What do you do when you are challenged or when you bump up against your own competencies and comfort zone?

In January, I had an opportunity to participate in a workshop in New York City. The title of the workshop was “Orchestral Conducting for the Choral Conductor.” Although I’ve directed many worship services with chorus and orchestra, I’ve always been more comfortable in front of a choir than an orchestra. I’m not a violinist or cellist. And although the notes on the page look the same to singers and instrumentalists, they speak a different language. I enrolled in the workshop because I wanted to learn how to better communicate with an orchestra.

The workshop took place about a block away from Carnegie Hall. Participants came from across the country: teachers in high schools and colleges, music directors at churches, a doctoral student. The conducting coaches came from Cal State Fullerton and a staff conductor with the New York Philharmonic. It was intimidating.

Most of the two-dozen musicians in the room were in late-career. It would be easy to simply accept one’s limitations and competencies and do what they know to do. But these successful musicians were eager to know more and were willing to admit what they did not know. Humility is required for learning to happen.

While the year is still young, consider these questions: What do you want to learn to do better this year? Who can partner with you? What next step will you take? This time next year, what do you want to be able to do that you are not confident enough to do today? Are you strong enough and humble enough to say you need help and want to do better?

Expert teaching and peer learning

This workshop learning environment combined expert teaching and peer learning. Some conducting sessions happened in private with a master teacher; others were in front of the entire group. Both were important: the wisdom and experience of the mentor and the common struggle of peers. We needed the expertise of conducting coaches who could guide and suggest different approaches. To improve, we had to build on our strengths but we also had to alter old habits. Like a very fine golf pro, the best conducting teacher is able to watch the conducting gesture and help the student move in a way that is clearer and more expressive. But the feedback from peers was also helpful as they offered suggestions and encouragement.

I hear a lot in ministry circles these days about peer learning, and there is value in this. However, the apprenticeship model still has much to offer at every stage of life. A unique combination of these modes of learning is the two-year pastoral residency at Wilshire Baptist Church and other congregations. The model of “teaching congregations” offers practical training post-seminary in a model based upon a three-part cycle of instruction, observation and reflection.

Even those who cannot do a residency may still learn from this model by finding ways to engage others in reflection and observation about their own work and work environments.

That’s why CHC offers a number of experienced coaches who can provide a partner to help you improve your ministry. It is helpful to be specific about what ministry competency you want to improve: Preaching? Emotional intelligence? Organizational development? Staff team building? Contact the Center of Healthy Churches if you want to find a coach who will help you add some new tools to your toolbox.

During the season of Lent our congregation has been reading a very fine devotional guide by SMU Professor of Old Testament Jack Levinson. He writes: “When you pray for the Spirit, what are you praying for? The fruits of the Spirit—patience, kindness and generosity? All of these are good. Welcome them as long as you pray too for the Spirit and truth. Jesus teaches that study and spirituality, a vibrant spiritual life and a life of learning, go hand in hand.”[1]

Be well this year. Seek the Spirit’s Leadership. Learn something new.

[1] Jack Levison, 40 Days with the Holy Spirit, (Paraclete Press:Brewster, Mass.), 70-71.
Doug Haney
Doug Haney has served as Minister of Music at Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas TX since 2004. He previously served at Providence Baptist in Charlotte NC and churches in Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. At Wilshire, he directs the choral program and supervises the church-wide music ministry, with major responsibilities for worship. Wilshire’s 90-voice Sanctuary Choir and 60-voice Youth Choir are renowned for their quality and innovative approach to traditional worship.

Haney coordinates a new service from CHC for churches seeking to infuse vitality, quality and vision into their worship and music ministry. The work will allow congregations to assess their current ministry and envision ways to enhance quality and foster innovation and relevance.