The Gordon Jones Rules of Change

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I grew up in churches where my father was Pastor and I’ve been a church member all my life. I sense that most congregations don’t experiment much with new hymns. 

Dr. Gordon Jones was Organist and Director of Music at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Manhattan for the last thirty years of his life. He was an incredible organist. He had a doctorate in Sacred Music. He also was in the Army in Burma during World War II. All in all, he was an interesting fellow.

He was also a master of change. In the time he served St Peters, he probably introduced more new hymns to the church with less resistance than any church music director anywhere.

When I came home on leave from the Marines, I made it a point to stop by and say “Hi” to Dr. Jones. We got to talking and he told me his secret. They’re good rules for any kind of change.

Dr. Jones’s first rule was: only introduce singable hymns. Sounds simple. But too many music directors try to introduce hymns that only trained voices can manage well.  In business, too many change initiatives are driven by the need to do something dramatic or different. It doesn’t matter how grand the theory or how elaborate the plan is if folks can’t make it work. 

His second rule was simple, too. Introduce things slowly to build familiarity with your ideas. Dr. Jones introduced a hymn by playing the tune during times when people just listened, such as the prelude or postlude. Later he’d use it as a communion hymn. Finally, the hymn would be selected for a prominent part of the service.

I remember him chuckling gently, pleased at his own cunning. “By then,” he said, “Some people were nudging each other and saying, ‘I love this one.'”

Think about Gordon Jones the next time you decide to change something at work. There’s no need to rush. Take your time. Change things that are likely to work. Introduce your concept and let people get comfortable with it before you ask them to act.

One more thing. Call it Gordon Jones Rule Nr. 3. Dr. Jones was responsible for adding many hymns to the congregation’s repertoire. But his leadership was quiet and understated. There was no waving of arms and shouting ”Follow me!” The best leadership is often like that. To quote Lao Tzu: “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.”

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What People Are Saying

J.W. Arnold   |   28 Feb 2022   |   Reply

As a part-time church music director and longtime PR, marketing and management consultant, I can attest to the wisdom of Dr. Jones’ approach. It works in the sanctuary and also in the boardroom. Thanks for sharing!

Wally Bock   |   28 Feb 2022   |   Reply

Thanks for the firsthand verification.

Ms Kasia Borowiec   |   28 Feb 2022   |   Reply

Interesting take on change, that as a musician you will appreciate!