When ministering with music it’s bound to happen that someone won’t like what you’re doing. They don’t like your song selections, they don’t like your voice, they think your too loud, they don’t like the way you dress… There might be guests or church members who don’t feel that drums or electric guitar are reverent instruments. How do you handle criticism or complaints?
First of all, there’s a time and place for criticism to be offered. Getting a complaint e-mail is much different than having an irritable person come at you immediately following a church service. If it’s not a good time, it’s okay to ask a person to contact you when you have office hours or to excuse yourself because you have somewhere that you need to be. Be in control.
Next, it’s important to discern whether you’re dealing with a legitimate issue or if you have someone who is just angry at life and decided to target you at the moment to be the audience of their next rant.
I’ll give a couple of examples of some high stress situations that I’ve had to deal with as a music minister. The first occurrence happened when I first launched a Lifeteen mass. There had been a “youth choir” of teens led by an adult at the piano. When word had spread that we were starting a new Sunday evening mass geared toward teens featuring modern praise and worship music, they assumed that their group would be in charge. I had been hired to start a band and it was my responsibility to recruit musicians. My plan was to have as many well musically educated adults in the band as possible. I did offer to have a small choir available for these teens, but they weren’t going to be singing on their own microphones or necessarily leading any of the songs. Let me tell you…I had some angry moms to meet with. Eventually, I stuck with the choir option for the youth and shortly after a few weeks of not having the attention of singing “solos” many of them stopped participating. As the leader of the group, I made a decision and stood by it. I gave the parents the courtesy of hearing their complaints, then stuck with my plan. As the leader of an ensemble, there will be times that you have to make tough decision that may not be popular. That’s why you get paid the big bucks, right? 😉
Okay, I’ve experienced this situation a few times where a visitor or someone who isn’t a “regular” at our evening mass has come up to lecture one of us right after mass about how loud the entire group was or to complain that the electric guitar was “WAY TOO LOUD!!!!”. I may actually be too polite sometimes because there’s a lot going on right afterwards. Our group has to completely tear down all of our gear because we are in a shared choir loft, but I try to be respectful of people’s opinion and give them a moment to share their thought. What I have learned is that if someone has a legitimate piece of criticism or advice, they are willing to share their name with you or possibly meet with you to talk about it another time. If it’s just someone taking anger out on you, they’ll want to yell on the spot and then go on their way. Regardless of the intent of the critic, it’s a good idea to have another person with you during the discussion. Afterwards, talk to your fellow musicians, your pastor, or a member of your congregation who is there every week. If a person is complaining that you’re too noisy, then you can ask, “were we louder than usual this week”? In the situation with the angry person after mass, I just let them get it off their chest and thanked them for bringing the fact that my guitar was louder than a gun shot to my attention! (I may have said it with a hint of sarcasm…)
On the other hand, we’ve actually had occasions where people have said that the band wasn’t loud enough. Upon further investigation, some equipment had worn out and only a portion of the main speakers were functioning correctly. Not all complaints are negative. Some are very helpful.
It’s important to remember that as a music minister it’s your responsibility to make decisions. They won’t always be popular. That’s okay. Unfortunately we don’t always hear enough positive reinforcement. It’s often just the complaints that make it back to us. Keep in mind that music is something in which people have very different opinions and tastes.
Feel free to share with me some criticisms that you’ve had to deal with here in the comments. How did you handle it?