How To Replace A Music Minister

Not every church needs a full-time paid music minister. (Some reasons yours may not.)

We don’t have one of those at our church. Instead, we have created an all-volunteer system that has served us well. Results may vary. Here’s the nitty gritty.

Positions With Descriptions

Leader of worship leaders: That’s me. I’m an unpaid volunteer serving no more than 5 hours on the busiest week. My job is narrowly focused on two things:

  • 1. Teaching the leaders how to lead both music and a team of volunteers. This includes helping them with conflict resolution, rehearsing a band, correcting and encouraging volunteers, choosing songs each week, choosing keys…and crossing other bridges together when we get to them.)
  • 2. Creating and maintaining our priorities and processes. I collaborate with the other leaders on this, but ultimately it’s my responsibility. More on what those priorities and processes are later.

Worship leaders: Including me, we have five volunteer worship leaders in rotation. These individuals choose the songs and lead the rehearsal when it’s their turn. Four of these leaders also sing. The fifth plays electric guitar instead and turns the vocal duties over to other volunteers. I meet monthly with our worship leaders.

Worship Administrator: This is the most important position. Sully, our worship admin is a gifted drummer and also very organized. (Don’t even try to replicate this system of ours without a likable organized great communicator as your admin.) He sends and receives a lot of communication between the leaders and the volunteers. He schedules all volunteers, is responsible for setting up sound equipment and lyric slides. He makes sure all charts are correct and waiting for every player and leader when rehearsal begins.He also oversee our slide operators and sound techs. This is an eight hour per week paid position. (I have no idea how he does so much with so little time.)

This team works well together because our pastor and elders have given us the authority and freedom to lead. We feel trusted and empowered.

The Priorities

The first thing I did as the new leader was determine our priorities. We have only two priorities:

  • 1. Truth. Everything we sing and say must be true. A great song isn’t great if every line of it isn’t true.
  • 2. Participation. We want to eliminate all barriers to participation. Lyrics are correct and changed on time, keys are within hymn range (D to D), sound isn’t distracting or offensive, there are no tryouts so anyone who wants to serve will be given that opportunity, etc.

Just as important is what did not make the list of priorities. As a musician I’d love to be creative. But creativity is not on our list. It comes only after truth and participation and never to their detriment. These two priorities supersede all other personal preferences and agendas.

Before The Processes

I inherited a team of volunteers I didn’t know well. We gathered them and got their feedback on what it had been like to serve in our church’s music ministry in the past. What we learned was disheartening – It was hard to be a volunteer at our church sometimes. Volunteering meant saying yes indefinitely, with no end in sight. Musicians often didn’t have charts in their hands until Sunday morning, and those charts were frequently incorrect. Musicians almost never heard the songs before showing up to rehearse them. They were sometimes embarrassed by how badly they sounded, frequently feeling unprepared. Some volunteers had quit and were considering volunteering again but wanted assurances that things would be different this time. Others perceived the praise team as an exclusive club only the best could join.

This candid feedback greatly influenced the creation of the following processes. We wanted to make serving in music ministry open to and easy for all.

The Processes

We have two processes. One for recruiting and retaining volunteers and another for putting each weekly church service together.

Volunteer Process

  • We ask people to volunteer for only six months at a time. I read some research years ago that proved volunteers last longer and work harder when their commitment is not open-ended.
  • Before volunteering, we ask those who are interested to pray and talk through the commitment with their family. That commitment has four parts: 1.They will spend time reading scripture, listening to and talking with God every day – not just Sunday (I provide resources on how to do this and offer to meet with them personally about this as well). 2.Church will be treated as a family and not a gig – be there even when you’re not serving. 3.Use your words to build up and not tear down, receiving critique and correction from leaders with humility and not critiquing or correcting others unless you’re asked to do so. 4. Come to rehearsal prepared by practicing your part in advance. Band rehearsal is not for learning individual parts; it is for putting everyone’s practiced parts together.
  • We put this commitment in writing. If a volunteer wants to make that six month commitment they let the worship admin know.
  • I do not persuade anyone to volunteer or try to talk them out of quitting. We trust them to make the best decision for them and their family and we simply let them know the door is open if they ever they change their mind. Life has its seasons so we extend grace to those who are unable to serve in this season.
  • We do not have tryouts. But, we have new volunteers watch one rehearsal. If, after watching, they’d like to give playing or singing a shot, we put them on the schedule for one Sunday. After that Sunday the leaders and I discuss any problems we saw – not just with their ability, but primarily their attitude. If there are no red flags, the volunteer is a part of the team for the next six months.
  • The worship admin asks each volunteer for their availability, how often they’d like to serve, and then creates and communicates each volunteer’s schedule to the volunteers and leaders.
  • We’re always looking for new leaders – people who can communicate with confidence and clarity, can choose and arrange songs, can lead a rehearsal and model Christian character. When we see a volunteer with leadership potential, we give them opportunities to hone those skills (leading music at retreats, prayer meetings, etc). I help them learn from those experiences. Eventually, I ask them to become a leader.
  • I’ve asked our best musicians at each instrument to serve as “section leaders.” These individuals are available to potential volunteers who want to improve their musicianship before deciding to volunteer. The section leaders can also help current volunteers at their instrument. This rarely happens, but the help is available if a musician asks for it.

We currently have eight vocalists, three drummers, two bass players, three keyboardists, three electric players and one banjo master. But we didn’t start out that way. We attracted musicians because we created a process for recruiting, supporting and keeping them healthy.

Weekly Service Process

  • The leader for the week sends the worship admin a list of songs on Tuesday – along with roadmaps and keys. Example: How Great Is Our God (key:G) V1-C-V2-C-B-C-C
  • The leader also determines when other elements – such as communion and offering – will take place. If the pastor has a preference about songs or the placement of elements, he contacts the worship leader for that week.
  • The worship admin creates a web page where the mp3s and charts for each song can be downloaded. He sends the order of service, with a link to this webpage, to volunteers and elders and our pastor on Wednesday.
  • The worship admin creates the lyric slides, prints song charts and places them in folders we’ll use in rehearsal.
  • Musicians and crew set up Sunday morning in time to start rehearsing at 7:30. First service starts at 9:45.
  • After rehearsal, ten minutes before the service starts., the worship leader talks through the service flow with the musicians, pastor and head usher. He or she makes note of who will start each song, how each transition between songs will be handled, when communion and offering will take place, etc.

Choosing Songs

Anyone in the church can suggest a new song to any leader. We’re open.

In our monthly leadership meetings we choose which new songs we’ll introduce to the church. This is a decision we make together and we don’t all have to like a song for it to be added. But we never add a song that isn’t true or that we think our congregation won’t participate in singing.

We add only one new song each month. If we’re unsure if a song will work, we’ll sing it during the offertory. Then we talk about how that went and decide whether it will be added.

When a new song is added, we sing it two weeks in a row. This assures that at least half of our congregation will have heard it.

The worship admin maintains an online catalog of songs and we’re going through that catalog now in our monthly leadership meetings to delete songs we inherited years ago that none of us have been choosing to put to use. Again, this is a group conversation. I merely facilitate and focus it around our priorities.

Doing “Ministry”

Some music ministers have already contacted me saying, “But what about ministry?” Essentially, what they mean by “ministry” is spending time with people when they’re hurting, discipling people who want to learn, encouraging those who are struggling, lending a hand in any way needed. Who does these things at our church if we don’t have a full-time paid music minister? We all do.

Two of our volunteers experienced the loss of a child in the last year. I sent out emails to all our volunteers letting them know about the tragedies, encouraging them to pray and serve these families. Our volunteers wrote cards, made visits, delivered meals and hugged and cried a lot. So did our full-time paid pastors, and our volunteer small group leaders, and dozens of just regular church members who love these families.

Got Questions?

I’m writing this post primarily because I’m asked all the time how we “do worship” at our church. It’s much easier to email somebody this link than try to explain all this again! But maybe I’ve left something important out. If you have questions, leave a comment and I’ll holler back shortly.