Most congregations use a search committee to find and hire/call a musician. The committee may be made up of people from various groups in the congregation (it is hoped that some of them have some musical interest and knowledge), the chair of the worship and music committee, the chair of the mutual ministry (personnel) committee, and the pastor(s). Ordinarily, the committee is charged with clarifying the current employment agreement or, in the absence of such a document, developing a clear description of the position they are charged with filling and the qualifications of the person who might best provide the leadership needed.
If no detailed description of the position exists, the committee may discuss ways the music program can further enrich not only the worship life, but also other aspects of the congregation’s life. From this discussion, the committee should develop a description of the responsibilities of the musician. On the basis of that description, the committee may begin to advertise for candidates, placing announcements in a synod newsletter, the local American Guild of Organists (AGO) newsletter, and the Association of Lutheran Church Musicians (ALCM) Placement Newsletter (1-800-624-2526). The committee should review résumés and determine which candidates will be invited to interview and audition for the position.
If the congregation wants to seek an associate in ministry or diaconal minister (officially rostered in the ELCA and called to the position), the committee should contact its synod office at the very beginning of the process.
Auditions are a vital part of the selection process. They allow the search committee to assess the candidates’ skills in hymn and service playing, general keyboard skills, and conducting ability. The audition may also help determine the candidates’ interpersonal skills in leading the choir. Candidates should be asked to prepare two or three hymns of varying musical style for the audition, as well as several anthems or liturgical pieces to rehearse with the choir. The candidates might be asked to bring service folders from liturgies they have helped to plan, and to submit examples of musical choices they would make based on the lectionary for a particular Sunday.
The committee will need to make a fair assessment of the time commitment required to fulfill adequately the expected duties. Much preparation is needed in order for services and rehearsals to be conducted in a competent and professional manner. Practice time (usually two hours per day), preparation time for rehearsals, planning for liturgies, staff meetings, worship planning meetings, and committee meetings need to be considered when trying to determine the amount of time it will take to fulfill the requirements of the position. The ALCM has published an excellent document to help congregations sort through these issues. Guidelines for the Employment of Musicians in the Lutheran Church includes sample contractual agreements representing duties, expected skills and working relationships, as well as ways to determine fair compensation appropriate for different regions of the country. The document provides not only working models, but also education about the scope of the work for which the musician is responsible. The sample worksheet will help committees determine the amount of time a musician would reasonably need to fulfill the duties assigned to them, as well as give guidelines for arriving at a fair salary.
Compensation packages usually contain not only a base salary, but also paid vacation time, provision for professional development, and medical insurance. Many positions for church musicians are contracted at less than full-time but still require a substantial time commitment. This often means that the workload precludes other full-time employment. In that case, the musician must supplement his or her income with other part-time work, such as private teaching or part-time teaching in a local college or school. Very few part-time positions provide benefits. Congregations should realize that being unable to offer full-time employment does not automatically absolve them from what are considered normal and reasonable workplace benefits.
The way musicians are compensated for weddings and funerals needs to be addressed clearly. Some congregations consider that providing for musical leadership at funeral and wedding liturgies is a responsibility of the parish. If this is the case, this responsibility needs to be taken into consideration when fair compensation is determined. In other congregations, these services are often considered to be a way for the musician to supplement his or her salary. If this is the case, the parish musician should be contacted to provide music for all such liturgies. In the event that a family wishes to engage a different musician, proper compensation should still be afforded the parish musician. It should be delineated clearly in the contractual agreement who will be responsible–-musician or congregation–-for setting fees for such services.
Working relationships between staff members as well as between staff members and congregation should be discussed openly. Pastor and musician work together best when there is a shared vision and an atmosphere of mutual respect and trust.
Worship planning is done best by a team including pastor, musician, the congregational worship committee, or at the very least, by pastor and musician working together. When too much control is given to either party, the working relationship can be damaged and conflict can result. Musicians who work closely with members of the congregation outside of the choir generally have a more positive relationship with the congregation. In every congregation, it is helpful to have an impartial mutual ministry committee in place to help work through difficulties should they arise.
Managing a thorough process can seem like a daunting task for a congregation. Some synods have a staff person responsible for music and liturgy. That person may be available to act as a consultant to guide parishes in developing a job description and help assess musical skills, liturgical knowledge, and the candidate’s ability to work successfully in a parish situation. If this resource is not available in your synod, the ELCA worship staff or the ALCM Professional Concerns director may be able to put you in touch with someone in your geographic area who would be able to assist you.
Above all, be prayerful and patient in your search. The musician you hire or call will have a major role in shaping the spiritual life of your congregation. The search for this person should reflect that importance.
- Buckley Farlee, Robert. Musicians in the Assembly. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2001. One of the first publications in the new Worship Handbook series. This small booklet is intended as a primer for all who serve as leaders of church music in congregations. ISBN: 0806642793.
- Guidelines for the Employment of Musicians in the Lutheran Church. Association of Lutheran Church Musicians: http://www.alcm.org/alcm/html/publications.jsp
- Jais-Mick, Maureen. Resources in Professional Concerns: An Annotated Bibliography. American Guild of Organists, 475 Riverside Drive, Suite 1260, New York, NY 10115.
- Westermeyer, Paul. The Church Musician. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1997.