Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Moving on

It's official now: I am no longer the music director at Crossroads United Methodist in Belton. The decision to step down was made over a period of months, and actually I knew my days were numbered there long before I figured out what exactly were the reasons, and when exactly I would resign. There were mixed emotions in thinking about the decision, but I'm very happy to be moving on now.

I wanted to write a little about the process of deciding to leave, mostly because I wasn't able to find a whole lot of resources for "When, Why, and How to leave your ministry position." Those that I found were often directed towards established career senior ministers.

The trouble for me was sorting out whether I was just weary from the logistics, or perhaps just needed a little separation from the week-to-week grind of it in order to reflect and find new energy and purpose; or, was I really reaching the end of my tenure there? Was this a natural feeling of stagnation after two years working at one place, one that would pass if I kept at it? Or was this feeling an indication that it was time to move on? (Obviously, I came to the conclusion that it was the latter.)

It would have been an easy decision if I hated everything about the job, and nobody at the church liked what I did either. (That situation is, I think, thankfully rare in churches.) On the contrary, I did like the work, and I have a growing sense of calling to ministry because of my service at Crossroads. This is due in part to the encouragement that I received from key members at the church. Yet I had a growing feeling of frustration that while many people encouraged my efforts, participation and passion in worship were still woefully sporadic.

I had lost the belief that what I was doing would make a have a lasting effect toward changing the church, and by extension, the community and the world. When I began working at Crossroads, I did not know the congregation's character. As I learned it, I tailored my efforts to try to address its particular strengths and weaknesses: trying to harness the creativity and passion that did exist, and challenging them to a greater surrender to God's purpose and a greater sense of mission. In considering resigning, I had come to believe that these efforts were not really making enough of a difference to see.

More than that, I had lost the energy to rebound from disappointing results to give a true effort the next time. It would be one thing to simply fail to see the fruit of my labor. That, perhaps, is an issue of faith--that I must simply trust God that perseverance and faithful service will bear fruit, even if I cannot see it. But at some point, I have to acknowledge that even if disillusionment is my own lack of faith, it still affects my work. A church is best served by someone with passion and joy, not just determination and perseverance. I didn't think I could muster even the latter traits for much longer.

To be sure, there were tantalizing personal benefits, such as more time for other creative efforts, including a post-modern minded evening service at another church I had begun work on. But I didn't want these to be the main reasons; I wanted to leave because I felt my work was done there. Practically, leaving during the summer makes sense for the church, giving them time to get a new music director in place in time to prepare for the Advent season.

To summarize, my decision to leave came from:
1) A growing sense that, despite any and every approach to leading worship, my efforts were having little lasting effect
2) A weakening energy to face the challenge of overcoming entrenched and recurring barriers to spiritual growth and impact in the church
3) The presence of other endeavors that excited and stimulated me

One final note: I recently spoke with someone more experienced in this field, who said that the average tenure for a church music director is two years. If my experience is any indication, the reason for that may be that many churches have made music the primary marker of their identity. Even at Crossroads, many people felt that music is what would impact lives, draw in visitors, set the tone for spiritual growth. I believe quite the opposite is true. In the healthiest, most vibrant churches that I have attended, music is not the engine, but the caboose: the expression of the community of faith, of changed lives, of their mission to bless the world. We can't sing passionately about music itself for very long; but if I have a passion for God, as my favorite hymn says, "How can I keep from singing?"


Sarah said...

You made the right choice. And you perseverance did you teach you many things along the way. That music should be the caboose is a good point. That would lessen the pressure put on music pastors.

whw said...

This is an honest and productive self-assessment. I was particularly struck with the wisdom and cautionary admonition in your last paragraph. Thanks. As the future unfolds, it would be interesting to learn your further thoughts on the idea of calling to a specific ministry, and whether one can be called from as well as called to. I look back with mixed feelings to a couple circumstances where I as a church board member had to wrestle with both sides of that issue regarding our pastors. The larger question for me therefore is: to what extent is it a joint duty of pastors and church leaders together to discern the trajectory of a ministry tenure, incuding its end? And how can lay leadership support a pastor and challenge a congregation to awaken to ways they are failing to be shepherded into a deeper life with God and more influential life in the world?