Thursday, May 14, 2009

Death of the Church Musician?

I received an email yesterday from a Music Director at the West Des Moines UMC. It stated very clearly that the church would not be having its annual concert series this summer. This was after a nine year long presence in our community. The email then went on that the music director who sent the email was being let go as of the end of May. He even said that he was surprised to get this news.

First of all, I think that really stinks on the church's part. I think there should have been some kind of warning to the music director. Perhaps there was and his email was a little more dramatic than the situation should really be. Musicians...dramatic? No...

Second, I could only feel bad or sorry for this man. He had been in this position for nine years. And he was being fired because the church has no money! The email also pointed out that the church was going to be remodeling their sanctuary this summer. And I know what you're thinking...these monetary items are two different and separate things. I know...I know. But the unfairness still seems to be there.

I know of another church here in the metro, Westminster Presbyterian, who is also losing their music director. This is a different case entirely, though. Their music director is leaving by his own accord to travel to Thailand. Unfortunately, the church has decided not to replace him.

I cannot relate to you how devastating this is to the metro's church musician ministry. Westminster is one of the largest churches in the area. They have a huge...and I mean program and fine arts series. I can only see both of these things being tossed to the wayside because this position isn't being filled after the current director leaves. It makes my heart sink.

Des Moines is not quite like Minneapolis, which is a very art-full city. They have opera and theater and museums out the wazzoo. Des Moines has all those things as well, but on a smaller scale. But that doesn't mean that Des Moines is a bunch of hicks in an art-less void. We DO have strong arts programs. We DO have many community choirs that are quite strong. We DO have a world class opera company (I know, I've worked for them). We DO have museums and poets and...plain and simple...artists!!

Why are the church musicians dying? Or better yet, being killed off? This may sound like a dramatic or desperate attempt to feel sorry for myself. But I promise you, I'm really not. I feel very bad for the church music directors and the church musicians being cut because of this finincial downfall.

The arts are always cut first in times of struggle, whether that be in churches, in the community, or in schools. We all know that. I feel so strongly that this tide of losing church musicians will only hurt our future generations.

When I first started at WH, I bought a book: "How to Start a Fine Arts Academy in Your Church." One of the opening paragraphs of the book states:

"In the 21st century, the relationship between fine arts and the church is much different. No longer is the church the influential leader it once was in the fine arts. Instead; 1) the consumer, not the church, is now the primary patron of music, 2) the leading composers of today are not church musicians, and, 3) Christianity is no longer the dominant topic and focus of the arts."

The book also gives a great quote from Tom Fettke, a very large presence in the church music area. He is a prolific composer and has written many large works as well as single pieces of music for the church. He says: "Schools, public and private, are not (for the most part) doing a good job of Fine Arts training...the Church must assume the responsibility if quality music and other Fine Arts are to survive."

These two points really make my heart ache for the loss of these two music directors in my area. And these are just two people I know of...there are probably others at much smaller churches. The churches, who in some opinions, need the music the most.

I hope that this economic downturn isn't the end of church musicians. I hope that we can all bounce back and become a huge force in the world of music and arts again. I hope that the churches and people finding themselves without jobs or artists will find something better to replace the voids the church has created.

I hope for the best for the Fine Arts.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Meetings are the Silver Bullet

I used to think much like the writers of the "West Wing" that education is the silver bullet. Education could keep people out of jail. Education ends violence. Education would even help to eradicate disease. Now I've come to the realization that meetings, not education, are the silver bullet to all of the world's problems. The only problem with that is, most meetings are really dull, boring, and unproductive.

I just read on John C. Maxwell's Twitter that he thinks "When a meeting is good, it's never long enough. When bad, it can't end soon enough." We've all sat through countless meetings. We were sitting in meetings even before we knew what meetings were. We had parent/teacher meetings, or an appointment to meet with a doctor. We've been meeting our whole lives and didn't even know it. You meet your soulmate. You meet your enemies. You meet new people and reaquaint yourself with old friends by meeting them on Facebook.

Of course, the meetings mentioned above are on your terms and are, presumably, of your own will. Meetings in the business world aren't of your own will. We are all forced to sit in droll meetings that seem to go on and on and on and on. The Energizer Bunny has nothing on these meetings.

An article published December 5, 2007 in The Onion tried to poke fun of meetings. The article stated, "Our meetings have become disorganized and sprawling, and far too much time is lost to non- actionable items." The article, being from The Onion, had a funny spin to it. The writer proposed having more meetings to solve the meeting problem. This seems to be what we all do.

I've been to almost 100 meetings in my time at this church (only a year). That's one meeting every 3 1/2 days. Not that I'm counting! But I can't relate to you how many minutes and hours I've spent having my time wasted by people being late to the meetings. Or people bringing "non-actionable" items to meetings. Or people just rambling on about something that doesn't pertain to the meeting or the people in the meeting.

Sometimes I sit across from the clock in our meetings. It's interesting to see who uses the most time in meetings talking. It's just as interesting to see who interrupts the most in those same meetings. Do you think that the people talking the most and interrupting the most are the same? You bet they are!

I have read many times a book called "Death By Meeting" by Patrick Lencioni. The book is subtitled "A Leadership Fable About Solving the Most Painful Problem in Business." That says it all...and includes all of our thoughts about meetings.

The book is a fiction story about a man who runs his own business but has terrible meetings, which is hurting his business and morale. Until a young business-minded new guy comes in and changes all that. Without a doubt the book ends happy and everyone is successful again. The book also outlines the proper way to have meetings.

One point the book makes is about meeting times and different kinds of meetings. Staff meetings are weekly and therefore should be strictly kept to an hour. Staff retreats are all day-long events. Planning meetings are once a month and can be three to four hours. Then there are the daily check-ins, where whoever is there gets together to let everyone else know what they've been doing. The daily check-ins only last five minutes! I can't imagine having a meeting for five minutes...but how refreshing!

Another point the book makes is the one minute briefing in the weekly staff meeting. Each person has one minute to say what they want to talk about at the meeting. The leader then makes an agenda. Then you follow the agenda. You don't necessarily go around in a circle, in the same direction every week. And everyone doesn't necessarily get to say everything they need to.

BUT...and this is a big one...BUUUUUUUUUUUUT the leader can choose topics that will engage the whole group. The leader is able to mine for conflict. Because conflict creates results. You don't get results from everyone just by letting the topics pass them by.

I'll admit, I'm a very passive person in our weekly staff meetings. I don't usually pipe up for any reason until it's my turn. And even then I keep my comments to the bare minimun. Ocassionally, I will leave out topics that I would like to cover just because I don't want to hear what people have to say about them. But, that's part of not being engaged and not wanting to stretch out an already overly-long meeting.

How dare me. So hypocritical. But you can see that although I know the secrets to having a good meeting, I don't live by them, becuase living by them is difficult. But if we were to get past the difficulty, then we could solve all our problems...or at least the one's the leader has chosen for us.

There is no "i" in team...unless you spell it phonetically: [tim]. No, I'm kidding, but only because I'm reminded of something from John C. Maxwell's book "The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork." The first law is the law of significance and states, "One is too small a number to achieve greatness."

This to me says what the old Chinese proverb says, "Behind an able man there are always other able men." But...again, another but...I take the second part of that proverb seriously. There has to be those people behind the first that are willing and able. During meetings we've all been up against negativity and skepticism. Those people aren't able or willing, but what if they were engaged during the meeting? Would they then be more willing to look at your idea instead of stifle it?

I can't help but look again at "West Wing." Such a great show, but during the show there were so many meetings held. I can only think that perhaps the real White House runs with so much energy and forward flowing movement. Meetings were the place where problems were solved. Each person had the opportunity to weigh in. People disagreed, but were on each other's side in the end.

One instance I remember is a meeting with the President playing chess with his head of communications, who had just made a huge public blunder. I don't remember exactly what was said, but words were exchanged and yelling happened, but in the end all was forgiven and the problem was fixed.

Now, I know that we can't all live in a television show. Sometimes problems are just big and harry and ugly. But I would implore anyone reading to engage yourself in your meetings and to cause that conflict with positive results. I would like everyone to bring only actionable items to their next meeting and challenge yourself to keep your personal agenda and needless goings on to a minimum.

I'm willing to give it a shot, even if we don't play chess during it and even if we don't meet for the five minute check in. It's hard to do, but I'm sure we can solve this "meeting problem" when we meet next time here on my blog.