The Challenge of Musical Leadership in the Church

Church musicians are all too typically regarded as those who sustain the church by providing musical services. This view has them responsible for creating fellowship and good feeling in the congregation—dispensing songs that keep everybody happy and engaged. 

This job description creates tension that comes from the pressure of trying to satisfy the desires of everybody in the congregation. It can be difficult to try to meet what are often competing demands: some people want gospel hymns, some want praise and worship, some want chorales. Still others don’t want to sing at all and expect the choir to do it. The musician is supposed to meet all those requests. 

The musician is not expected, however, to think, make judgments, ask questions, or have a dialogue with anybody. The congregation wants the musician simply to satisfy its wants, no matter how contradictory and confusing those may be.

There is an alternative to this situation, an alternative that can emerge when the church affirms some fundamental aspects of the faith. First, the church must acknowledge that it is not sustained by the services it provides or by anything it does. As the community of the baptized, the church is sustained by God’s grace. God creates the church, and God will sustain the church—with us, without us, and in spite of us. 

Our continual errors are eloquent enough testimony to that. If the church were supported only by human efforts, it would have disappeared long ago. So let us keep our priorities straight. Grace drives and sustains the church and our works, not the other way around.

Like all worthy crafts people, church musicians have their own disciplined inner peace. But that peace is not generated simply by the craft of church music. The practical life of the church musician is the outcome of a vocation—a calling—that serves God and the people of God with the unique gift of music.

Paul Westermeyer

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