Sunday, January 11, 2015

There is no perfect church

I am now attending the (counting them up) 10th church of my life, and the first 20 years of my life were spent in the same one.  That means since becoming an adult*, I've moved around to a lot of churches.

*I'm not sure there's a point at which you "become" and adult.  Maturity seems like a continuous path, and it's only later you realize, "hey, that thing I did and those things I thought were kinda immature."  But I'm still not sure I'm an adult. Maybe 40 will feel like there's really no debate about it anymore.

The reasons for moving to different churches have mostly been geographic or professional, though not always.  The reasons for leaving are for another post.  All this is to say is that I've been at my current church for a little more than a year now and, for the second time, I'm officially the music director at a church.  I came to this church because they offered me a job, and I thought I could do it and enjoy doing it.  And so far, both have proven true.

There are churches that have major problems, huge structural deficiencies, like where people serve in the very places their broken parts have the most exposure and impact.  Those places can be toxic.  On the other hand, there are churches that get many things right, but have annoyingly persistent shortfalls.  Moreover, churches go through seasons of plenty and want, and I don't believe any church is doomed to stay toxic or guaranteed perpetual health. And--as if I needed another qualifying statement--I'm not omniscient:  what is a glaring error in my eyes may be a non-issue to another person.

I am more convinced than ever that it's very tempting, but very destructive, to make one's congregation an idol. This is tough to sort out, since I believe the God we know through Jesus is now made known in his body--His followers who gather and proclaim and practice God's reign on earth.  So God is known through and worshiped in community.  But the community is not God.

(The same can be said for many things--God can be found in nature, but nature is not God.)

I came into my current position as a professional, recruited to do a job--lead the music at the church.  I can do that competently, and have been able to improve the level of musicianship and expand the palette of songwriters from which we draw.  But the community is not radically different from when I started, and I don't have ambitions to change it.

I spoke with someone today who knows me well and knows the community, and clearly yearns for a different kind of worship--one that is more emotionally honest, even raw, one that is more personally reverent, one that, musically speaking, ranges both toward more aggressive and more tender styles.

I accept that our music is more cerebral than visceral, more playful (even goofy, at times) than reverent, more folksy than hip.  That is how this community worshiped before I came to it, and to minister to this community means to do the best worship in that spirit.

There are practical reasons why we do the songs we do, and play them in the style we do--we have progressive theological commitments and a limited talent pool.  We want everyone to join in singing, and so the songs we know can't be swapped out wholesale for unfamiliar ones.  And unlike when previously I have filled in for someone, or have created one special service with months to plan, I don't have the creative energy to craft music and liturgies from scratch.

And yet, there is a deeper reason why I do not push for radical change: I do not yearn for a different talent pool or a different theology for this community.  It is imperfect, but I am not here to make it perfect.  I am here to make music in this context, for this week, with these people.  My influence is real, but it is finite.

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