Tag Archives: relationships

Navigating Conflict in Worship Ministry

Conflict- a difference of opinion involving strong emotions

Dealing with personal conflict is something all church leaders must navigate throughout their ministry. Conflict resolution begins with your own self-awareness and how you, as the leader, can control their behavior when conflict happens. It begins with a humble attitude. 

If you’re like me, my instincts are to respond as quickly as possible to someone who confronts me personally or through electronic means. This is not always wise, friends. No conflicts are ever won through electronic means. You must stop, pray, and calm down. However, sometimes people confront you personally, and you must learn not to react aggressively. My friend Jane Bishop is a Professional Coach for businesses and individuals. She has developed a valuable technique called SSR for helping leaders learn to respond rather than react. I challenge you to practice this technique when your emotions are triggered to RESPOND rather than REACT.

STOP – take a breath, do not speak, quiet your brain

SHIFT – make a physical shift. i.e., if you are standing, sit. Move your hand, wiggle a finger, etc.

RESPOND – in the split seconds that you have stopped your brain and made a physical shift, you have created space to respond rather than react. At times, the response may be to simply walk away. [i]

Music and worship style are often a hot topic in many churches as music tends to be an emotional subject for many. Since music is such a large part of what is altered during a merger of multiple styles of worship, you can expect to have to do more than just educate people on the merits of intergenerationality. There will be skeptics, and there will be those who are vehemently opposed to change. Some will send you emails or confront you personally. How you respond is crucial.

When I’ve had conflict that wasn’t immediate confrontation, I’ve asked myself a few questions first:

1) What is the root of the conflict?

2) Is the issue at hand really just an outgrowth of a deeper issue with them?

3) If the issue is an attack on the music I’ve picked or the people I’ve chosen to use in worship or any other decision I’ve made, how do I separate my personal feelings of offense or embarrassment that someone doesn’t like what I’ve done from the root of the actual issue?

4) If the problem is a personal attack on me or my family, how do I respond with grace and humility without getting angry? 5) How do I navigate this conflict so it’s a win-win for both sides?

Here’s what I suggest doing when confronted with conflict:

  1. Pray! Seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Remember the goal is always unity.
  2. If the confrontation happens through electronic or written means, ask to meet personally with them and another person on your staff or leader. Meet in a neutral place and sit comfortably and relaxed. Your body language is important.
  3. If the point of conflict is clear, begin looking at it from their point of view. Seek to understand the root of the problem and why it means so much to them. Always remember to attack the problem, not the person.
  4. Do your homework. If you’ve made a change, you better know why you did and be able to justify it in humility. You need to be able to share calmly that you considered every possible angle you could before making the change. If things seem to be going well regarding the change, you can highlight that as well.
  5. Do not interrupt. This can be difficult if you’re feeling attacked. Let them finish.
  6. Paraphrase as you go along. “What I hear you saying is…,” or ask questions to provide clarity.
  7. Be open to suggestions. Often people who confront you just want to be heard. Seek to understand before being understood. They may bring some suggestions or points that you had not considered when making a change that affects them or a group of people. As the leader, you may decide that you need to modify something you’ve set in place.
  8. Be humble and full of grace, even if they are very angry.
  9. Try to end on a positive note. Be aware though, some people cannot be educated enough, heard enough, or pacified enough for you to make any real difference in their opinions. You must thank them for sharing with you and tell them again why you made the change and leave it alone.

[i] Jane Bishop, Leadership Coach, Take the Next Step, “SSR Technique,” 2010.

Resuming Choir Rehearsals During a Pandemic- How we’ve done it.

Being a firm believer that all ages should be engaged in serving the Lord in music ministry, finding ways during a pandemic has been challenging. Since March, our church like virtually all others, has had to adapt to the ever changing challenges of providing music leadership in the safest way possible. As I’ve talked with many of my fellow worship leaders, I’ve realized there is not a one-size fits all approach. Context, location of church, demographics of the church, number of people in the fellowship affected by the virus and so on, will influence decisions related to how best to utilize your musical teams. In my next blog post I’ll explain our process of reincorporating our orchestra into worship, but I wanted to share with you about our first choir rehearsal in six months on August 26th.

The church choir is about music for sure, but more importantly, it’s about setting aside our personal preferences and working in unity to serve and proclaim the message of the Gospel. Paul, in his letter to the Ephesian church urges [us] to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:1-3 ESV).  The first song I chose for us to sing in our rehearsal was “By Our Love,” a song of unity for the church. It was quite emotional for everyone in the room. This was the first time most of our people had sung outside their home or car in 6 months.

I’m a list guy; I love them. Anyone who knows me well knows that lists keep me focused. I see information better in a list than in written prose. When I email my college students at Truett McConnell reminders about what’s due and what we’ve worked on, I tell them a Whittaker list is coming! In fact most of my blog posts include a list of something. So, I started a list of things related to this first rehearsal so I would remember what happened and wanted to share my observations with you. Behold! a Whittaker list:

  1. 95 active singers on roll, 69 returned for first rehearsal. 73% rate of initial return.
  2. When I look at the 16 singers who didn’t come, I noticed health concerns (them or a family member who is immunocompromised) as the number one factor for not attending.
  3. Singers of all ages–YES, intergenerational!
  4. All wore masks when entering and exiting.
  5. Soprano/Bass had one entrance to the foyer and Tenor/Alto had another entrance. The middle of the foyer was blocked off by rope and hand sanitizing machines. The folders were laid out for retrieving. Each entering should wait on the 6ft markers on the floor to enter.
  6. Each person was given a temperature check before entering.
  7. 75 (actually 80) minute rehearsal. One 10 minute “quiet” break after 30 minutes of singing where I did some encouragement (devotion) and announcements to let the air clean.
  8. Use entire floor of sanctuary spread out 6-10 feet apart all around each singer unless next to family member.
  9. Told we would mask entire rehearsal, but sang one tune without masks (which we recorded to use next Sunday morning for worship). All but one sang this song unmasked. In fact I got the impression from the affirmation that the singers there would’ve been fine to remain unmasked through the entire rehearsal.
  10. I asked those who were most uncomfortable singing without a mask to go to the back of the room, since the back of the choir seems to be the “safest” place to sing right now.
  11. We had HVAC going strong. One benefit in our room is that we have a large surplus of AC tonnage because of our stained glassed windows that emit much heat. You can literally feel the air moving in the room when you’re in it.
  12. The distance all around, the HVAC, and the large room with very high ceilings, basically mimicked an outdoor singing space.
  13. When we did sing with masks (90 percent of time), the sound was greatly affected. Maybe 40% of the sound gets out of the masks. Little dynamic shading or articulation of text possible, which is already hard with a room as “live” as ours is. Not a fan of the masked singing, neither were my people.
  14. The live room and the masks muffling sound made it hard to hear each other, which also contributed to dragging tempi on lyrical tunes.
  15. Normal types of masks caused glasses to fog up when singing for long periods of time. The alternative for a very few was to just use the mask to cover the mouth, and some did that.
  16. I think no one would’ve come to our rehearsal had they been truly “scared” to get COVID. The risks of singing are very well-documented so the choice to come was in spite of that risk. Therefore, I tried to mitigate the true risks with HVAC and distancing; the use of masks is a added barrier of protection.
  17. General consensus was rehearsal was a WIN! I want to skip a week before we meet again, primarily to make sure no one gets COVID.
  18. At our next rehearsal (two weeks from this rehearsal) we will also record one or two songs for use in worship. Tentatively, I would like to start separating my group into 2-3 teams and use them on Sundays beginning second weekend in October if things continue to trend downward. Not sure about mask use for that service or how we’ll mic them properly with our orchestra, but I’ll cross that bridge soon.

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Here is a snapshot of (most of) us recording our song for worship. Four generations present, worshiping and encouraging each other–what a blessing!

The Decline of Church Choirs and Lack of Unity

A few months ago I wrote an article about the rise of choral singing in America from a study from Chorus America.  If you missed that blog post, check it out here: Church Choirs Shouldn’t be Declining Because of Lack of Interest. Last week, I ran across another article called 1 in 6 Americans sings in a choir — and they’re healthier for it.
This article cites the same study, but this paragraph stood out to me:

It’s no secret that America’s social fabric is unraveling. Participation in churches and religious institutions is down. Fraternal organizations are shrinking. Marriage rates continue to decline. Voting is up, but volunteering is down. The differences dividing us seem greater than the similarities.

That last line stuck out to me. Our differences are dividing us and churches are not immune. In fact the enemy has targeted the bride of Christ, who loves nothing more than to create division. This division is contrary to the admonition of Scripture. Paul, in his letter to the Ephesian church urges [us] to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,  with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:1-3 ESV). 

I’m suggesting that our churches have a unity problem. The decline in church attendance is doubtless linked to the decline of church choir mentioned in this study. The decline of the church choir has removed one of the most visible models of unity on display in our local churches. Week in and out, vibrant church choirs demonstrate unity in worship leadership. Further, when we get rid of graded choirs, we don’t have the opportunity to start this “discipleship of unity” early in the spiritual formation of the students. Sadly, I believe many of displaced church choir members are the reason community choirs are on the rise.

Any choral group, by design, must strive for unity in various ways. While striving for unity, our individuality must take a backseat for the good of the whole. Here’s a quick list of some areas where choirs must be unified:

  1. Vowels, articulation, rhythm, consonants, breathing, phrasing, dynamics, etc.
  2. Often, but not always, dress. Concert dress or robes often hide the individuality of each person for a unified look.
  3. Blend vocally. I included this as a separate number because listening and blending is crucial to choral tone.  In choral singing we must give up our solo tendencies to achieve unity and balance.
  4. Preferences in music or in other facets of choir ministry. Often we don’t always sing everything that we personally like. That’s okay, the person sitting next to you might love what you hate. That’s the beauty of mutual submission—loving one another more than yourself.

The list could go on, but consider this, I learned more about serving others and working together toward a goal in a choral setting than any other facet of the local church. I believe the task of moving many people toward a unified goal will result in greater effectiveness for the Kingdom.