Imagine with me for a moment that we’re at a friend’s wedding reception...
The speeches are done, the cake has been cut, and the bride and groom have waltzed around the dance floor to some Ella Fitzgerald. Then comes the moment I’ve been dreading...the MC invites us all to the dance floor. My internal self-coach has been preparing for this moment “You can do it…it’s dark, and no one’s looking...one or two songs...just until Blame it on the Boogie...”. Fiona’s tugging on my arm. I slowly rise and steel myself, ready to enter the fray. And then I see them, brightly lit and sparkling in the centre of the floor. Daryl and Charlene*, the state ballroom dancing champions...
You can gather by now that I’m not the world’s most confident or enthusiastic dancer. It’s not that I’m against dancing, and I know how much Fiona loves it...it’s just something that I’m not so comfortable with. But Daryl and Charlene are on the other end of the spectrum. Not only do they love dancing, but they have studied and practiced and trained together for years to be thoroughly excellent.
So what happens next?
It all really depends on how they choose to apply their excellence…
They could choose to wow us all with their spins and turns and “insert technical dancing terms here”. We’d all be really impressed, and cheer for them at the end...but I'd be going nowhere near the dancefloor after that!
But...on the other hand, there’s no-one in the room better equipped to get me (and everyone else) up on the floor, and dancing better than I have ever danced before. Daryl and Charlene could choose to use their skill, knowledge and experience to teach us all a few steps and moves, get us feeling some confidence, and then lead the way in demonstrating and guiding as the music starts.
what end will our excellence serve?
So hopefully you’ve deconstructed this illustration by now to see that I’m not really talking about dancing. The issue of excellence in church music and corporate worship has seemed to come up a lot for me recently. And I definitely want to affirm much of what is being said on the value of honing your skills and being well prepared. But excellence and skill are not virtues in and of themselves. What end will our excellence serve?**
Every weekend, there are a bunch of people in our gatherings who aren’t particularly confident or enthusiastic singers. It’s not that they don’t love God, or want to express their praise and thanksgiving to Him. It’s just that, for a whole lot of different reasons, it’s not something they’re comfortable doing in song.
But it’s also clear that God wants us to sing together as we gather - for our good and His glory. (Eph 5:18-20, Col 3:16-17)
So, for those of us with skills and experience in music and singing, we have important roles to play - and some important decisions to make and priorities to set. How we choose to apply our skill, excellence and preparation can either serve, equip and encourage our churches to sing together, or leave them behind as appreciative but passive audiences.
Singers - your voice may really shine in a particular register. But are you prepared to use your training and experience to sing in a register less natural for you, in order that the majority of the congregation might feel confident to join in enthusiastically?
Drummers - you may have more chops than a butcher’s shop. Will you submit those skills to serve the congregation by providing a stable rhythmic foundation and clear musical cues that make verse and chorus entrances intuitive?
Musicians (not that drummers aren’t musicians...I hear you!) - how this often applies is with your ears...and what’s between them! How can you be working hard to listen skillfully, and discern the best times and notes to play (and when not to play at all) so that the musical accompaniment not only has space for the congregations voices to join, but also appropriately lifts and stirs our emotions to feel the truths we’re singing about?
The question should not be whether or not we choose to do things with excellence. Instead, the question should be: to what ends, and for who's glory, will our excellence and skill serve?
*Not their real names!
**In all this, it’s critical that we remember that even our best efforts do nothing to approve us in the eyes of God. There has only ever been one truly excellent worshipper - and the good news of the Gospel is that all our flawed efforts to worship God are clothed in Jesus’ perfect righteousness! (2 Cor 5:21) More about that soon...