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Issues with my pastor

I serve in a small (80-90 average attendance) United Methodist church in Tennessee. Tonight after the evening service a group of ladies came up to the pastor and I and requested that someone sing the song "Mary Did You Know" at our Christmas Eve service. The pastor immediately jumps in saying that the song is "cheesy" and he doesn't see why anyone would want it. The ladies respectfully disagreed and asked again that it be sung, this time he told them that it was his church, his service, and his way and no it would not be sung and that they had no right to request that he do anything in a worship service. He later pulled me aside and chewed me out for not jumping to his defense. The man "supervises" all my choir rehearsals, insisted I cut my Christmas canata in half and replace the written narration with "mini-sermons" by him, and will not allow me any input as to the congregational hymns or the order of worship. I'm at my wit's end, what do I do?
on December 19, 2010 10:50pm
Dear Mr. Oglesby:
I worked as music director in Methodist
churches for around 25+ years--during that
time I once worked for a man with whom I
had serious problems--not exactly the same
issues as you are facing--but others that
made for an extended period of difficulty
in doing my job.
I approached the chair of the Staff-Parish
Relations Committee and asked if I could
have a confidential conversation with him--
and looked into his eyes when he answered--
I felt satisfied that he would keep the content
of our discussion private--so I explained the
problems and asked if he would give some
thought to how they might be resolved.
Methodist ministers are accountable to the
SPR committee--if you feel you can trust
the chairman, I urge you to have a private
conversation in person with him/her and
get that committee involved in crafting a
It sounds as though the pastor has an
attitude problem that probably manifests
itself in other situations--with other staff
members and congregants--I doubt if
you are the only one who would like to
see some changes--let others help you
to make it happen.
Thomas Sheets, D.M.A.
on December 20, 2010 9:08am
Dear Clay,
I don't usually open any choralist queries but I clicked on yours by mistake. I have absolutely no advice - just a great deal of sympathy. I happen to work with a terrific pastor and an open minded , appreciative congregation and I am busy thanking the universe for that gift and realizing how awful it could be in different circumstances. I hope you are able to find some joy and satisfaction in spite of the guy.
on December 20, 2010 10:39am
Having been in the church music business for over forty years there is only one answer here.  Find a new job!  The relationship between the clergy and musician is truly an important dynamic of any church.  When you get a micromanager for a boss, you're in deep trouble unless you happen to see eye to eye on virtually every issue.  The happiest clergy relationships I have had are the ones where the pastor says, "You're a professional, I respect your abilities and judgement ... go do your job."  Sometimes there may be a valid reason for clergy to step into the musical scene of his parish, but they are exceptional ... perhaps a feud between two factions in a choir or the like.  But if he does not have the professional respect for you to let you do your job, you need to leave. This is not to say that you should not work in relationship with the pastor.  You need to be a team that makes many decisions together ... particularly the overall direction of the program and such, but he needs to let you have autonomy to choose music and to do your job.   In this case, this fellow has a serious lack of understanding of his place in the fabric of the church.  A pastor certainly must lead, but there has to be a listening side to his personality ... one that cares deeply for the needs of his people.  This guy is on an ego trip of major proportions.  HIS church ... HIS service!  Please.  Most particularly in the United Methodist Church where the church truly belongs to the congregation and the pastor is but a passing-through visitor.  When you leave, you might do well to write a discrete letter to the BIshop and his cabinet telling of this fellow's work habits!  Best of luck with this one.
on December 20, 2010 10:42am
Hi Clay -
My heart goes out to you... this does NOT sounds like a great work environment! Regarding the piece, yes, the Pastor does have the final say about what goes into a worship service but he really should be seeking input from you and others involved in the service. If he has really dug in his heels on "Mary, Did You Know" you may want to ask if he would consider allowing the piece to be sung in worship on Dec. 26 or Jan. 2. It works well for these Sundays and may help to form a sort-of compromise.
To the larger issue of the ways that he works with others -- does your church have a Staff-Parrish Relations Committee (SPRC)? This Committee, in many UM Churches, is responsible for helping the Pastor and Staff (including volunteers) to work well with one another and with the congregation. After Christmas, you may want to contact the Chairperson or another committee member, share your feelings and ask for help to bring about change. This assumes that you want to stay with this church and continue working with the Pastor. The Pastor may need some positive pressure to understand your role (and his) and how you two work together for the good of the church. SPRC, or another similar body, is the group to help apply that pressure.
As a last resort, you can go over your Pastor's head to his District Superintendent. Pastors have bosses, too! And in the UM church where the DS gets to shuffle Pastors around, voicing your displeasure may just result in a Pastoral move. I'd use this as a last resort and be sensitive to the fact that this may ultimately destroy the relationship you have with the Pastor.
My prayers are with you and your church!
Holly Reynolds Lee
Director, Voices In Praise
Friendship United Methodist Church
Friendship, MD
on December 20, 2010 10:49am
Dear Clay,
You are in a situation that so many of us have faced and I have deep sympathy and empathy. Many of us can show you our scars! Pastors and musicians should each be deeply aware of the culture and needs of the congregations they are called to serve and sensitive to members even in disagreement. It seems that this is one area that neither seminary nor music school prepares us to face as church leaders who need to be above all, collaborative. There are really deep issues here and no quick answer. Ultimately you will have to discern what it means to be the lightning rod, since you are the face of worship and you know the degree of influence you carry with your members. I  encourage you to take a deep breath and focus on loving God,  your congregation and the offending pastor. Give him rope and he will eventually use it to climb down from his ego, or he will hang himself. He may destroy a congregation or two before he wakes up, which is unfortunate. Meanwhile, do what you need to do to protect yourself even if it means making application to other congregations. In the meantime, in my experience as a music director in small and large congregations, here are some issues on which I would love to see the ChoralNet community reflect:
-meeting congregational culture where it is, even if the pastor is uncooperative (or when our own musical tastes may disagree with the taste of the congregation)
-being a "non-anxious presence" in music ministry in conflicts
-Earning the congregation's trust
-Earning the "bosses" trust
-The "power" of the music director
Here are few practical hints to try on a controlling pastor:
-Hymns: "If I can choose a couple of the hymns, I can do more with them musically-  free accompaniments, instruments, descants and whatever creativity you might be able to muster. You then must "pony up" with something special to earn his trust.
-Get your strongly opinionated music requesters involved in committee structures
-Go to coffee with your pastor. Get to know him. His strong opinions may not be all bad. What does he envision for your congregation?
-Steer clear (when you can) of taking "sides". When you get to know your pastor better, (if he allows you to) give him a philosophy of how the "Mary Did You Know" situation undermines music ministry. example- "People are emotionally attached to music, even if it is "cheesy". It is easier to gradually inform taste, rather than go to war with members, especially in a public debate. They will only feel attacked and deprived and try to play pastor against Music Director." 
Okay, these are just some suggestions. All the best!
John O 
on December 20, 2010 11:01am
Ugh.  In my opinion you have two choices:  wait until he leaves if you love the job, or leave.  Sounds like he cannot be reasoned with, and he will not change his behavior.  Good luck!
on December 20, 2010 11:47am
First and foremost, you need to find a new job. If you have issues with your Senior Pastor -- your boss --and cannot re-establish a cordial, professional working relationship, it does not matter how many supportive responses you receive from colleagues around you or on-line. You will neither enjoy the work nor feel that support at your church from the pastor.

That said, the United Methodist Church also has in its Book of Discipline a checks and balances system called a Staff Parish Relations Committee, usually chaired by a member of the congregation who is able to work like the human relations portion of a corporate structure. As with all advocacy for one's self, the better you are able to frame your concern as integral to the health and well-being of the church, the greater the impact of the sympathetic ear from the person or committee to whom you address your concerns.

Lastly, the conflict as you received it could be a greater indication of the state of your senior pastor than it is fault of any kind with you or your simple request. Bosses and pastors the world over need their staffs to show the "united front," one where staff support each other publicly and work out disagreements or concerns internally. If your relationship with your pastor other than this conflict about which you write is a positive one, this incident could serve as a lesson in telling your choristers that you will check on future requests privately and get back to them, allowing your pastor and you to have a conversation tells you more productively or personally why you and he might have to age to disagree on this specific piece, or about your cantata, or about a service structure. If his visions for these programs -- emasculating as they may feel and have been expressed to you --is truly detrimental to the immediate growth or health of the small church at which you work, your SPRC liaison can help, if a collegial and unemotional dialogue between you and the pastor in private is not.

All of us who have served in church music as something of a calling more than just one place to hang your musical hat can empathize with you in your plight. I hope this tome of advice has some kernels that might prove helpful.

on December 20, 2010 12:16pm
I do not say this flippantly.  Find another church.  To him you are certainly not a colleague with respect to the church music.  You are not even an assistant.  You are but a cog in his machine with absolutely no respect for you as a musician.  Be honest with any future employer about the situation (being diplomatic of course) and have the other church position already in hand before you resign.  This will avoid losing a potential position if they call for a reference.  From what you describe, trying to work with him will be repeatedly frustrating.  Life is too short.
David Spitko, Artistic Director
The Choristers
on December 20, 2010 12:18pm
You are dealing with a "micro-manager" and a rude one, at that.  I am sorry this pastor does not treat you like a "partner in ministry."  I have worked with some wonderful pastors, including my current one, Dr. George Mason, and the best ones earn your respect and but rarely need to demand it.  I hope you will have this experience in the future; there are some good women and men out there.
You have decisions to make.
1.  You can do nothing, accept the status quo and do what you're told.
2.   You can start looking for a new position.
3.   Or if you want to stay in your present position for whatever reason, outline a strategic plan to deal with this situation.  Find a colleague or mentor outside the church who can help you create the plan.  This plan may include:  a.  creating or revising a job description.  You will need the pastor to be a part of this process but perhaps you can renegotiate some of the issues you outline above by designing a job description in an attempt to seek clarity about expectations.  b.  meet with pastor after the first of the year to talk about his expectations and to share your hopes and dreams for your ministry there.  c.  Meet with your Parish-Relations Committee (I would be cautious about immediately going to them with the conflict with your pastor.  This may be necessary later but there are some other steps you need to take before doing this).
If you prefer to stay or need to remain there, give yourself a time period in which you will try to work this out.  One month?  Three?  Six?
If you cannot forge a new way to work together, then you are back to choices #1 or #2.
I hear the frustration in your post.  If sounds like you feel you have little control over the music ministry; this can be particularly hard.  Here's one more idea: Add to each step in your plan a target date.  This way you know after the first of the year you can see on your calendar when you are going to begin to take action.  This might enable you to feel less anxious, less helpless.
I wish for you grace and peace and courage to deal with a challenging situation.
All the best,
  Doug Haney
  Wilshire Baptist Church,  Dallas, Texas
on December 20, 2010 12:54pm
I don't know how "approachable" your pastor is, Clay.  From your description, it doesn't sound like he's very approachable at all.  However, if you're at your wit's end, you have to talk to him.  It's certainly within the realm of the pastor's responsibility to determine the parameters of the worship service, but not to choose specific pieces, to "supervise" your choir rehearsals, and in short, to micro-manage YOUR job responsibilities.  I think you need to tell him the responsibilities that you feel should be yours and yours alone, including how a cantata should be done (i.e., without his mini-sermons).  It's likely that he won't be receptive to what you say, but I would hope he would at least respect that you want to have the right to manage the choir on your own, the job he hired you to do.
I don't know how much you need that particular job, because based on your description of him, I would doubt that your conversation will result in a resolution that you're both happy with.  But if you're at your wit's end, it's something you need to do for your own peace of mind.  And I'm sure there are other churches in your area with pastors who don't micro-manage.  If the conversation doesn't end to your mutual satisfaction, he will at least know why you're choosing to leave the church.  
I wish I had a more creative and tactful solution that would magically make your problem go away, but I'm not sure it will be possible with this guy.  Unfortunately, there are pastors who view their church as their empire, and your report about his telling the ladies that it was "his church, his service and his way" give strong indications that he's one of them.  I doubt that your conversation with him will change his heart, but it will likely make you feel better that you have said your piece.  Even so (and this probably goes without saying), I'd recommend being tactful in telling him how you feel, and avoid name calling and labeling.  
And BTW, I've done "Mary, Did You Know?" with my university choir (we're a Christian school) simply because I knew that many of the church folks in the audience would respond favorably to it.  The music may not be of the highest caliber, but the text has its moments!  ("This child that you delivered would soon deliver you" is at least thought-provoking, and that's more that can be said for a lot of Christmas music!)  If you didn't agree that the piece was "cheesy," you had every right not to back him, and he shouldn't get mad at your for it.  And even if you do agree with him, it sounds like his response was so strong that he didn't need any help from you.  (Imagine how those ladies must have felt when they walked away from him.  I wouldn't be surprised if they were looking for another church after that.)  
Good luck!!  
on December 20, 2010 4:14pm
I've never had more problems anywhere than I've had with Methodist pastors in the south east US.  I'm sure there are plenty of wonderful ones, but yours sounds just like a couple of pastors I've worked with.
I understand pastors having the final say, but at the same time, it really irks me when they say it's "their" church.  I don't know how long he's been there, but Methodist churches rotate pastors quite a bit.  Also, it's not his church.  It's God's church first, and second, it's the church of the people.  The pastor is the shepherd, not the dictator.  I feel if he continues in his behavor, "his" church is going to continue to get emptier and emptier.
Some people just cannot be reasoned with.  When you reach that point, it's time to move on.
on December 20, 2010 4:30pm
Oh dear, Clay:
Besides being a choir director, I'm also a Methodist preacher's kid.  I've watched this stuff from the inside (not in my own family, thank goodness), for decades.  Any pastor who ould go head to head with a congregant over a request like that and claim "my church and my service" is wayyyyyyy beyond negotiating with.  Whatever action you take, in the end only two things will improve the situation as it now stands:  1) you leave, or  2) he leaves.  
You can't fix this, and in all likelihood, neither can your church by itself.  In my experience, it would take an It's-a-Wonderful-Life-sized miracle to turn around that type of attitude without his first being bounced out by a couple of churches and given a warning by the Bishop.  In fact, if he's been in the ministry for awhile, it's possible he's already been through that scenario.
Questions:  Who has been in the church longer, you or he?  And, are you hearing a growing sense of dissatisfaction with the pastor, or does the congregation think he's "just fine"? 
I would go to the chair of the SPR, but do so understanding that in the end, the only satisfactory solution will be to leave, UNLESS  the church is preparing to ask for a new minister.  Take with you a write-up of the series of issues you have had with the pastor, and any resolutions you've tried in the situation. IF you are prepared to leave, let the Chair know that the job is not worth hanging onto under these conditions, and ask if there is anything the Committee can do to assist. 
 A good SPR chair will not tell you whether or not a move is in the works, but will listen reasonably to your difficulties. He or she also might give you clues to the way the wind is blowing--whether you should hang in a bit longer to see what changes, or plan to put up with it or leave.   If anything is happening along the lines of a move, it's likely in discussion with the District Superintendent right now for next year.
Also be prepared for the possibility that the SPR, for whatever reason, is totally willing to put up with that kind of behavior in order to keep him (or any pastor) in the pulpit.  Some churches of that size have difficulty finding and holding onto any pastor at all.  If that's the case, they may feel their need to keep the pulpit filled will override whatever internal issues his behavior is causing. 
As mentioned before, you can also leap-frog the church administration and make a complaint to the District Superintendent, but for your internal church relations, that's the equivalent of  a nuclear missile, and will be worthless unless the DS is also receiving other direct complaints from church members and the SPR.
Wish I could offer a more positive response.  This is just my experience from watching a lot of small-church management.  If you really need to keep that job and can't possibly go somewhere else, you're in my prayers that God can keep you in your spiritual "happy place" until a better solution is found.
on January 15, 2011 1:19am
I have one more thought to add to this discussion.  Of course you are upset, but try to think about why the pastor is acting the way he is.  I have dealt with a similar situation, and I tried to limit my own frustration by recognizing when the pastor was acting in a childish manner.  Knowing that it isn't you that is the problem, helps.  Still, there are times when, after cooling down myself, I've tried to address the most critical issues in a polite manner.  When someone has control issues, they need to know you think they are in charge.  I've had to learn to say, "I'd like to suggest that we do this...of course the final decision is up to you."  The fact that he supervises your choir rehearsals is the most disturbing to me.  I've been lucky to have pastors sing in my choir, but generally they leave their pastoral role at the door.  The selection and rehearsal of choral anthems is to me one of the essential responsibilities of the music director.  I've asked for thoughts from the pastor at times, but never had them control what I am rehearsing (although, they have decided when in the service things will happen).  You could say privately to the pastor, it seems like you don't trust me to adequately rehearse and supervise the choir.  Is this true?  (Pastor will probably blunder some reply such as, of course I do, I just want to see what's happening, or, I just want to make sure everything's going well.)  In this case come back with a few facts such as, you're present at every choir rehearsal.  Or, you seem displeased with my choices.  Or, I feel like I'm not doing a good enough job for you because you are coming to check up on me all the time.  Try to keep the discussion centered on working as a team for the good of the worship services (ie not personal) .  I'm happy to say that my situation worked out OK--over time the pastor came to realize how much the congregation respected me, and the quality of music that I consistently provided, and tended more and more to take his hands off and listen to some of my suggestions.  I wouldn't program "Mary Did You Know" until at least next Christmas. :) GOOD LUCK!!!
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