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The Labor of a Church Musician, Part 2

Note: This is the second of a two-part series, delivered by Harold Best at the 2014 Doxology & Theology Conference.

A few more thoughts about labor. There is a difference between labor and what labor produces; it varies from person to person, talent to talent, parish to parish. Pastor Luke can saw a piece of worship wood to length just once and it always seems to fit just right; Pastor Jack saws his piece three times and it’s still too short. In both cases there’s no guarantee about the presence or absence of worship; neither labor nor product counts except as labor and product. You can labor until the seat of your pants drags in the sand, and you look like you’ve slept in a waffle iron, but don’t bargain for blessing on that account. But, in the Spirit and taking up your cross, examine yourself and your work. Don’t compare. Worship style by envy, church growth by covetousness, and self-promoting charisma are successes wrapped in a stench, turds in a punch bowl. Evaluate your laboring self in Christ-in-you and take your rest there.

Further, all of us labor at things that have virtually no power beyond themselves until we decide to turn them in a chosen direction. An atom bomb is a bulbous, numb, dumb artifact. But wire it up to human impulse, and it’ll destroy a county’s worth of shopping malls, kindergartens, and casinos. So it is with all things we think up and make: by themselves, no big deal, until we use them according to OUR REASONS. Remember this: YOU have the worldview, the artifact doesn’t.

That piece of worship wood that Luke and Jack have been working on? It’s mute, useless, and qualitatively variable. But think beyond the wood. Forget what Luke and Jack want to do with it. Go directly to this Person we confess to be Lord of All, Creator of Heaven and wood. Humbly offer your cut of it to Him to use as He pleases; get out of the way; forget everything you’ve inserted into the bargain: your skill with worship wood, your magical worship formulas, your Music-is-Power pharmaceuticals, your shaky journeys into what’s sacred and what’s not. Test it all against the Word of God. Walk in biblical daylight, simple biblical daylight. Be pure in heart and wise as serpents with the things that are, in themselves, neither pure nor impure. Don’t sanctify or dirty them with your or anybody else’s constructs. Purify yourselves, biblicize your minds and train your hearts and all things musical will then become pure; offer them up to the Only One whose Spirit can show you the difference between which purity to use here, which to use there, and which to put aside until tomorrow. And if you can’t envision tomorrow, you flirt with embalmed traditionalism.

Another thought: Are you laboring in worship or is your labor just a form of management in costume? Let’s think of the central worship team: not you but the congregation. They labor, too. But have Luke and Jack diverted their labor from worship in faith to managing by works? Maybe these two guys have slicky-slicked the congregation out of their true labor by managing things as if God Himself were there and you just have to surrender to it and worship happens; no sweat, just a gush of spiritual pheromones as if there were no other worship except right now, right here. Sufficient for today is the worship thereof, but come Monday? Cancer? Divorce?

Is worship equally shared labor? Luke and Jack do their wood-cutting. But what about the congregation? They’re out-sung and out-gunned and we have a labor-management problem. Is the worship equation skewed? Has the central worship team been turned into a B team? The congregation does not accompany the worship team, or the worship team the congregation. Oneness-in Christ-in-us implies but one thing: collaboration: co-labor-ation. Do you want an easy yoke and a light burden? Try collaborative worship. It becomes the Spirit’s burden, yesterday, today, and forever.

Examine your labor. It’ll always be daunting, but you’ll find Christ’s rest when you submit your labor to Him for instruction, reproof, correction, so that each of you will be thoroughly furnished unto every good labor. I submit this to you having failed in many ways and longing for each of you to find the old paths that so many of us missed in many ways in the so-called good old days.

Amen.

Harold Best is the Emeritus Dean/Professor of Music of the Wheaton College Conservatory of Music. He is the author of numerous articles on the relationship of Christianity to the arts and worship as well as three books, including Music Through the Eyes of Faith and Unceasing Worship: Biblical Perspectives on Worship and the Arts.

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