Striking the Right Balance with Church Involvement
It seems that church staff members often fall into two categories. Some of us enjoy attending church events outside of those required for our job, like Wednesday night supper or midweek Bible studies. Others don’t show up outside of their required hours. This, be fair, can often be the result of a second job.
Organists in the first category may love feeling close to the rest of their congregation. Among the organists I know in the second category, many have a hard time believing that the first group of organists exists at all. After all, we’re already practicing at the church, leading rehearsals, filing music, or otherwise at church seemingly around the clock. What’s the point of going more?
I’ve had jobs in both categories. For instance, I just couldn’t drive during the week to the church forty-five minutes away from my college. In Bradenton, my wife and I threw ourselves into involvement at my new position, because we had just arrived and didn’t know a soul. The church became our family after we moved away from our comfortable college surroundings.
But there are limitations to this second category of involved organists and church musicians. An invisible but important line maintains healthy boundaries between you and your congregants, no matter how wonderful they may be.
This past year, I attended a workshop called Healthy Boundaries, sponsored by Peace River Presbytery. Although the workshop primarily centered around safe boundaries between adults and youth, a part of the morning touched on relationships between adults.
In one example, the workshop leader told the story of a pastor who had a great relationship with his music director. Over time, the pastor began to open up about the struggles of ministry, venting little things that built up during the day. One day, the music director realizes that he’s become overwhelmed with the pastor’s neediness and overstepping of boundaries.
Or in another example, a music director friends all her congregants on Facebook, and frequently RSVP’s to events advertised on the website. When she arrives at one event, she is flummoxed to see that some of her congregants are there, too, expecting to enjoy a fun night with her. While we may have congregants whose friendship we appreciate, there are some functions that we may not want to attend with them. But if you are Facebook friends with them and share your plans, they may expect to join in.
If you’re happily in the second category and maintaining distance from your church, you might wonder how this could even happen. But I’ve been in the first category for some time now, and don’t want to leave it. For those of us at church dinners slipping into “work mode,” you may have to remind yourself that this time is for your family, too. If you start to add congregants as friends on Facebook, it’s important that you accept all of them without showing partiality. If you are going to post anything online, but especially if you’re very open about the events you plan to attend, make sure you would welcome other congregants’ presences there. Nourish friendships outside of church so that you won’t be surrounded by tension if the church endures a difficult period.
I do feel that I can accomplish more at work when I’m actively in touch with regular worshippers. By only showing up one’s required hours, you may miss out on a fuller understanding of your church’s choir members, and recruiting can be more difficult when people don’t feel connected to you. On the other hand, healthy boundaries are important to maintain.
It’s a complicated issue, and there are pros and cons to each approach to church employment. Hopefully, this can help with walking the important line of workplace boundaries when your workplace is also your place of worship.
Past copies of the OrganistSRQ: