I am a weirdo, and everyone that knows me at all knows that to be the case. I am a conservative Christian who happily (well, usually) works as an academic musician, moving in professional worlds where few of my colleagues and students share my views on a number of topics. In my “church life” among conservative evangelicals, few of my fellow congregants seem to understand what exactly it is that I do for a living or why such a position exists (“Music? So you work with the band. No? Then…???”), though I’ll grant that my current church is better about this than most I have attended in the past. Moreover, on Sundays I am content to teach a children’s Sunday School class and sit in the congregation, rarely gracing the ears of my own congregation or of others with the sounds of my trombone. I generally eschew any musical focus in my service to the church beyond Sunday services, preferring not to be pigeonholed as a “music guy” when I do have something to offer in other areas, or at least I hope I do.
The question is, why am I content to do this? After all, I have served in the past as a song leader and choir director on a substitute basis, and am fairly good at it. Perhaps I could find a church someplace that would hire me to do this part-time, providing some needed supplemental income for my family. Or if not, maybe I could get a regular gig playing the trombone somewhere on Sunday mornings.
Maybe those sound like good ideas, but it is highly unlikely that I would do either of those things. Here are a few reasons why.
- I don’t have time to do it well.
My wife has been employed for the past year as a “part-time” elementary music teacher at the school our son attends. While this has been a good situation for our family, she is hardly paid for the hours she spends outside of the classroom preparing and practicing in order to do the best job possible (hence the quotation marks around “part-time”). And yet, she shares my opinion that the Scripture’s demand for excellence in all things (Colossians 3:23-24) must determine how much effort we put into a task, not the clock, and doing music well is a time-consuming enterprise. I barely have enough time to complete all of my professional demands as it is, and I doubt I could take on a music staff position at even a small church without slacking off on my main job or doing the church job poorly.
- I think it is important that I stand in the congregation and sing. Loudly.
One of the more lamentable aspects of modern church life is that men rarely sing vigorously. In some respects, it is hard to blame them, given that the saccharine, effeminate ditties that too often pass for worship music these days lack the robust vigor of the songs of past generations of Christians. In any case, Scripture demands that we sing in worship, and do so with vigor—even a casual reading of the Psalms will demonstrate this. I believe I have a duty to sing and to sing loudly, both because the Scripture demands it and also to provide an example for my five-year-old son, just as my dad did for me.
- My work with the Gideons would be compromised.
I have been a member of The Gideons International for nearly ten years now, though after becoming parents my wife and I have not been able to maintain anywhere near the level of involvement we had when we were childless. Still, one area in which I am still able to serve regularly is by delivering reports to churches on the association’s Bible distribution work and raising funds for more copies of the Scriptures. If I were to accept a church job somewhere my ability to do this would be restricted, if not eliminated.
- I am a convinced, conservative Presbyterian.
American Christians too often choose a church to attend not based on doctrinal considerations but upon the presence of youth and children’s programs, the quality of the facilities, the charisma of the pastor, and, yes, the music used in worship. Musicians, particularly those seeking employment as staff musicians or music directors, are sometimes even more willing to conform (at least outwardly) to the doctrinal statements of whatever church is willing to hire them regardless of their personal convictions. For my part, I am a convinced Presbyterian, a position to which I came with not a little study and introspection, as I have written in the past. Given the small number of conservative Presbyterian congregations within driving distance, my choices for a music staff position, even if I were offered one, would be limited.
- I don’t play the guitar!
My tongue is planted in my cheek as I write this one, but only a little. Whether I like it or not, modern worship music has become dominated by bands led by guitarists, not singers, and certainly not trombonists. This is lamentable primarily because worship in the New Testament era should be Word-based, perhaps supported by instruments (though this isn’t absolutely necessary), and characterized primarily by congregational singing (Colossians 3:16). Too often the “song service” has become a short concert in which the congregation might or might not participate. This really is too bad, though to discuss it here would distract from my main point. In any case, I am not qualified to lead music in such a context.
So, there are my reasons. Would I consider a paid music position in my present church (in the unlikely event that one was created) or another of similar convictions within a reasonable driving distance? Possibly, though for the other reasons listed above I still might ultimately decline. As much as I would love some extra income, there are far more important considerations when choosing a place of worship.