"Playing in church… should I or shouldn’t I?"
When music is your full-time job, or your full-time study, there are a whole load of questions that might be brought up as you figure out how it fits into church. One of the biggest is in deciding whether or not to join the music team, playing each Sunday. Is it right or wrong? Is it selfish to say no, even if I really don’t want to? Is it wrong of the person in charge to only use me once a month when I’m clearly the best one here?
Some musicians, like me, love playing in church. While I was studying classical performance, it was a feature of my week that I deeply cherished: leading my church family in praise of our God together. However I’m also aware that many others I meet would simply rather avoid playing in church altogether. It feels too much like work. Maybe you’re too focused on your own tone and tuning to worship God with your heart. You just want that day of rest each week. Perhaps one of those reasons describes you, or perhaps you have a totally different feeling altogether.
In this article I want to explore some of these questions, to help you to think through your own attitude to this matter. While I almost certainly won’t give you all the answers you might be looking for, I hope to equip you with some tools that will help you work them out for yourself.
Stewarding God’s gifts
"Should I become a violinist or a pastor? I don't want to waste the gifts God has given me!"
Some people spend a long time worrying about whether they’re wasting their gifts. I’m sure that this isn’t all bad, and some people come to helpful realisations by thinking it through and reflecting. But at the same time, I think it’s easy to feel unnecessary pressure in decision-making, and miss the point of the unique blend of strengths and weaknesses that God has given us.
Psalm 139 paints an intimate picture of God as creator. In verse 13, David writes of the Lord ‘knitting him together in his mother’s womb’- poetically speaking of how God cares about and intentionally designs each detail of every human being. But notice too verse 16: 'in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me.' God intricately fashions each detail of our nature, while holding our days and our lives and all of our future in His view. Our physical appearance, our minds, and of course our strengths, are all intentional products of God’s careful design process.
That means that the questions we should be asking is not 'which of my gifts is my best?' or 'which of my gifts is most important?' That kind of thinking doesn’t reflect the truth of our design. If God made us exactly as we are, then all of our details and all of our gifts are important. Each of them has a purpose and a reason, and we should be looking to use all of them.
Therefore, a good steward of God’s gifts is someone who seeks to discern what their gifts are and use as many of them as possible. You’re a musician - great! That’s one gift. But you might also be a leader, or a good cook, or have a big house, or be a good teacher, or have a car, or handle the Bible well. I’m not saying it’s always possible to use all of your gifts in everything you do, but having a broad awareness of the way God has made you, and the situations he has placed you in is crucial to good stewardship.
If you are a professional musician, or are pursuing a career in that area, it is clear that you are not ignoring your gifts in that area. You have acknowledged them and are seeking to use and develop them. But what does that mean for church? Should we always be looking for (and taking) every opportunity to do music?
Stewarding the gift of music
With our thoughts about general stewardship in mind, let’s think about how we might approach church involvement as musicians. Clearly music is one gift that God has given to us, and we don’t want to take that lightly, but here are some other questions that it’s helpful to think through too:
Do I have to serve in church?
In 1 Corinthians 12:12-31, Paul likens the church to a body. Bodies are made up of many different parts, each with its own part to play, to contribute to the whole. The church is the same - made up of many members, each with their own part to play in the functioning of the family together. Whoever you are, whatever gifts you have, in bringing you into His church God has a part for you to play there. There should be no wasted members.
Our different gifts and different lifestyles mean that serving might look completely different for each of us, but that’s not an excuse to sit back and just become a ‘consumer’. How can you be actively involved in your church family? Which part is there for you to play?
In what ways could I potentially serve my church?
It’s necessary then to stop and think about your own personal situation. What gifts has God given you that could be useful to your church? Aside from music, there are many more - some obvious, and some less so. Perhaps you’re great at welcoming new people. Perhaps you have a propensity for teaching children. Perhaps you love reading the Bible one to one with others. You’re unique - so know yourself!
You cannot not serve your church, but maybe there is more than one option for you. At a previous church for me, I remember facing the choice between the music team and the Sunday youth work - I couldn’t do both without clashes, but had some ability in both areas. I had a decision to make.
What is the music situation in my church?
Maybe your church is full of capable musicians, and they get on just fine without you. Maybe there are none and they are desperate for someone to help them sing God’s praise. Maybe they’ve been praying for a guitarist for years, and finally you’ve arrived. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the position your church is in ought to factor heavily in your thinking. If God has brought you, a capable musician, to a family lacking in that area, it would be wise to acknowledge the hint!
Conversely, if your church already has a plentitude of other options, perhaps there are other gaps you could fill that would make a bigger overall difference. Give it some thought.
Does playing in church feel like work?
Nowhere in the Bible does God command you to play in church, but he does tell you to keep a day of rest each week. If playing in church feels like more hard work, then it might be wise to consider stepping back. Worth noting too, that this may change in different seasons of your life. Maybe it’s to do with the frequency of your name on the rota too - playing sometimes but not always might be a better fit.
But again, if it doesn’t feel like work, then don’t panic! It never did for me, and I played every single Sunday. You know your own heart - that which results in joyful worship and that which brings tiredness and coldness.
Do my particular gifts fit well with, or enhance, the music at church?
If your church only ever uses the pipe organ, and you love shredding big time electric guitar solos, you can’t just muscle your way in on the premise that you’re ‘using your gifts’. There will often be some limitations in this area. For example, my own church has two high-level bassoonists, who just don’t really fit well on a week to week basis.
It might take humility on your part to admit that there is no space for you currently, or perhaps it might be right for your church to adapt too. But we always want to strive for excellence, and put God’s glory before our own - even if that means getting off the stage for now.
Is doing music in church the only way to use my gift to God’s glory?
NO! God made you musical, so that you could use that gift for good, and His glory, and cultivate His world. You can bring glory to God outside of church music. We talk about this a lot in the Music Network, so if you have more questions about this, or want to hear the biblical rationale, get in touch! That's all I'll say on that for this article.
So in conclusion…
Guess what? You’re free to choose! Think about it carefully of course, and pray about it too, but don’t worry. If you are seeking to honour God with your life, and to serve your church with your gifts, there’s space to decide either way. So, enjoy finding the place you have in your church family, and enjoy finding the place your musical ability has in bringing great glory to God.