Well, we’re halfway into September. Summer nights are fading, and school (unless you attend one of those weird quarter-system schools) is underway. For many people, September means back to routine.
Though I occasionally dream of living completely on-the-fly, I’m a big fan of routine and structure. If my schedule varies too much from week to week, my mind works less efficiently and I forget things I need to do. In general, I’m less focused.
But with routine comes the danger of losing one’s everyday sense of wonder. When life becomes a series of tasks, we can easily develop “to-do tunnel vision” — mechanically moving from one thing to another. At the end of the day, we’ve accomplished much, but lived little.
On an artistic level, losing wonder is commonly referred to “lack of inspiration.” It’s writer’s block. It’s when that piece you couldn’t wait to start learning becomes stale and boring despite faithful daily practice.
What do you do to maintain a sense of wonder in your life? If you’re an artist or musician, how do you deal with or prevent lack of inspiration?
(Photo: Nina Matthews)
September 13, 2010 2 Comments
In response to a recent post on church music teams, Wendy asked the following question:
I visited a church once who, I learned, ‘hires’ their Sunday morning musicians to play. They are professional musicians — hired because they are awesome musicians, and not necessarily Christian. Shouldn’t those who serve in the church be followers of Christ?
In order to answer this question, the first thing to consider is, “Why does a church meet?” My understanding from Scripture is that a church meets primarily to worship God together and build one another up in the faith (1 Corinthians 14). While a church may engage in other activities (i.e. evangelizing, helping the needy, etc.) the regular Sunday morning gatherings are meant for believers who understand Christ’s work on their behalf and wish to glorify God for who He is and what He has done. Non-believers are certainly welcome — Paul mentions that gatherings should be intelligible to them (1 Cor. 14:24-25). But if they do not have the Holy Spirit, they are unable to truly participate in worship (1 Cor. 12:3).
The next question is, what role does music and the music team play in a church meeting? Music in a worship service is not for entertainment — it is fundamentally to help believers think about and engage with God and His word (Eph. 5:19) and admonish/edify one another (Col. 3:16). To this end, the music team is essentially helping to lead a spiritual activity. The 9Marks website describes this task well:
Leading the church through singing and playing music is a kind of diaconal service, whether or not the people in the position have been formally affirmed as deacons. It’s diaconal in that musicians employ their common grace skills in order to serve the church for larger spiritual ends … a church should choose musicians whose lives will commend the gospel. After all, the musicians are leading and representing the church publicly, which means they’re representing Christ publicly. (cf Acts 6:1-6 )
So in short: yes, I believe church musicians should be Christians who desire to use their gifts to serve their fellow believers. This doesn’t mean that Christians can’t worship God through the art/music of unbelievers (they can and do) — but I don’t think the church service is the place for that.
- Worship Matters: Non-Christians on the Worship Team
- Don Whitney: 10 More Ways to Improve Your Church Worship Service
- 9Marks Q&A on Corporate Worship
(Photo: Brian Petersen)
August 28, 2010 No Comments
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.
August 16, 2010 4 Comments
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.
August 12, 2010 1 Comment