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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.





  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)

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