The mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus one day with a special request. She thought she knew what kind of leader Jesus was going to be and thought her sons should occupy prominent positions of authority alongside him (preferably one on the right and one on the left).
As far as I know, the discussion was not about stage positioning, song choices, rehearsal times or whether the drums should play in the introduction. However, as Jesus responds, we begin to see exactly what his leadership will be like, and therefore what leadership should look like among all who claim to follow him (including church musicians):
25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.
26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,
27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave–
28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
If you were to apply those verses to your roles as church musicians, how would you approach the task? As leaders or servants? Why not both? When following Jesus, surely it has to be both. In fact you could say it is leadership marked by servanthood. Whether preaching, playing lead guitar or coordinating the setting up of chairs, followers of Jesus lead others by assuming the posture of a servant.
So what does all this mean for your band (or even for you as a sole musician or singer) as you play and sing week by week for the good of your church? Perhaps it is best to keep asking yourself these two practical questions:
Who Are You Serving?
Of course it is easy to give the most obvious correct answer to this question – Jesus! But playing music in a church band is never just about you and Jesus. It is part of your responsibility to consider exactly who else you are serving.
Firstly, there’s your minister or pastor or vicar or elders – whoever is set apart to teach the Bible. As singing is one of the ways a congregation teaches and admonishes one another (Col 3:16), you – the band – are involved in the teaching ministry of your church as you lead and support the singing. Serve your Bible teachers well by submitting to their authority as they handle God’s word, by selecting carefully the songs you will play (see Peter’s posts), and by praying for them when you rehearse.
Secondly, there is the congregation. Let’s say 50 people as an example. That’s at least 200 different opinions and tastes when it comes to music! Being a servant leader here won’t mean trying to pander to everyone’s tastes, but it will mean playing and singing and selecting songs in such a way that the gathered church are singing words they understand (that are good for them) to tunes they can follow that have been taught well. And if you can encourage a deeper appreciation for different styles of hymnody across generations, that too can be a great way to serve your congregation.
Thirdly, there are your fellow musicians. Serving each other well will include: training and resourcing one another; encouraging good playing and faithful service; working hard and creatively together to bring the best out of each band member; regularly denying yourself and your desires to play in a certain style, for a certain amount of time, or in various shades of limelight – for the good of the band and the congregation.
Finally, consider the non-Christian visiting your church, brought by a friend or family member. As far as you are able, consider how you can serve them by ensuring that the singing is clear and intelligible (1 Cor 14:24), explains the gospel, and is not stylistically cringeworthy or done to such a poor standard that it becomes a barrier.
That’s the ‘who’. What about the ‘how’?
How Are You Serving?
Are you someone who serves your church just as a musician, or are you also serving faithfully in other important ways? If you’re a good musician, you’re probably well appreciated and in demand for playing music in your church. It then becomes very easy to think that music is what you do for church, it’s how you serve, it’s fulfilling an important role – so you don’t need to do anything else.
Let me encourage you to consider other important avenues of service that will enrich, inform and encourage you as you play in the band. Why not also help practically with less glamorous jobs that always need doing in church life? Why not also commit yourself to reading the Bible with another Christian, to being involved in discipling relationships that grow both you and other Christians?
After all, we’re called to follow the greatest of all servant leaders, the Son of Man who did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
Andrew McKenna is one of the pastors of Christchurch Market Harborough and works with the Music Ministry team to teach and train church musicians. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyMcKenna