Thursday, August 22, 2019

Somebody Was Wrong

This morning a friend sent me a link to this Wesley Brothers comic and asked what I thought about it.  I'm guessing it's because I'm a church music dork and everyone knows it.  The conversation dredged up some thoughts I've been having on music and its role in the church.

Note I didn't say it's role in worship.  I didn't say "it's" because that's the wrong form and I would have failed a paper in Ms. Schneider's 9th grade English class for what she called a "Major Mechanical Error."  No lie, she'd write "MME" on your paper in gigantic red letters and fail you.  She would have failed her own mother, I think.

I also didn't say "worship."  Because this world does not need even one more blog or article or poem or musing about what kind of music is best suited for worship.  Writing such a piece is something akin to going to a family reunion, standing over the dilled chicken salad and yelling, "Conservatives are heartless, democrats are gutless, and I never, ever eat Granny's fruitcake when she sends it.  I don't even give it to the dog."  All you're going to do is stir up a lot of anger.  And your feeble attempt to unify everyone at the end with a common truth (the bit about the fruitcake) will not overcome the political battle royale you started.

Image result for battle royale wrestling
No, it's YOUR turn to host Thanksgiving this year!!!!
No, I'm thinking about music and the church.  Merely drawing that distinction is a good indicator of how I think about this. There are a number of folks who believe music to be strictly a worship endeavor.  Our church's music budget, for example, falls under the greater heading of worship.  And I can understand why that's the case, because if you have to pick a category, it makes the most sense.  Most of my time is spent preparing for or serving in worship with one choir or another.  But that's an awfully limited view of what music ministry can be.

A Workhorse of the Church's Vision

Worship will always be a central part of any church's vision...or at least it should.  But Christ's call to us actually wasn't just to worship him (actually he never instructed us to worship him in the same way he gave other instructions).  Christ called us to love God and neighbor and to make disciples.  Faithful churches should have visions that move beyond worship, and music ministries that function as part of those churches should make it a point to live into those visions.  If a church's focus is working with people experiencing homelessness, the music ministry should be a part of that effort.  Maybe it's by providing music at programming.  Maybe it's by starting a choir for such people.  If a church's focus is to reach out into the community, then the music ministry should figure out how to reach with it.  Maybe concerts outside the church are the best way to go.  Maybe starting some musical opportunities in the community or retooling some of the opportunities offered by the church itself.

It's important because music is unique among ministries and programs in the way it can work alongside them.  Because music can be a powerful ally.  Think of a movie and its accompanying film score.  A movie can be visually stunning and artfully rendered, but the addition of a powerful score can make it transcendent.  In this way, music can serve as an intensifier for the work and vision of the church.

The Ultimate Community Builder

As the universal language, music can build bridges where none have existed.  And because music is both produced and received so close to the heart, it can connect people in ways nothing else can.  Not just the hearing of music, but participating together in creating it.  And it works for any song you can sing together.  Hymns?  Great!  Choruses?  Great!  A bunch of middle schoolers sitting around a table banging on their cups?  Great!  When we make music together we breathe together.  We literally conspire ("breathe with").

As long as someone has taught them how it goes.

Building community, I'm convinced, is the way to make disciples.  Most people want to be a part of something bigger than themselves.  Creating a community to accept them...isn't all that difficult.  But you can't do it if you immediately start arguing about what music you can do and what music you can't.  Such arguments miss the whole point of doing music ministry in the first place.  We don't exist to exclude.  We exist to include.  Because all God's children really do have a place in the choir.

All of which brings me back to that comic strip.  We don't pick music to entertain people, and we don't pick it to educate people.  We pick music to engage people.  To touch their hearts or their heads or their imaginations.  To bring them into community and to inspire them.  At the top of this blog you can see that the music ministry at Decatur First seeks to build relationships through music.  That means relationships with God, each other, and our community.

Somehow, somewhere, somebody got the idea that the church exists to serve music.  Somebody was wrong.  It's not about making flawless music.  It's not about picking the "best kind" of music (as if that were actually a thing: de gustibus non est disputandum).  Because the music (the tunes, the texts, all of it) should be about finding what kind of music best helps the church (Church?) answer the gospel call making that music together to the very best of our ability.

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