I can think of countless people who have influenced and encouraged me in my faith through the years. I am very grateful for the lessons they taught me, the values they gave me, but most of all, the time they took to listen to me ask countless questions about God, life, and relationships.
One of these influential people is the pastor of the church where I grew up. Not only did I appreciate Pastor Dan’s investment in me, but his longevity in our church is a huge blessing for the congregation and community.
When I was about 14 years old, I decided to learn how to play the guitar. I picked up a book of chords and started teaching myself how to play. I loved it, and I still love playing to this day. One of the reasons I wanted to learn guitar was to play in our worship service, and it wasn’t long until I was given that opportunity.
I wasn’t alone since my brothers all play instruments too. By the time I was 16, we were all playing together as a group (with others as well). It was a wonderful learning experience for all of us as we brought a different kind of feel to the music of our church. We introduced new songs and even revamped songs to play them in new ways. Imagine “God of Wonders” with a metal rhythm… it was fun.
But as a worship band of a small church, we had to learn what it meant to play to lead the congregation in worship as compared to playing to sound great and have fun. One of those lessons still sticks with me today.
As a rebellious teenager who always challenged tradition, I got into an argument with Pastor Dan about the volume of our music and the use of the drums. Basically, the drums were too loud and the church thought that maybe our drummer (my brother) could use jazz brushes instead of wooden sticks. My brother wasn’t happy with this threat to our sound, and neither was I.
I took it upon myself to challenge our pastor and make our point about why it would be wrong to make my brother play with brushes. It was an unfair condition. He wasn’t used to it and it didn’t sound as good. I told Pastor Dan, “it would be like forcing me to play guitar with a foam pick! It just isn't right.” He didn't say much after that and I was happy that I got my point across.
The next Sunday, as I came into the church, Pastor Dan pulled me aside to chat. He understood where I was coming from, but to my surprise, he handed me a guitar pick that he made out of foam. It caught me off guard and made me think. As we continued talking, I slowly began to understand what service really looks like.
Our role as a music team was to lead our church in praise to God. Although I always knew that's what we were trying to do, I had the assumption that if it sounded good to us, it sounded good to everyone. But the church I grew up in is the most diverse church I have ever been apart of, and that assumption really made me into an… well, you know the saying.
Music leading, like worship leading, preaching, reading, or any kind of service position is there for the enrichment and edification of the congregation. We gather to worship together, not to put on a show. As pastors or lay leaders, we need to do what is best for the church, not for ourselves. At the centre of that role is sacrifice and selflessness - a kind of selflessness that picks up a foam pick to play guitar when that's what is best for the people.
Paul was a big believer in this kind of servant leadership. He described his freedom in Christ by saying, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” (1 Corinthians 9:22-23)
Paul was willing to give up parts of his identity to win people to the gospel. He was willing to sacrifice his personality, goals and uniqueness to be able to identify with all kinds of different people. Instead of telling everyone to conform to him, he became like them for their sake. That is sacrifice.
In Paul’s day the issue may not have been music, but in 1 Corinthians 8, he discusses food sacrificed to idols. Even though he believed that there was no problem eating meat that was sacrificed to idols since there is only one God, Paul still encouraged his readers to be mindful of the ones among them who could not partake because of their conscience. Paul was asking them to sacrifice their own desires and what they thought was right for the sake of their brothers and sister who saw eating meat sacrificed to idols as wrong.
I’m so grateful for the lesson Pastor Dan gave me. As a pastor now, I can think of so many things I would like to do and be about that I need to lay aside for the sake of our church. I have to constantly humble and remind myself that it's not about me. But let us not think that this kind of servant leadership is left only to ministers and congregational leaders.
All followers of Jesus are called to serve and love one another, even the least of these. We are called to put others before ourselves and to think of others as more important than us. Paul encourages all of us to sacrifice in order to reach all people, identifying with them rather than forcing them to conform to us. Jesus calls us to take up our cross, follow him, and love one another.
This means that as we pick up our "instruments" to serve each other, the music may not sound like we want it to, and we may have to resort to using brushes and foam picks for the benefit of our brothers and sisters. But if it means that because of our sacrifice people will be able to connect with Jesus, then it will be worth it.