This blog records my transition from the Churches of Christ to Eastern Orthodoxy.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Bringing our 'Best' Before the Lord (part 2)

A second reason that the "bring your best before the Lord = finest quality musicianry" is mistaken is because it is wrongfully exclusive and/or oppressive. That is, it's yet another form of elitism.

Moving toward spotlighting and/or privileging highly-musically-skilled-people insinuates (at least indirectly) certain things about people who are not musically skilled. Spotlighting only the best musicians makes it more likely for certain conclusions to be drawn. Conclusions such as:

1. If i'm not musically gifted, my brethren don't want to hear me sing; so i
should either not sing, or not sing loud enough to be heard.

2. If i'm not musically gifted, it's more important that i listen to those who are
than to participate myself.

3. When singing, musical skill is equally or more important in worshipping God
than the disposition of my heart.

4. If i'm not musically gifted, i am less capable of edifying my brethren by

5. If i'm not musically gifted, my edification of others is less important than the
edification offered by those who are.

Be careful to note what i'm claiming. i'm not saying that musicianry-emphasizing-churches believe these things. i'm not saying that musicianry-emphasizing-churches want these things to implied by their worship services. i'm not saying that musicianry-emphasizing-churches aren't loving and well-intentioned and all that. What i am saying is that musicianry-emphasizing-churches create an atmosphere such that these subtle messages can develop (consciously or sub-consciously) in the minds of members.

My home congregation is a musicianry-emphasizing-church. i don't think they're doing anything intrinsically wrong by microphoning certain people. i don't think it's a sin for certain people to be heard louder than others. That's not what i'm saying. What i'm saying is that this practice is conducive to creating an environment in which some people get left behind. And Christ was not in the business of leaving people behind, nor should His church be. i've heard members of my own congregation speak as though the singing on a particular morning was 'better' or more God-pleasing just because it was more skillfully performed. i know members of my own congregation who do not care to sing aloud or audibly for the very reasons i'm talking about.

Why? Why should these people ever get the impression that their sacrifice of praise isn't good enough for God's ears? or their brethren's ears? No, i don't think this practice is inherently sinful. But if this is a possible/probable result, then is it worth it? Is it worth the cost to create an environment where certain people feel their worship and edification is less valuable than others? --that God or His children don't just accept me as i am, but require that i show up with some natural aptitudes before my worship and edification is 'on par' with theirs?

i've been in a song service led by a man who was, frankly, a terrible musician (i teach music for a living, by the way). He was off-key and off-tempo. But judging by the expression on faces and the unified participation, the congregation was well led in worship to God despite being poorly led in correct pitches and rhythms. He certainly led me well. Why? i knew the guy pretty well; i knew his heart. And i could see from the expression on his face that he was after handing God his whole heart with unwavering enthusiasm. i can't fathom why that guy somehow pleased God less or edified his brethren less on account of his poor musicianship. Why shouldn't he be asked to lead singing again? Why should he have to sit down and let a better musician lead?


Stewart said...

There are "church issues" and there are "heart issues". People that arrive at the conclusions you state have "heart issues". The greater question is what can be done for these people to turn their heart around.

I attend a church with a "praise team". Different voices are miked and I can hear and follow my part in songs that may be unfamiliar far easier than I can read sheet music. None of the conclusions you've drawn have ever occurred to me.

(I don't believe you're wrong, I'm speaking only from personal experience.)

I'm trying to find a reason why a lack of motivation to worship could be anything but a heart issue, and I'm coming up short. Starting with the ones you present:

1. I don't care about worshiping God, I'm only concerned about what the people around me think.

2. I don't enjoy singing, so I'll listen to other people that do.

3. I care so little about God's Word that I can't see the parallel between Moses' speech impediment and my inability to sing, and how both could be used to glorify God.

4. God doesn't exist. Christians are just people that get together on Sunday mornings for a little "acapella jam session", and they're not going to care if I don't sing.

5. My voice is SO bad that I'm going to ruin the entire service just by opening my mouth.

Even people that have a legitimate fear of ridicule are still focused more on self than on God!

So what can we do? How do we help these people refocus on God? Most importantly, we can call them out on it. If someone expresses one of those reasons to you, you have a responsibility to (lovingly) help them see how their focus has shifted away from God and settled on their own selfishness. Should the congregation disband the praise team? I don't think a single answer can apply to every congregation, but I do think that every congregation has a responsibility to help the members identify and address these "heart issues".

(I also don't want to offend the people you know that feel these things. They may be dedicated Christians in every other way, but maybe never thought of it as an internal problem before. If they accept the premise and make the determination to worship God instead of their own insecurities, the congregation grows stronger. If their hearts remain hardened [or worse, their fears are confirmed] they have a bigger problem than a bad voice.)

reborn1995 said...

i agree that people have an obligation to obey God and give Him their all as individuals regardless of what others think of them. BUT...

1. The person in question may be just a babe in Christ and require a great deal of encouragement/support of brethren to grow in that responsibility.

2. God has constructed a system where we are to operately spiritually as a community. Thus, even 'mature' Christians still *need* the support of brethren. That doesn't mean they can't choose to do what's right all on their own. But that doesn't mean they should have to. i should be able to expect my own brethren not to 'leave me behind.'

3. We have a collective responsibility as a church (congregation) not to nurture divisions and factions and prejudices and oppressions within our midst. Consider Paul scolding the Corinthian church for not waiting for each other before taking the Lord's Supper. It was likely a class distinction--the rich could come early; the poor had to work and couldn't come til later. They had a reponsibility to each other to ensure a tangible sense of unity. Notice they did the same thing with the gift of tongues. People with it bragged, people who didn't have it felt left out and wanted it so they'd fit in. All i'm saying is that we have at least a similar collective responsibility not to 'leave each other out.' And i'm arguing that emphasis on material and aesthetic elements in church life can (at least indirectly) lead to people being left out/left behind/devalued.

Stewart said...

Don't get me wrong -- I'm in total agreement with you on all three points, but I'm looking at things from a different perspective now.

1. I totally agree. And there are two places that the support can come from -- the pulpit or the people. A person with a hardening heart is more likely to listen to the person in the pew than part of the establishment that they believe has separated and lifted up only certain members of the congregation.

2. Once again, I sense the truth in your words. I would go a step further to suggest that the mature Christian should take greater care to the needs of the immature, but on a personal, not institutional level.

3. Verily thy words doth prick my heart. (I'm really not trying to be sarcastic here, I'm just trying to find creative ways to say "I agree" without being repetitive...) But it's this point where I start to diverge.

I volunteered as a youth minister at my previous congregation when the paid youth minister left. When they hired a youth minister, the elders handled the transition poorly. I stayed for a few months to show the teens that I supported the new youth minister, but I was left out of many functions and in the rare instances that I was invited to participate, it was clear that my input and insight was neither valued or desired. I was told that the service I felt called to do was no longer needed. Even though I worked with the teens for most of the school year, the only role the new youth minister could see for me was being the guy that told him where the best bowling alleys were.

I can freely admit here that I developed a heart issue. My wife and I started visiting another church in the area, privately wondering how long it would be before SOMEBODY at the old congregation asked us where we had been. Months went by without a phone call. After some time, I arranged a meeting with the "new guy" at the old congregation because I wanted to clear the air. I like to argue, but I hate conflict.

In that meeting, I found out that I was the subject of, apparently, "several" elders' meetings. A lot was being said about me, but nothing was being said to me.

I've used a lot of words to say nothing again, so let me break it down thusly: This happened in a congregation that all but the most hardcore, doily-wearing, warm-Welch's drinking congregations would find no flaw in their worship service. No praise team, PowerPoint sheet music available alongside the songbooks, no clapping allowed and the raising of hands was discouraged, and classic-to-new ratio of around 7:1 with the over/under split being drawn at around 1984. They claim to worship in "Spirit and in truth", but does the Spirit lead people to devalue those who desire to serve? In the same congregation, a woman who was guilty of adultery (with the former preacher, no less) that had repented and been forgiven by her husband wanted to volunteer for some duty that they were having trouble finding volunteers for -- I don't remember quite what it was at this point. The wife of one of the elders scratched her name out every time she signed up. Always in private, always without explanation. A woman who was guilty of being seduced by a preacher could find no forgiveness in that body of believers and no comfort in the other congregations in town.

EVERYTHING can be described in terms of "heart". I'm not saying that we can worship willy-nilly, but a worshipful heart wouldn't do that anyway. The heart that seeks God won't attack the heart of a servant. Elders concerned with shepherding the flock won't (shouldn't) make decisions that don't speak to the needs of the congregation. Even if the elders reached the decision that I should be separated from the family I had grown to love, was it not their responsibility to come to me?

I certainly understand your arguments, but the material and aesthetic elements are things that should be left up to the elders to determine their necessity in light of the needs of the congregation. It is our responsibility to love.

reborn1995 said...


Not really sure what to say to that. i'm not sure if the bulk of your #3 was to give anecdotal evidence that is confirmational or refutational. It sounded confirmational to me. So i didn't see where you diverged except for the very last line.

Whether it's up to elders or not how to treat material and aesthetic elements of worship services, i still can't imagine how deciding to place emphasis on such things doesn't (1) create an environment conducive to certain exclusions and favoritisms, and (2) constitute an act of poor prioritizing (i grant you, i haven't said much about the latter, just a claim thus far).


Stewart said...

#3 was mostly confirmational. My primary point was outside the scope of worship, but was directly pointed toward the "collective responsibility as a church (congregation) not to nurture divisions and factions and prejudices and oppressions within our midst." Worship wasn't the issue in the cases I described, but there was (and possibly still is) a serious "heart" issue that creates an environment conducive to exclusions and favoritisms. In other words, even in a congregation that doesn't believe in elevating others through "praise teams" or other worship-related separations violates the spirit of the admonition against the Corinthians over their class distinctions.

I wasn't explicitly disagreeing with your point, but reframing it as a heart issue. I don't necessarily think (and I'm just going to use "praise teams" as shorthand to refer to any and all material or aesthetic elements, whether shiny communion trays or whatever) praise teams should be added to a congregation that is comfortable without them. They would certainly cause a distraction for some members of the congregation and would certainly be an institutionalized stumbling block in a congregation resistant to change.

(It occurs to me here that the last congregation I attended DID have a "praise team" of sorts, in the sense that there was no paid songleader, but there were 5 or 6 men that filled that role on a rotating basis. If the elders decided to mic all those men at every service, there would be no difference between that and a "praise team".)

However, even if the elders focused completely on non-offensive, wholly inclusive worship, that doesn't mean that there aren't other institutionalized divisions in the church. Sometimes we (members of the church of Christ) have a tendency to focus more on what we do than why we do it.

I know that wasn't the focus of your article, but it's something that has weighed heavily on my heart since the last time I visited the congregation my parents attend and complained about the song service! There wasn't anything wrong with it, but the newest song was over 2 decades old and the singing was very different than that of my home congregation. After visiting again yesterday, the song service hadn't changed significantly (aside from a song written in this decade), but I got more out of it because I didn't let myself lose focus. I commented about the service to my sis-in-law later, and she was surprised at the songleader's choice of songs because "he's the guy that leads all these new songs that nobody knows"! I know "song choice" isn't necessarily the issue either, but it does serve as an illustration about how different congregations can have different needs...

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