Two Parables about Excellence (Part 1)

Part 1: “The Music Lover”
Samuel loved music more than anything. When he first visited New City Fellowship, he was drawn to the exciting music and the joy and fellowship that the music team shared. It was not long before Samuel had signed up to be on the music team rotation to share his gift. Samuel got such a rush on Sunday mornings when the band was really cooking, the singers were in great form, and the congregation was responding with hands raised, tears, or exclamations of praise.
However, in recent months, Samuel started to become more and more frustrated when he came to serve. His frustration came from one particular member of the team, a guitar player named Joanna. Joanna was always messing up the groove with bad tempo, overplaying, and wrong chords. When everyone else in the band sounded great, Joanna managed to throw it off just enough to make the music extremely hard for Samuel to enjoy. Other team members would give her lots of encouragement, but Samuel thought that they just didn’t have as good a grasp on what good music aught to sound like. He would see her name on the schedule, and early in the week the dread would begin to grow in his heart. He came to practice with a bad attitude and a short fuse.
For several months, Samuel wrestled with the issue. He couldn’t understand why Joanna was allowed to participate. Didn’t God deserve the best possible offering of praise in our worship services? Samuel poured over the bible looking for scripture to justify his position. Eventually, Samuel contacted Kirk, the music director, and he began to press Kirk about removing Joanna. When Kirk responded with some talk about weakness, humility and reconciliation, Samuel became even more frustrated. Kirk’s response seemed to Samuel like an overly spiritual smokescreen. He thought that Kirk was just afraid of hurting Joanna’s feelings.
So, Samuel would just decline any weeks that he was assigned to play with Joanna. He even started to feel irritated sitting in the congregation when Joanna was playing, so he stopped going to church all together unless he was assigned and was playing with the best musicians on the team.

  • What was Samuel’s motivation to play music in worship?
  • How did Samuel evaluate the effectiveness of a time of worship?
  • In what areas did Samuel fail to practice submission?
  • How did Samuel evaluate Joanna’s service to the team?
  • How would Samuel define excellence?

1 Corinthians 12:27-13:8
27Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31But eagerly desire the greater gifts. And now I will show you the most excellent way.
1If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. 4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.

  • What does it mean that we are one body?
  • Does Paul draw a line about where people should and should not be allowed to serve?
  • How does Paul define excellence in this passage?
  • How can the NCF music team pursue this kind of excellence?

This text comes from a handout I prepared for my team last year.

  1. #1 by Dee on July 17, 2009 - 1:10 pm

    I’ll admit it from the very start – I am very frustrated with the the fact that the Christian community is frequently forced to endure poor musicianship from worship teams. Yes, a heart of worship and a loving relationship with other believers is essential, but…team leaders, worship pastors and music committee members have a responsibility to see that those who desire to participate in the music ministry have “skillful hands”.
    My local church has a self-taught violin player on the music team. He consistently plays out of tune and has a grating amplified tone. I cannot understand why the team leaders allow this musical stumbling block to distract the body. Not everyone can preach, not everyone can teach, and not everyone lacking in basic musical ability should be on a worship team.

  2. #2 by kirk on July 21, 2009 - 1:08 pm

    You are exactly right. There is a problem in the church with spineless leaders who are too “nice” to be honest with someone. It is un-biblical to allow a person to persist in attempting to be something that they are clearly not gifted to do. Helping a Christian find their unique calling in the church is an important job of any shepherd.
    With that being said, a big part of what I want my team to remember is that we are not a professional performance group. We are a community of believers who worship together. Our culture has adopted an “American Idol” way of relating to any music so that now if you can’t be an “Idol” then you are a fool for attempting to get on a stage. The two ways of looking at excellence are opposite ends of the sin spectrum that we are constantly swinging between.
    By including 1 Cor 13, I want to show how Paul defined “excellence” which was the way of love. Love means that if a person is not a skilled worship leader, then I have to love them by helping them to find their true calling by taking them off the stage.
    I believe that all musicians are at various levels of skillfulness. I look pretty skilled when I compare myself to the amateurs on my team, but when I get out in the real world of working musicians, I might not be up to par. How skilled do we need to be? What I look for in a musician is that they are listeners, they are growing, and they have a heart for worship. Sometimes they might be a teenager who has limited skills, but they show a lot of potential. Your violinist might struggle with playing in tune now, but perhaps your music director sees potential there that they want to develop. Musicians need to get out and play if they are going to grow, so you have to give them some rope to make mistakes without being “fired”.

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