Jennifer Knapp and Ministry Etiquette

I’ve been reading Jennifer Knapp’s autobiography, Facing the Music. I am only about halfway through it, and I already have comments.

For the uninitiated, Jennifer Knapp was quite the Christian music star in the mid-1990’s. Her deep, soulful voice and honest lyrics got her compared to Sara McLachlan and Jewel. Jennifer did about four albums, toured with Third Day and DC Talk (Toby Mac’s band for you young-uns). By all accounts, Jennifer Knapp was doing quite well.

Then, early in the next decade, she mysteriously disappeared from the scene. In 2007, she re-emerged to announce on Larry King that she had quit Christian music because she was a lesbian. Then she had a few words to say about how the church viewed homosexuality. Homosexuality in the church is a huge topic, one I won’t take on…at least today.

Today I want to talk about Christian culture. Jennifer does make some rather accurate observations on Christian culture.  Overall she appears to respect, while not necessarily subscribe to it. At times, though, she seems to have walked away from experiences confused by the culture and never really understanding why certain things were. I would like to answer Jennifer, and anyone else who may be similarly confused, on questions of Christian culture.

Particularly on a certain matter she addresses—being a guest musician/minister. A guest minister is sort of the church version to playing in clubs. It’s the entry-level position to being a Christian rock star—which Jennifer ultimately became.

There is a defined etiquette for such an endeavor. So much so that many ministry organizations teach an entire workshop on this etiquette. Jennifer had no such training, and writes about being frustrated and confused by these expectations. Even now, she is still confused at the pastors who would e-mail her manager, saying, “Jennifer didn’t want to go water-rafting with us. I don’t know where she is in her walk.”

It’s all about the missionary position.

The Christian music industry recognizes rock stars, and treats its musicians as such (more or less). Churches don’t. Overall, the idea of a personality drawing attention to themselves, for purely entertainment purposes, goes against the order of Christianity. There is a time and place for all of that if that’s what you’re after. But, the church stage is not it. By and large, indie Christian musicians are treated like missionaries within their own country.

Obviously in 21st century America, no one expects anyone to sleep with fleas or eat rats. But, the ministry is not, and never has been, a lucrative profession. Your visit is still likely going to be rather…budget.

The church certainly won’t feed you caviar and may not even put you in a hotel.  Rather, you will likely stay with a church leader, and at the event, be served whatever food can be cheaply mass produced for your whole entourage. (This is usually something along the lines of frozen pizza and salad).

Compliment the home.

While you will be lodged in a comfortable American home, remember they are still making sacrifices for you. Your position is to recognize and be grateful. They may have asked their preteen daughter to sleep on the floor in her sister’s room so that you could have a private room during your stay. You are expected to sleep on her lumpy twin bed and smile and say, “Thank you, I appreciate you giving up your room for me.”

You don’t know what went into your arrival. For example, your accommodations may have included a sparkling bathroom that looks like a magazine. But the woman of the house may have worked hard to restore order to a bathroom normally plagued by five schoolchildren. As she went through the towels, she may have felt embarrassed by her raggedy towels, and thought, “You know? This is a good time to break down and just replace these towels.” So, she made five trips to Ross that afternoon, and pulled the tags off to look like she didn’t.

Spend time with the family.

The rule of thumb is to arrive, settle your luggage into your quarters, then come out and spend somewhere around an hour having late night snacks and social time with your hosts. You may then politely excuse yourself to bed if you feel inclined.

It may be awkward, but look at it from their perspective. They have a curious stranger staying in their home. Give them a chance to get to know you. The teenage son who aspires to be a drummer may have been waiting to show you his stuff. They may have also forbidden the children to engage in social activities that night, “because we’re having company and you need to be there.”

So, if you walk in and say, “I’m tired and I just want to go to bed,” that family feels a bit…used. Yes, you’re falling over tired, I get it. Believe me, I do. So ask for coffee and then go check out Junior’s beats. I think God created “second winds” just for traveling minsters.

Get a feel for the family’s morning schedule.

If everyone is up and out the door by seven a.m., and you’re still asleep in the living room, it’s going to be difficult for them to work around. Fall into their schedule. Likewise, if you will be leaving early, be careful to be quiet and say your goodbyes the night before.

Share  the bathroom.

If you will be showering, make it less than ten minutes. Aside from running out the hot water, a longer shower may disrupt their morning routines. For example, the teenage daughter may feel intimidated to knock on the bathroom door to get her hair dryer, and will instead risk being late for her morning activities. She will not appreciate this.

Late night showers may seem less disruptive, but don’t make it too late because some homes have noisy pipes that can keep others awake.

A good tip is to brush your teeth with the bathroom door open, to allow people access to their supplies. Apply make-up/hair care in your quarters rather than tying up the bathroom.

Social Events are Screening Events.

Jennifer was mystified at how she offended her host by declining extra social events. Yes, this is offensive. Sure, you may have just driven six hours and then they asked you to go to the lake for the afternoon. But this is more than just a fun social event. This is a networking function, something akin to when businessmen take their clients out “for a good time.” It’s about building relationships with the leaders. It’s also about building trust.

When a church leader puts someone on their stage, it is a large responsibility. That congregation knows and trusts their leadership. So, by inviting you, they are endorsing you and your message. Somehow you got through their screening process and received an invitation. But now they want to know more.

They want to know what you’re about and how you think. They want to know if your doctrines are the same. If they aren’t, they want to know so they can politely ask you to respect their doctrine while on their stage. They want to know your story, and they also want to talk to you about their church, what it’s like, and what their members are like. This is all good stuff to know before you get on a stage.

The reason they expect all of this because on their own journey toward church leadership, they’ve followed these guidelines themselves a few dozen times. So, when someone violates these conventions, it immediately sends off signals that this person doesn’t know “the rules.” Which immediately begs the question, “How long have they been a Christian, and to what extent?” And when they begin to ask that, the next logical question is, “Can I trust them in my pulpit?”

This is why Jennifer Knapp’s manager received an e-mail stating, “Jennifer didn’t want to go water-rafting with us. I wonder about her faith.”

And Then When It’s All Over

Kevin Max, another very prominent musician during this time, did an interview stating that the church places too many expectations on its ministers.

Jennifer Knapp writes that toward the end of her career, she had turned into a burned out, cynical mess simply because she was tired. She tells a story about being backstage and hearing her name called. She whips around, and faces a young woman. She yells, “Who let you back here? How did you get here?” The young woman turns pale and stammers, “I just…wanted to tell you how much your music has meant to me.” Jennifer thanked her, signed her CD and went to her dressing room and cried. How had she become this burnt out?

I had read with a fair amount of cynicism until I related somewhat to her story. My own ministry experience left me tired and needing a break. Was Kevin right? Do we expect too much of people on a platform? Is all of this too much for too little? What do you think?


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