On the job training

Being an interim worship leader is an “interesting” job, especially if you do it more than once, like I have. Each assignment is different, and not always good in the traditional sense of the word. But each time is a learning experience and faith-building experience.

As an interim you are often a scapegoat/catchall for the things the previous Music Minister did wrong or did badly, or are taken to task because you don’t do things the exact same way the old person did. What almost makes the situation comical is when the previous Music Minister left under bad conditions or because he split the church or wouldn’t/couldn’t/didn’t work with the pastor, and people STILL castigate you for not doing things the way he did. He could have had cloven hoofs, a forked tail and horns and people would still want what they had before.

The only thing I can compare it to is when a woman has been abused repeatedly, until she finally escapes from the relationship, and the first thing she does is hook up with another abuser. It’s all she knows. As bad as it was, it’s what she is comfortable with on some level. I have been in churches where this has been the situation.

Members of the praise team will rail against the previous Music Minister, but when you do anything different – change a key, change a chord, double or eliminate a chorus or bridge – they get their back up because that’s “not how we do it.”

I have come in after a Music Minister has abused the praise team by directly or indirectly telling them that unless they perform the music exactly as it sounds on a specific recording, they are doing it wrong and they are not worshiping. I have told them that no matter how we do it, we are doing it right when we play and sing from our hearts in worship of our Creator.

You give your heart to a congregation, knowing that you won’t be staying there forever, and often for ridiculously low pay. That’s something I would really like to see changed in churches: you have budgeted for the Music Minister’s salary, so why not give it to the interim who is working really hard to keep your programs together and even grow them?

You pay the “real” Minister of Music $45-$60K a year, but you pay the interim $300 a week. I worked a year at that pay, and I never missed a Sunday morning, a Sunday night or a Wednesday choir rehearsal. The new Minister of Music came in at $72K a year and practically the first thing he did was take a vacation.

I know, it’s petty and small to make money an issue, but I did not take a vow of poverty when I answered the call to enter church music full time. I have bills, and I have school to pay for, and I have insurance to pay for out of my own pocket, and I have a retirement fund I would love to have someone else put money into.

Churches: when you hire an interim, pay them what they are worth! When they work full time, pay them for it. Don’t decide that it’s the perfect time to use that money that you’re not paying the Music Minister to do some renovations or upgrades. Pay the man – or woman – who is giving their all to keep your programs afloat. Would your senior pastor or your education minister or your youth minister work for $300 a week? Then why should I? The average unemployment insurance benefit is $292 a week according to the Department of Labor. I have also done some short fill-in stints for as little as $100 a week when I only had to be there on Sunday, but even then a chunk was eaten up by gasoline for the 100-mile round trip drive.

I love what I do, and I know I am called to it, and interim work is a great way to gain experience and let the Lord and other pastors teach you, but it can also harden your heart if you’re not careful. Whether it’s a good experience or a bad experience, it is on the job training, and it is definitely an education in and of itself.

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