“Cross-Cultural Worship Reformation” Responses: what is excellence and who gets paid?

Yesterday, I tossed a few ideas out there for what the PCA needs to create a “cross-cultural worship reformation.” I got a few really good responses and questions that I think are worth adding to the conversation.

One comment came from Mark, a bass player at our church. You can read all of Mark’s comment on yesterday’s post, but here’s an excerpt, “Are you saying that we need to financially support a leader, or the musicians?… I haven’t heard this at New City, but at some previous churches they were all into “excellence.” Sure, do your best, but if God needs us all to be pros then he has a problem.” The short answer to Mark is, “Yes, I’m talking about paying leaders not side men” but I’ll also give my long response for no extra charge.

What is excellence?

I want to respond to the second part first. Excellence is defined in 1 Corinthians 12 and 13. In chapter 12, Paul makes an emphatic point that God gives different skills or gifts to different people, but all of those people have value in the church. Then at the end of the chapter he says, “And I will show you a still more excellent way.” After that he talks about love. Love is integral in the definition of excellence. I don’t mean “it’s the thought that counts,” I mean that our gifts mean nothing without love. The most skilled musicians on the planet are just noise without love. The desperate and hungry people of the world will not be set free by virtuosic musicianship. Excellence as God has defined it has the restorative properties of shalom.

Excellence according to Paul is gifted love. This means that our music in worship will be excellent when we have gifted people using their gifts as a sacrifice of love to the Family of God. Excellence is not defined by the powerful, the cultural majority, the ancient Greeks, Baroque numerology, or even by some kind of pseudo-scientific rationality like the “harmonic overtone series.”

Who gets paid?

The justification that folk make for the use of paying professional musicians to be “side men” is most often around their understanding of excellence. If excellence is defined by the standards of “this present age” then it makes sense. However, if excellence is gifted love, then we need to ask whether these professional side men are actually bringing anything more excellent to the worship than the folks who are in the Family. Some churches in the PCA have more “missional” values and they will be the ones who hire musicians to make sure the worship is contextual. The problem is that the musicians are treated as products to be consumed instead of humans who need relationship.  Musicians function in these churches as human karaoke machines, playing “with excellence” so that we can worship without being “distracted” by imperfection. There is still a lot of good stuff produced through these ministries, but I’m not convinced that it’s the healthiest way to foster a worshiping community. I’m not going to say that a church should never pay side men, but I am suggesting that we need to reform our understanding of excellence and then reconsider the practice in that light.  A lot of churches resort to a pro band because the option of a trained, mature Christian to lead doesn’t exist – which is why we need to be training and sending out a new crop of musicians for this purpose.

So who should get paid? We need more churches to take on the financial burden of supporting trained musicians to equip and empower the musically skilled in their congregation. I included “Full-time employment” in my list of “3 things the PCA needs to start a cross-cultural worship reformation” because my denomination tends to take a dim view of the role of musicians and their value. Church planters are sent out to start cross-cultural churches, but when it’s time to start a worship service, they are left to figure out how to make cross-cultural worship music happen with volunteers. These volunteers rarely have the time or the skills that are needed for such a task. If a church wants to be cross-cultural, then they need a musician on the full-time staff team who has training and experience in cross-cultural music and is empowered by their vocation to invest the time need to foster a cross-cultural worshiping community. In order to do this, our established cross-cultural churches have to train up new leaders and then new cross-cultural churches need to be ready to support them. Young musicians need to know that they can take the risk of getting a music degree or doing a music internship because the church is longing for leaders to usher in a worship music reformation. At the same time, professional and amateur musicians in our community need to be invited to join in relationship with the family of God on the merits of God’s grace and not on the merits of their performance skills.

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