On Playing in Church, Pt. 2
For professional musicians serving on a non-professional church music team, making musical suggestions can be a touchy area. Most people, regardless of their level of training, hold strong opinions about what music they like/dislike. Therefore, critiques on someone’s music-making can hit hard emotionally. Even the most well-intentioned suggestion feels like a personal attack. (I think every musician knows this feeling!)
But not wanting to offend someone shouldn’t be an excuse to just sit quietly in the corner when there are legitimate musical concerns. (Generally, this means I am operating either out of laziness or fear of man.) But we do need to exercise wisdom and humility as we seek to edify others for the sake of the church. Here are a few suggestions.
Differentiate between matters of personal taste and matters of legitimate concern.
Professional musicians are just as prone as everyone else to making their personal likings overly important. Is the issue bothering you really a problem, or do you just prefer it were done another way? For example — key too high for average congregation member to sing: important. Adding an extra Esus chord to jazz up the harmony: not important. This isn’t to say that you should never state your musical opinion. But remembering that the job of the music team is to aid, not entertain, the congregation in worship will help determine the importance of an issue.
Back up a critique with a reason and a solution.
One of the best pieces of advice I received in school was from a conducting teacher: “Always tell them why you’re doing it.” Most people don’t react well to their peers simply telling them what to do. They are much more receptive, however, if you can give a reason for your suggestion. (Incidentally, if you can’t think of a reason, you may need to reconsider point 1.)
Additionally, be ready to offer a solution for your critique. We’ve all been frustrated by people who are quick to complain but don’t lift a finger to fix the problem. Resolve not to criticize if you’re not willing to help. Sure, it will likely involve extra “work” on your part: rewriting a chord chart or staying behind for additional rehearsing. But if you are part of the team, consider it a God-given opportunity to serve and edify your teammates and the church.
Remember the Gospel.
Realizing that I am expendable is necessary before I can truly serve in any capacity. I find it all too tempting to base my value to a team on my abilities as a musician. The blessing of knowledge easily morphs into an excuse for pride. The only solution I know is to meditate often on the Gospel, for nothing else is more humbling and motivating.
Yes, I want any team I’m part of to improve, and I want to contribute to that improvement. But let it not be for the sake of sounding good or for improvement’s sake. Let it flow from a more profound desire to express in new and more beautiful ways what God has done.