The Servant Musician

johnsonFriday, March 28, 2014

In my 23 years of full-time church and 26 years of overall music-making in the church I have often wondered if the congregations I have served know and understand the joys and challenges of being a servant musician. I often wonder if I have communicated a clear philosophy of my work beyond just what the community sees or maybe better put, hears on a Sunday morning. I would like to share with you a few principles that have guided my work.

Harold Best, in Music Through the Eyes of Faith, puts it this way: “What does it mean to be creative in our music-making? Above all, it means that we should not make music to prove who we are or to authenticate ourselves. God created in us the capability for understanding that we are authenticated in him, not in what we do. In the final analysis, music-making is neither a means nor an end, but an offering, therefore an act of worship.” All music-makers everywhere must understand this and proceed accordingly. Nothing but harm lies ahead if we try to authenticate ourselves through our musical works or become so attached to them—addicted might be a better word—that we have no sense of worth or being without this “proof” of existence church musician John Yarrington tells us in The Musicians Walk (p. 160,161)

Harold Best continues to guide saying: All servant musicians must be able to be in creative transit, serving this community and challenging that one, all the while showing grace, power, elegance, and imagination. (p. 33) So here is a list of what I try to do; of how I try to organize myself around my calling as a servant musician. My hope is that you find this interesting and that it might give pause to think about ways we can strengthen our community.

  1. I see myself as the church’s “song” leader
  2. I try to find opportunities to lead singing whenever and wherever I can
  3. I try to be flexible, but I don’t want to be a doormat.
  4. I try to be a friend to other staff members.
  5. I try to make sure that I am never on the receiving end of this comment, “You didn’t tell me that this was on the calendar.”
  6. I try to always remember who the hymns are for and find creative ways to involve the congregation.
  7. I always try to use appropriate (suitable) music and don’t look at the selections as “good” or “bad,” I try to program hymns and songs that you like to sing. Not all of them are the best musical examples and some are not even outstanding theologically, but we are called to sing and you love to sing, so sing the favorites we will.
  8. I don’t try to get to artsy with the Worship Music and the Arts Ministry Team. They want the facts and they want to know how they can help me in shaping the future of the arts ministry. They don’t care about when Ralph Vaughan Williams was born—they want to know how they can help me make the Vaughan Williams program a success! This, my dear friends is a very good balance as I can tend to get very “artsy.”
  9. I realize I am not superhuman. I sit lightly with myself (it has taken years for me to get to this!) I laugh often and consider it an off day if I don’t laugh at least 15 minutes, if I don’t, I consider it an “under-laughed” day!
  10. I try to always make myself available to you for a visit. Finally, I love hugs!