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Fine-Tune Your People Skills

BY CHERI WALTERS

Have you ever wanted to throw something during a choir rehearsal? I have too. Have you ever actually done it? I hope your answer is a firm "No."

The days of the talented but temperamental artiste are over. The baton-throwing, arm-waving, insult-screaming tantrums that were endured–even expected–from the great conductors of the past are no longer tolerated by the baby boomers who now fill orchestra chairs.

Unfortunately, some Christian musicians believe it’s acceptable to yell and berate people because "you know how temperamental musicians are." As Bill Gaither put it, these musicians believe there is some sort of "artist’s exemption card." It’s time to wake up and see the empty choir loft. It’s time to practice and hone those people skills you should have been using all along. The simple skills that Jesus and Paul taught are easy to talk about and hard to live–putting others first, giving honor to the weaker members, and treating others as you’d like to be treated. Here are some practical tips for improving your people skills:

Smile! When caught up in rehearsal schedules, production details, and keeping all the plates spinning in the air it is easy to forget this simple practice. Smiles cost nothing, but they buy goodwill. Be positive, cheerful, and enthusiastic, and people will want to be part of what you’re doing. Be dour, stressed out, or legalistic, and the few people you recruit will likely be there out of guilt.

Laugh. Don’t take yourself so seriously that you can’t have fun from time to time. Our church has presented a "‘Living Last Supper" for the past several Easter seasons. Aside from being an effective outreach, the production is a male-bonding experience for the men who portray Jesus and the Twelve. They have so much fun in rehearsals it is easy to recruit actors each year. As "Jesus" was making his way along the table in the footwashing scene at one rehearsal, I looked away from the women’s choir to see that the "disciples" all had their heads down, facing away from me. "Guys, heads up!" I called–but no response. At the end of the song the reason became clear–all 13 of them wore Groucho Marx noses and glasses. A photo of them hangs in my office today and never fails to make me laugh.

Appreciate. Find whatever good thing you can in each person and praise him or her for it. Be your worship team’s or choir members’ biggest fan. Give credit generously. Consider how many words of praise or encouragement it takes to cancel out one word of criticism and how much criticism most people endure each day at work, at school, or even at home. Instead of being another critic, be a cheerleader. Encourage them; root them on. You enjoy being with people who make you feel loved, accepted, and appreciated. It is a freeing sensation that makes you want to give them your best. It will do the same for those you encourage.

Plan. The more time you put in before rehearsal starts, the less time you will wasted during rehearsal or any other meeting. Time is one of the most precious commodities. According to researcher George Barna, time is quickly becoming more important than money to most people. Have an organized plan or goal so that participants realize you are not wasting their time. Keep the rehearsal or meeting moving. This keeps chatter to a minimum. Start and end on time. It is difficult to begin rehearsal when most of the tenors haven’t arrived, but it’s important to do it anyway.

Coach. According to John Naisbitt and Patricia Aburdene, authors of Megatrends 2000, "Today we are replacing the manager as order giver with the manager as teacher, facilitator, and coach. The order giver has all the answers and tells everyone what to do; the facilitator knows how to draw the answers out of those who know them best–the people doing the job." It is part of the nature of leaders to be self-starters. However, self-starters are usually do-it-yourselfers, and that’s not how the church was meant to operate.

You’re a team and depend on the varying strengths of other team members. A good coach learns and develops those strengths and puts them into play for the advantage of the whole team. Share your vision, goals, and strategies with those you recruit worship team members, children’s choir directors, choir officers, and so on. They will be more effective in ministry if you include them in your vision for that ministry.

Pray. "I’ll pray for you" is easier said than done. Make a habit of praying for each person on your ministry team at least once a week. If your drummer calls and says he won’t make it to rehearsal because his 2-year-old has a high fever, ask to pray with him right then over the phone. Most people are surprised but calmed and encouraged by such a prayer. When in a personality conflict with someone in the choir, the last thing you want to do is pray for that person, but it’s the first thing you need to do. It doesn’t always change the person, but it changes your attitude. Take advantage of small pockets of time to pray, such as when you’re driving or waiting for an appointment. It makes a difference.

The best way to fine-tune those people skills is to keep growing more Christ-like. As you become more like Him, you’ll treat His people with the love and respect He has for each of us.