re looking for. What do I want my community to experience during the music? A sense of inspiration? Excitement? Contemplation? Connection? Write down the words that move you the most. This is what you begin to pray for. It’s important to note that this work is about the spiritual vision of the music program for your community. The minister does not simply get to call the shots based upon his or her own taste and preferences.

Alan Cohen says, “Pray for essence, rather than form. Then the form will come from the essence.” As the “vision-caster” for your ministry, you are the one called to do the spiritual work, the “first creation” of your music program. Doing prayer, masterminding or visioning with your board, a prayer partner or ministry team is a great idea. The spiritual power of agreement is immense.

Part of getting clear is to determine whether or not you’ve got the right music person on board. I think it’s always a good idea to try to work with what you have, but at some point you may become clear that it’s just not a fit. I invite you to make the change with kindness and clarity. No musician likes to lose a gig, but those of us on the spiritual path will attest that it always turns out for the best—for everybody involved.

 

Communicate

Once you are clear, you begin to speak the vision to your music director or musicians. Remember, this is vision. At this point in the conversation it is not a list of songs of which you either approve or disapprove. You need to get your music leaders to buy in. Ideally, you are working with gifted and talented musicians who are actively engaged in their own spiritual growth. You want to attract the kind of musicians who are seeking to express their musical gifts in a spiritual setting for the good of the community, not just to get their own applause and paycheck.

I have been teaching music ministry to ministerial students in the Centers for Spiritual Living for a number of years. One of the things I always stress in these classes is the need for ministers to “speak musician.” Talk about the spiritual qualities of your vision but add to your conversation descriptions of the sounds you need to hear or not hear.

One minister was complaining to me that her pianist could never play the way she wanted under her prayer. She had had several conversations with him, explaining the need for the music to support “going within” and “a deep experience.” “He just isn’t getting it!” she said. I said, “Try telling him to play a quarter as many notes and drop the volume by half.” She looked at me a little sideways, but agreed to try. A couple of weeks later she reported that it worked like a charm. She got what she needed once she learned to ask for it in a way that made sense to the musician.

 

Collaborate

As I mentioned earlier, holding the vision for the music ministry is not the same thing as dictating your personal musical taste. For Spirit to really be given freedom to express, we have to check our ego and listen to the ideas of everyone in the room. This quote came across my Facebook feed recently from Daily Dose Quotes: “Collaboration is not about gluing together existing egos. It’s about the ideas that never existed until after everyone entered the room.”

The minister’s job in this relationship is to hold the spiritual space of collaboration. Don’t let it become a battle of wills or a my-way-or-the-highway mentality on either side. Bring your excitement and vision and let your music director know you need them to bring the same. When you create this atmosphere of trust and positivism, you’ll be amazed at how your music program will thrive.

Michael Gott
Senior Associate Minister
Michael Gott, Senior Associate Minister, Unity of Houston, Texas, is ordained by Unity and Centers for Spiritual Living. He has been a New Thought/Positive Music writer and performer for over 20 years. He has recorded 10 albums and speaks and sings across North America and Europe.

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  • Sydney Lehman Steen

    In my 8-plus year collaboration with Rev. Lisa Davis at Unity of Portland,
    our relationship has evolved over time along a path of trial, more
    trial, trust,
    response/feedback/ evolution, partnership and deep respect. It has
    taken time for BOTH of us to trust each other and ourselves.

    I am truly grateful for the professional faith and trust that Rev. Lisa
    has in me, my musical experience and my intuitive choices. She and I
    communicate
    directly and clearly with each other, and without that high level of
    defensiveness that I see in some other churches and ministries. I credit
    a lot of our growth and progress to her insistence that we create a new
    model for leadership that is not solely based
    on the old “top down” tradition. Leadership is action, not position. I
    hold that as part of my own standard and value system.

    Both of us realize that the other DOES know what they are doing! AND we
    recognize that if we collaborate with our best practices and intentions,
    we create something that neither one of us has ever had before in a
    church situation. But it has taken time, compassion,
    patience, and the willingness to risk and try new ideas on both our
    parts.

    We don’t always agree with each other’s point of view, but we always agree
    that Spirit is creating through BOTH of us, and as we stay in alignment
    with
    our own personal spiritual commitments to stay in integrity with
    birthing higher ideas, we are ‘harmonized’ into amazing possibility.

    We have gotten to a really FUN place now! We both cultivate and seek out
    the other’s opinion and sense about what we are doing professionally AND
    personally.
    Trust develops over time. And when the root intention is to actually
    build and celebrate trust, everything else lines up to support that.
    Imagine that!!

    Sydney Lehman Steen

    Music Director Unity of Portland

    P.S.
    YES, this IS a Music Ministry. And now that I actually have become a
    minister, the inner shift within myself has created an even more
    profoundly joyful experience for everyone
    at our church.