On Playing in Church, Pt. 1
Question: I am a professional musician faithfully attending a local church. I am part of the music ministry, but I am struggling with my attitude. A lot of the other members don’t have musical training; and to be honest I feel embarrassed about the way we sound. I don’t know what to say that will be helpful. I am thinking about stepping down because it is just getting frustrating. What should I do?
Whenever I have any substantial conversation with a fellow Christian musician, the topic of playing in church usually arises. The struggle you describe is extremely common. I find that on one end, there are those serving out of a sense of obligation (but are secretly frustrated); and on the other, those that avoid church music altogether to in order to avoid conflict.
Through prayer and dealing with the attitudes in my own heart, I’ve found it helpful to meditate on the following.
First, I need to honestly ask myself what is at the root of my frustration or embarrassment. Is my main concern what people will infer about my abilities as a musician? If so, the real issue is that I fear man more than I fear God — and I need to confess that as sin and seek forgiveness.
Or, do I think that a technically good performance is more God-glorifying than a technically marred one? Well, it depends. Consider C.S. Lewis on this point:
“We must beware of the naive idea that our music can ‘please’ God as it would please a cultivated human hearer. That is like thinking, under the old Law, that He really needed the blood of bulls and goats.
To which an answer came, ‘Mine are the cattle upon a thousand hills’, and ‘if I am hungry, I will not tell thee.’ If God (in that sense) wanted music, He would not tell us. For all our offerings, whether of music or martyrdom, are like the intrinsically worthless present of a child, which a father values indeed, but values only for the intention.”
(From C.S. Lewis, Christian Reflections: On Church Music)
In other words, none of our music — no matter how in-tune and note-perfect — is going to impress God. Even the most intricate Bach fugue is nothing compared to the music we’ll experience one day in heaven. But what is astounding is that God accepts and even values our measly offerings when they are offered out of gratitude for what He has done for us through His Son.
I’ll save some additional thoughts about being part of a team and making musical suggestions for a later post.