Sometimes computers stink.

I’m sure you know this, but I like to state the obvious.

We bought some software for our church to help us monitor Internet usage throughout our networked system. Once downloaded, the Internet stops working. There is no need to monitor the Internet if it doesn’t work once you download the program you purchased to monitor it…what makes sense about this?

I also tried to help another church member today. Most video cameras are designed to work with most computers with little or no effort. For some reason, this guy’s camera, when connected to the computer, would not recognize the video. It’s not a connection issue…the USB device manager confirms it…plus, it can get to the pictures on the SD card with no problem. But the video? Not possible. Now grant it, it’s only using USB 2.0, but it should still work for video. So, I had to take his camera to work and use my computer via IEEE1384 (Firewire) to get the video off the camera. But, it’s done.

Computers can be great and are most of the time. But sometimes I wonder what ministry would be like if we never had them. Well, I guess I did get the opportunity to minister to this guy by helping him with his project. And I guess it is good for all the staff to have computers that connect to the vast amount of resources on the Internet. So I should probably stop complaining before my computer shuts down on me.

How do you use your computer? In ministry? In home finances? Just for internet? Are you like a lot of Gen Xers who don’t even have TVs anymore and watch their TV via their computer? Let me know. Just for the fun of it.

Organist Job Description – for our church, anyway

The last 6 or 7 posts, I’ve talked about my job as minister of music – what each day normally entails. It talks about everything from listening to 10 or 12 songs to find one good one, to taking 2 to 4 hours to plan the average worship service, to the amount of time practicing to be ready to lead those services. One thing not mentioned in any of those posts is the tremendous amount of help I get from my organist to make all that happen (we’ve even tried to get his title changed and pay increased to reflect his true status of Assistant Minister of Music).

When he read those previous posts mentioned above, he asked about sharing what he does on a weekly basis (normally). So, below, you’ll find his words – all I did was cut and paste, no editing at all.

So, meet Joe, the Assistant Minister of Music/Organist at my church:

My Job (Ministry) at FBC – Joe Jossey

 

I was having a conversation with a member of the choir a couple of weeks ago, and somehow the topic went to the anthem planned for the following Sunday.  I was elaborating on what I had done with the anthem as far as arranging it for the organ.  Her comment was, “That’s a lot of work.”  I got to thinking about what I do on a weekly basis as organist.  I also had been reading Bobby’s blog entries of what he does on a weekly basis.  People simply do not realize how much work goes into planning and preparing for worship, week in and week out.

 

I am at the church most every day.  Probably the most obvious thing the organist does is provide the service music (preludes, offertories, postludes).  When possible, I try to fit these to the theme of the service.  Even though I own several hundred books of organ music, I am constantly on the lookout for new, fresh service music, so as not to repeat the same things over and over.  And it goes without saying that the music must be practiced.  It just takes a lot of time to search out and find appropriate music, then get it to an acceptable level of proficiency.

 

There are times when Bobby will ask me to help with worship planning, sometimes he’ll ask me to do the whole service – however, mostly he does the services.  We talk about what needs to happen.  I look at the various selections to see where transitions are needed and where they are not; what songs may need an introduction (I try never to just play the first and last lines, but do something a little more creative); and what might need to be arranged for our small orchestra.  Then I get to work creating transitions and introductions.  I usually just start playing.  Sometimes something happens quickly.  More often, I will play for a half hour or so before I hit on something that I think really works.  Then I need to write it down so I don’t forget it.  (Bobby has graciously introduced me to FINALE, the music writing software, and provided me a computer in the choir room.  I do a lot of the work on that, so he can look at what I’m doing.  I continue to be grateful to him for that.)  Sometimes I write the hymn intros for piano, organ and orchestra, sometimes piano and organ, sometimes just organ.  Anyway, all this just takes time.

 

Then there are anthems.  Usually I will listen to the demo CD (sometimes Bobby and I listen together and make notes, sometimes individually), and try to come up with the “extras” that a complete orchestra would provide.  My goal is to not play the same thing the piano is doing.  Our organ is MIDI-equipped, so I can do strings, etc., from the console when needed.  Sometimes I just make notes in the piano score.  Sometimes I do a complete “orchestra reduction” to use on the organ.

 

Another part of my work is playing the keyboard in our praise band.  I spend time listening to CD’s, figuring out what sounds to use (B3, piano, strings, pad, etc.), then either writing out music or making notes in chord charts to play from.  People realize that I read music, but many seem surprised to learn that a good bit of what I do, especially in the praise band, is by ear.  I think being able to do both is a very valuable asset to any musician.

 

In addition to the above, there are special services to prepare for.  Sometimes difficult classical music must be learned for Christmas, Easter, and other services.  As with all choir music, arranging usually needs to be done, which involves much listening and writing.  And being a classically trained organist, I have a deep-down need to play Bach, Handel, and (of course) the Widor toccata, so I work on those as well.

 

Occasionally, I have weddings and funerals to prepare and play for.  And occasionally I accompany the high school chorus and the community chorus.  Sometimes high school band members will ask me to accompany GHP auditions.  Bobby does handbell and euphonium performances occasionally, and I accompany those.  I thoroughly enjoy the challenge of accompanying, even though it takes a lot of practice.  One of my recent highlights was accompanying a local college music major for her senior voice recital.  Now that was a challenge!

 

Sunday is roughly an 8-hour day for me.  I get to the church no later than 6 AM and leave around 12:30 PM.  Then there are a couple of hours later for evening activities.  Weekdays usually involve a couple of hours after school teaching piano lessons (training the next generation), discussing various things with Bobby, and practicing.  However, my most meaningful and rewarding time is Saturday mornings.  I get to the church between 5:30 and 6:00 AM, and put the finishing touches on Sunday’s worship (and practice other stuff, too).  Just having things to the point where I’m doing run-throughs, it’s a real time of worship for me.  Nobody else is at the church, just me.  I’m usually there until around 9:30 or 10:00.  It’s really a highlight of my week.

 

As you read this, keep in mind that my organist job is a secondary one.  I am a high school art teacher.  I do feel God led me to this particular career to give me some extra time during the year to devote to music.  However, I love what I do, and I’m very thankful for the opportunities I have been given.

 

 

 

SYNOPSIS:

  1. Select and practice service music.
  2. Assist in planning worship when needed.
  3. Transitions and introductions (work on the flow of the service).
  4. Arranging choir anthems and other music for organ.
  5. Communicate with Kim and Linda (and others as needed).
  6. Praise band music (listen, figure out).
  7. Recitals, weddings, funerals, and other special musical events.
  8. Teach piano lessons.
  9. High school and community chorus events.
  10. Conferences, lessons, etc. (not a lot, but there)

Music Ministry Ups and Downs

This is sort of a further expounding upon my last 6 posts – a topic not fully covered in any of them. It is also a response to a blogger friend of mine who was facing a tough day.

Music ministry is not all roses and puppies. I’m sorry, but it’s not. Anyone who tells you it is always great, always perfect, always full of happiness, well…they’re lying to you.

Now, don’t get me wrong here. There are great days. And honestly, there are usually more great days than otherwise. Even in the roughest of church positions, the good usually outweighs the bad. That only happens when your attitude is right. An attitude that lets things roll off your back. An attitude that says, “I’m going to make the best I can out of this.” An attitude that looks at the glass half full instead of half empty. An attitude that looks for the silver lining in every cloud…I’m out of cliches. A wise man, Chuck Swindoll, once said,

“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, the education, the money, than circumstances, than failure, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company… a church… a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice everyday regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past… we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. And so it is with you… we are in charge of our Attitudes.”

 

So, I challenge you to have this positive attitude no matter what. And…you can only get that through a strength of faith in two central biblical truths: 1. God is Good and 2. God is in Control. A true understanding of those two truths will help you have a more positive attitude.

 

But…even when the good outweighs the bad…you still have to deal with the bad stuff. In a former church, I once had the chairmen of the deacons ask to meet with me. It took him about 20 minutes to get to his point, even though I knew exactly where he was going from his first statement. His summary and challenge to me was this, “The people who give the most money to this church don’t like the music you do each Sunday and want you to change it to what we want.” (Those aren’t his exact words, it was a long time ago…but you get the idea.) I had to bow up a little and respond, “You know Mr.X, I’m not here just to minister to those with money. I’ve got the challenge to meet everyone’s needs, rich or poor, this race or that, this status or that status. All deserve the opportunity to worship in the way that best suits them. The way you propose leaves out at least half of our congregation.” – or something like that. Needless to say, that wasn’t so good of a day.

 

Another church, with many rumblings underneath, finally agreed with me that some changes needed to take place in their worship leadership and general music ministry attitude. However, they said, “We realize some changes need to take place, we just don’t feel like we can make those changes with you here. We can afford to cover your salary and benefits for three more months. You can choose to remain on staff and work those months out or take a two week notice and receive those three months as severance.” Ouch…bad day.

 

I had one person say I was the rudest person they had ever met. Not a good day. Another accuse me of being “unapproachable” – I’m not sure where that came from. There was a heart-wrenching decision to cancel a program we had begun work on simply because there weren’t enough people involved to pull it off. I’ve had some Sunday’s where I didn’t recall making it through a single song without making a mistake (or multiple mistakes). Other Sundays where I felt that no one understood what I was trying to do. And other Sundays where I really had to struggle to remind myself that I’m worshipping God, not being entertainment for the crowd that seems so bored.

 

Bottom line…bad stuff happens. Bad days come. It’s time for an attitude check. With the right attitude about God, life, your job, your family, etc…you can have a more joyful existence. Give it a chance.

Practical Help, part 6 – my Free Time (Told you I’d get to that)

Some of you who are ministers will immediately ask, “What is Free Time?” That’s a very good question, but honestly, free time is, for me, something I almost have to plan into my schedule. If I don’t plan some free time in to my normal schedule, some things would never get done.

First of all, here are some of the things I do with free time. I subscribe to a plethora of music services. These services are mostly for choir anthems, but some are for other ensembles, and some are for new worship music. These “preview packs” normally come in this big packet about the size of a small to medium pizza box. Included in those packets are numerous individual anthems, song books, collections, and various sundry of fliers about special promotions and sales. I usually get one or two of those every other month or so.

The problem with this is that it’s like using a shotgun to kill a flea. I have to wade through all of those pieces to find, on average, one or two usable things in each box. That just simply is time consuming and there is no way around it.

I will also use free time to dream big. I think about projects that are a year or more away. For example, I usually know by June or so what we’re going to be doing for Christmas (the staff joke about that all the time). I don’t come to that by accident. It is several months of peering through all those preview packs and thinking about the possibilities, hindrances, and alternatives. The big picture is usually gotten to at least 6 months before a production takes place…on average. Dreaming takes time. You’ve got to find time to do this.

I use free time to talk with people about various things. I’ll chat with other staff pastors about ideas of ministry. I might have a phone conversation with a former associate about different things. I’ll sometimes call people within my ministry to catch up (a little more personal than the more often email).

Sometimes I’ll just sit at the piano or grab my guitar and start playing a few chords to see if God blesses me with a new song. This is a great use of time. What better way for God to speak to a musician than through music? I came to my version of Psalm 63 and the rewriting of “I Surrender All” by taking these times to just sit and listen.

You can see the plethora of possibilities that free time can encompass.

Secondly, why free time is important. These things aren’t a part of normal, every day music ministry. But they are things that are a part of the overall job. Whenever you run across even just a few moments, take them, enjoy them, use them to bring glory to God.

God Bless.

Practical Help, Part 5 – my Fridays

Friday…TGIF (Thank Goodness It’s Friday). I tend to look forward to Fridays. Weird? …maybe a little.

Fridays are days to get to things I haven’t been able to get to in the normal week. You can find what I do on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday by clicking on each day.

I usually keep a running “To Do” list on my desk. If you came in my office, you would see a legal pad filled top to bottom (most days) with a “To Do” list. That list is formulated primarily on Mondays, but sometimes on Fridays too. It is modified every day: as things get accomplished, they get marked off; as new ideas arise, new items are added to the list. It is a hugely beneficial tool for me to keep ahead of the game. I tend to be one of those people – and I say it all the time – “If I don’t write it down, expect me to forget it.” I have to write everything down. Funny thing is, when I write some stuff, I never have to look at it again…just writing it down helps me remember it.

Anyway, Fridays are days to try and clean up my “To Do” list.

One of my other major duties on Friday is our church website. When I came on staff, I wound up being the most computer literate of everyone here…barely. And when I say that, I’m not talking like an I.T. guy kind of literate. I just happen to know just a little bit more than others here. That, coupled with my meager graphic design abilities (see my work here), I became the all-important “Web Master”…sounds like a super hero. Not really, just the keeper upper of the church’s website. I try to help other ministries use their portion of the site to its utmost. I try to keep the home page clean and up to date. I try to keep random old pictures from hogging all the bandwidth or the server space. Anyway, I usually try to spend at least a couple of hours on the website. Sometimes more is required depending on the graphic needs. And, honestly, our website is capable of infinitely more…but that would require my full-time attention…but I’m just the music minister and can’t warrant more time.

Another thing a lot of my Friday is devoted to is practice. God has given me a lot of musical abilities on a plethora of instruments. Those don’t just happen, they are cultivated. That process of cultivation…well, that mean practice. Last week, we did a new song in our service called Isaiah 6 by Todd Agnew. When the speaker told me of his sermon topic and a little about where he was headed with it, I immediately thought of this song and knew it had to be in the worship service. Because of the lateness of adding this to the service (sr. pastors – this is why we music ministers need more notice on sermon topics and ideas…we’ve got to practice this stuff), I had to spend about 3 or 4 hours in practice of this song (plus another one or two in the service I needed to work on). I also came back to the church on Saturday and worked for another 3 hours or so on this music. So…music ministers, don’t forget to hone your skills. Psalm 33:3 implores us to “Play Skillfully…” Don’t settle for average…work at your skill and make it better. Even if it’s only 30 minutes a week, use that time to get better at it…even if you’re just a vocalist…practice, practice, practice.

Side note: please don’t fall into the “practice-makes-perfect” trap. A former church of mine, would practice for Sunday worship times for hours and hours and hours to make it sound exactly like a CD. A perfectly performed worship set is nothing compared to a heart of worship. After David said “Create in me a clean heart” in Psalm 51, he said, “God, I can offer you sacrifices; I can offer you burnt offerings, and you would not receive them. But the offering you will receive is a broken heart and a contrite (humble, sorrowful) spirit.” Is that what you bring in worship?

Another thing I do on Fridays…and did today…I try to catch up on some reading. Today, I read several articles in WorshipLeader Magazine (Nov/Dec 2008). I was honestly quite humbled and challenged and have reconsidered many things I do as a worship leader. In this particular magazine they also review new worship songs, Christian CDs, books (fiction and non-fiction), movies, and – most helpful – tech gear (mics, preamps, lighting, sound boards, instruments, etc.) Those peer reviews are tremendously helpful in any thoughts about any purchase of the sort.

So, Fridays are great days for me. I feel like at the end of an average Friday, I’m able to say, “I accomplished everything I set out to do this week.” That is a refreshing feeling. It also helps when I arrive on Sunday to be clear-minded for worship and worship leadership.

Practical Help, part 4 – my Thursdays

Thursday … for me … a relief. Not because I hate my job…I certainly don’t. Not because I want to get away from my job…I don’t (I sometimes feel the need to be at work on Thursdays because of the amount of work to be done)…but Thursday is a relief for me because it is my day off.

I will admit that there is a little guilt for this particular day off. I had a seminary professor that told us to never take Thursdays as our day off. We ask people to give their Wednesday evenings to us, the church, and service to God. Most, if any, of them don’t get Thursday off. If we, as music ministers take Thursday off, we send a bad message.

I really used to believe that…and part of me still believes part of it. However, with multiple staff at my church we have to choose our day off based on everyone else’s schedule. When I first came on staff, the Sr. Pastor and Education Pastor both had Fridays off which meant me and the Youth Pastor had Thursdays off so we could be in the office on Fridays. So, not really a choice there. When the Education Pastor left, in the interim, I tried to take Fridays off, coming in to the office on Thurdays. Wednesdays are so taxing mentally and physically (see previous post), it made me a zombie on Thursdays at work. I couldn’t get much of anything done.

So, Thursdays are days of rest, refreshment, and renewal. I used to not plan anything for Thursdays. I looked forward to the days when my wife was out of the home on assignment (her job lets her be home some days and not others)…those days were completely quiet. I could sleep late. I could eat junk food. I could go out to fast food for lunch. I could play XBOX all day (which can often be a quite satisfactory stress reliever). Now, with the birth of our daughter in December, I want nothing more than to spend my day off with my wife and her. That’s my stress relief.

Yesterday, we went to Athens. I will admit, part of it was work related. I needed to get some song books spiral bound at Kinko’s. By the way, if you’re a music minister, this is a great inexpensive tool…take your song book, along with your accompanists, and get them spiral bound at Kinko’s. It is only about 5 bucks per book. You know how the books don’t lay flat on your stand and you can’t see part of the page without holding it down…especially when the book is brand new before getting “broke in”? It’s even worse for your accompanist…you have gravity helping you with your book staying “somewhat” opened…their books are a beast to try and play, turn pages, keep it open, etc. By using this service of Kinko’s, the books are so much more manageable. Trust me, you will want to do this for every song book you own.

Anyway, that was part of the reason for going to Athens. We enjoyed the day out of the house with our daughter…though we’re still getting used to that whole thing. She’s only four weeks old today, so almost everything is still new.

My encouragement to you is to take seriously your day off. It is so important for us as leaders to be rested and relaxed. It helps us as we relate to people, as we try to dream for down-the-road possibilities, when we must sit down and plan those around-the-corner events and services…being rested is a huge advantage in this job. Don’t miss the opportunity to do so. Also, don’t forget that your family is your first priority. Use those times away from your job as family time. A friend of mine calls those days “Family Fun Days”…what can you do with your family in those times?

Tomorrow, I will post on my normal Fridays. It is sort of a “hodge-podge” day for me…but I plan it that way.

Practical Help, Part 3 – My Wednesdays

Okay…so today is not Thursday, it’s Friday. I’ll explain more later. Yesterday, I should have posted on what my Wednesdays look like…so that will be the topic of this post. Two days ago, I posted on the average Tuesday in my schedule.

Wednesday is usually my busiest day of the week – including Sundays. Any of you music ministers that have Sunday be your busiest day, I implore you to try to work out something different. God calls us to have a Sabbath, based on His example in the first few verses of Genesis 2. Now I understand that we still have to “work” on Sundays, but that should be as stress-free and “un-work-like” as possible. Remember that we should come to God as worshipers, as His children, before we come to Him as worship leaders.

So, back to Wednesdays…I normally come in to the office a little later on Wednesdays since I am here until about 9 pm in the evening. If your church will allow you, this is a great help to your sanity. But this past week, I just began a new opportunity on my Wednesday morning – continuing every Wednesday. The local band director asked me to come and help with his low-brass section. Since I have almost 20 years of playing a low-brass instrument, not to mention many band camp leadership opportunities over the years, this was a no-brainer for possible ministry to the High School Band. I will do that from 8 to 9:30 am every Wednesday and on most Fridays as well.

I would normally come in to the office at noon. From that point, I go over the evening’s worship service plans and make sure I have all my music together, practice anything I need to practice, and think through logistics of getting up to the stage, who does welcome and offertory times, any prayer time leaders, computer and sound system notes, etc…just anything that could potentially cause any sort of logistical traffic jam or awkward and unplanned silence (sometimes planned silence speaks louder than any song could).

Of course, being an email-centric ministry in how I communicate, I spend some time writing and answering emails.

Probably the biggest chunk of my normal Wednesday is choir prep. I spend a few hours trying to organize my choir rehearsal. Those of you that don’t understand church choir and its role in worship leadership may not understand how difficult it is to bring it all together. Your average school choir (High School or College) spends an hour or so every day of the week for a whole semester on maybe 12 to 15 songs (in preparation for their semester concert). As a result, your average 16 week semester, with 4 hours a week (taking into account various conflicts throughout the semester), those 15 anthems get about 4 hours worth of work on each anthem (on average). In a church choir, we prepare about the same number of anthems in a 16 week period in 1 hour a week rehearsals. And those anthems have to be ready in 1 week increments. While preparing those anthems for weekly service usage, we are also normally working on a cantata of some sort (Easter or Christmas Musicals and the like). Each of those cantatas contain about 10 to 12 pieces. This totals approximately 28 pieces in a 16 week time frame. This equals about 30 minutes of rehearsal per piece. This also means we must work on a multitude of pieces in every rehearsal to be looking ahead…normally around 6 pieces per rehearsal.

So, what I must do in rehearsal planning is decide how best to use our hour that evening. In doing so, I must always continue to remember and understand what pieces we have worked and what pieces remain to be worked. For me, it works best to take each piece in sections…work verse 1 this week, the chorus next week, verse 2 the following week, the ending the next week, etc. So knowing which parts of any given anthem have been worked is also to be considered. As you can see, without proper care and maintenance, this plan of attack could fail miserably in its confusion.

On top of my responsibility to be prepared for these rehearsals, I also have to deal with volunteers who may or may not come based on their sicknesses, job responsibilities, family issues, etc. When you miss one rehearsal, we may never have the time to cover those particular sections of those particular anthems again. On top of that, with only one rehearsal for one hour every week, the average volunteer choir has a tremendous difficulty remembering these musical teachings from week to week. No offence to anyone in my current ministry, they do a great job with this, but you can see the constant uphill battle, every week, every month, every year. I read this and wonder why I love it so much 🙂

So, that’s what happens during the work day on Wednesdays. Around 4:30 or so, I leave to get something for dinner and to separate myself from the church for a mental moment or two. I’m back at 5:30 for a rehearsal with my awesome praise band. We have a worship service at 6:30 and a really great choir comes together for rehearsal at 7:30 (more often 7:40). We dismiss around 8:45 and I finally get home around 9.

That’s an average Wednesday. Having fun yet?