Home Worship Planning Music Resources What Should We Call United Methodist Church Musicians?

What Should We Call United Methodist Church Musicians?

What do we call the local church staff musician? What position title do we use? Who decides? Does it even matter? The United Methodist Book of Discipline is silent on these questions, which helps account for the great variety of titles in current use. Among the titles being used today in tthe United Methodist Church are music director (director of music), music minister (minister of music), music pastor, music associate (associate in Music), and music assistant. There also are others that are more closely tied to a specific musical function in the church, such as choir director, praise team leader, cantor, song leader, and others.

The title "minister of music" is often given by a local church to its musician, or it may be self-adopted by the musician; however, that title is not given any official status by The Book of Discipline. Although there are no data available as support, my sense is that this title is much more common in recent years than previously -- perhaps a practice influenced by its more common use in less connectional denominations, such as Baptist and Church of Christ. Those denominations use "minister of music" quite often, for both full- and part-time employees of the congregation, ordained and lay. These same denominations most often ordain at the congregational level (with few or no established requirements for ordination other than approval of the congregation), rather than at the denominational level. Thus individual congregations are free to use the title as they wish. In many cases, the musician simply adopts the title, and it sticks.

For local United Methodists (both church and employee), the title has appeal because it seems to endow an elevated level of status or to imply unique and special gifts and graces that set the person apart for ministry from other laity, much as our traditional use of the term "minister" to refer almost exclusively to ordained clergy has always done in the past. In recent years, however, we have broadened the application of "minister" to encompass all believers and have taken seriously the notion of the ministry and priesthood of all believers (The Book of Discipline, P 125-130 and others). It is not so uncommon today to use the term "minister" to refer to non-clergy, although "minister of music" or "minister of education" or "minister of youth" are not officially approved or used as a term, title, or position in our Book of Discipline.

The term "music pastor" is largely unused in our denomination and never used in The Book of Discipline or the general agencies. However, the term is occasionally used in local congregations. It is more commonly used in some of the more conservative and congregationally organized denominations, such as Baptist, Pentecostal, Nazarene, and others. The use of "pastor" in the title would indicate the musician, like the church's senior pastor, performs a number of specifically pastoral tasks as a regular or important part of the job -- such as home and hospital visitation, pastoral care, counseling, and the like, in addition to the music component. Like "minister of music," the title "music pastor" may be seen by local churches or musicians to imply an elevated status or a recognition of unique and special pastoral gifts; or perhaps the title is simply a way of conveying equal status to musicians in congregations of other denominations. Paragraph 339 of The Book of Discipline defines the use of the term "pastor" to refer to "an ordained elder, provisional deacon, or licensed person approved by vote of the clergy members in full connection and may be appointed by the bishop."

The General Board of Higher Education and Ministry's (GBHEM) Section of Deacons and Diaconal Ministries is given responsibility for setting standards and requirements for certification in professional ministry careers in our denomination (P 1423, The Book of Discipline). It uses three titles: minister of music (for those meeting the certification requirements and who are also ordained), director of music (for those meeting the certification requirements, but who are not ordained), and associate in music (for those who have met the certification requirements, but who lack the academic degree required for directors of music, and for those working toward certification). THe General Board of Higher Education and Ministry also uses the title "music sssistant" to refer to those who have not met the requirements for certification in any of the other three categories. This is the only accepted and approved use of the term "minister of music" within The United Methodist Church. Nevertheless, local churches and employees will probably continue to adopt and use the title. Again, this may be because people think the term "minister of music" indicates a higher status than other titles. They probably also continue to use the term because other denominations freely use it.

It should be noted that many supervising pastors in local churches and many people in the congregations expect that use of the title "minister of music" implies an advanced level of competence, experience, and training in areas of, not only music, but also theology, church history, and polity -- the very things certified by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry -- whether the musician has earned certification or not. Thus, a congregation would rightfully expect that a minister of music would know better than to have the people or choir sing "Bring a Torch, Jeannette, Isabella" on the third Sunday of Epiphany. This person should be able to function as a savvy member of the worship team and in a supporting role to the pastor and staff in planning worship. Unfortunately, these same supervising pastors and local leaders may expect less from someone with the title "director of music." They may see the difference being one of training, experience, and knowledge rather than one of ordained or lay status.

Is there any real problem in this proliferation of titles and difference of expectations? Yes, there is. One problem is that our denomination takes very seriously the place of music ministry in our churches and the abilities of those who lead the music. We offer many opportunities for education, training, skill development, understanding music as a ministry, as well as United Methodist theology, history, and polity. United Methodists at all levels of the connection -- congregation, district, annual conference, jurisdiction, and general church -- provide these educational opportunities and encourage musicians to take advantage of them. The Book of Discipline gives the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry the responsibility for setting standards and requirements for certifying individuals in music ministry throughout the denomination. In spite of this, the local congregation and musician may select the musician's title themselves -- sometimes resulting in a difference between what the denomination certifies by granting a title and what the congregation or musician claims by adopting the title.

Given the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry's disciplinary mandate to set standards and requirements for certification of United Methodist musicians in local church positions and given the practice of local churches and musicians of adopting titles for musicians who have not met those standards, the following recommendations for position titles for local church musicians are made:

  1. Director of Music and Associate in Music: For those musicians who have met the standards and requirements established by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry and who have been so certified by GBHEM.
  2. Minister of Music: For those musicians who have met the standards and requirements established by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, and who have been so certified by GBHEM, and who have been ordained.
  3. For musicians who have not been certified by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, other titles may apply: music assistant, choir director, song leader, cantor, music leader. Churches employing a musician to administer and oversee a large program of numerous choirs and activities may wish to adopt "music director."

For additional information on music certification in The United Methodist Church, consult the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry's web page on music certification, Standards and Requirements for Certification in Music. For more information, contact the Section of Deacons and Diaconal Ministries is 615-340-7377 or 615-340-7375; e-mail: [email protected].

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