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Church musicians definitely help prove the old axiom “birds of a feather flock together.” They tend to gravitate to churches that they believe have musicians on their same level or better. In other words, they like to clump together.
That is a primary reason why certain churches are loaded with great musicians and other churches aren’t. I have been to churches where there are so many pianists that even very capable pianists never get to play, and I have been in others where just one pianist of any level would be welcome. Strangely enough, I have seen a dearth of musicians even in very large churches.
I have spoken with many pastors and music leaders on the short end of this stick who are very frustrated. I feel their pain. But I certainly understand things from the musician’s point of view as well. Musicians tend to value music more and they want to go to churches where the music quality is at a level where it can be enjoyed. Also, many musicians want to be surrounded by better musicians because of the learning opportunity that offers. And let’s face it: it is just a lot more satisfying to collaborate with good musicians.
Ideally, musicians would be more evenly distributed between churches. I think we can all agree on that. But for sure, this issue is a complicated one.
I recently read an article by a pastor who was really hard on musicians who switch churches because they believe they need to go where their talents can be used more. His position essentially is that because musical talent is not an official “spiritual gift,” it is really not important for musically talented people to use that talent in church. He stated that people should serve God based on the (church) need rather than their gift.
I think that is a very weak argument, and the spiritual gift angle is just red herring. Talents are talents and God means for people to use their particular talent regardless of whether it shows up on a list in the New Testament or not. There is plenty of Biblical support for that, but we could start with I Peter 4:11 which states “if any man will minister, let him minister as of the ability that God giveth.”
Of course, people should also look to meet the needs in the church as well. There has to be a balance. But if you believe that God builds the church, you have to assume He matches needs with talents. In other words, no round pegs for square holes.
So, I am never going to judge a musician who leaves a musician-rich church for one where they can actually be of a musical benefit. That does not mean every musician that does so has the purest of motives. In the case of this pastor, I assume his article was partially motivated by a musician leaving his church, and there may have been circumstances I don’t know about that made that particular musician wrong to leave. But I can’t help but wonder if that pastor would have written the article if the roles had been reversed (if he needed a musician and someone came from another church to help out).
And here is a story I just heard a month or so from a pastor at a church where I was doing a concert. He told me that when he started the ministry, he pastored a small church a short distance from a very large church of like-belief. The large church had numerous pianists while he had none. Eventually, he called the large church and asked them if they would allow a pianist to come help out for a service a week. Amazingly, they refused, stating that they needed all their pianists. I suppose I should not be surprised because I have seen that attitude before in musician-rich churches.
I suppose the real problem here is that people are involved. There are certainly legitimate concerns that come up regarding this issue. Here are a few of them:
1) How about those people who think they have musical gifts but really don’t?
2) How about the music prima donnas who refuse to help out in any areas of the church because they claim their only gift is musical ability?
3) How about the hole that is left in the church when a musician leaves to go somewhere else? How about other ministries that person did?
4) How about the people that claim they are leaving to help another church but that is not the real reason?
Like I said, this gets sticky because of the people side of it. If you are a church leader that has to deal with musician issues, I don’t envy you. But the issue is complex; it is far from cut and dried. Making a blanket statement that musicians should never leave a musician-rich church for a musician-poor one is just not correct. In fact, ideally, I think we should see more of that going on.