June 21, 2013

Operation (Body of Christ Edition)

In Lutheran churches, it has become relatively commonplace to have a lay-led worship committee. Personally, I think it's a good practice. Historically, it performs some of the functions that were often carried out by the cantor. The cantor was not only responsible for conducting the choral music program,  but was himself a competent performer. He also enjoyed responsibilities such as chief music instructor, and planning the entire musical program for the liturgy. It was a very prestigious position, second only to the clergy, and was awarded only to the most skilled musicians. In some modern Lutheran parishes, they still employ a cantor.

The advantage of having a lay-led worship committee (or cantor) is that it allows one or several people to give the worship service the attention it deserves. Ideally, the result is that the liturgy, hymns, readings, and sermon become a coherent whole, rather than a patchwork. The pastor does not have to divide his attention between service planning and his pastoral duties, and the chances of an incoherent service being thrown together at the last minute are eliminated.

I've been to churches that suffered from the lack of any worship planning. In one situation, a pastor adopted a policy to let the organist pick a "wild card" hymn every Sunday, while the remainder were picked seemingly at random from the appropriate section of CW. In another, the pastor used a hymn chart that recorded how many times the congregation had sung each hymn in CW, with the policy that the congregation should never sing more than one "unfamiliar" hymn on any Sunday. The result was that they sang certain "favorite" hymns far too often, while entire sections of the hymnal remained unfamiliar to them.

But I've also been to churches where the practice of having a worship committee was torpedoed by the insistence that one person with no musical experience sit on the committee. The intent was to give the uneducated congregation a "voice" on the worship planning. But for all practical purposes, an individual who couldn't find middle C on a piano had veto power over musical selections. The result was that some beautiful Luther hymns were deemed "creepy" because they were in a minor key.

So what's the big deal? Aren't you being an elitist? Well, sort of. There are places where democracy is wholly inappropriate. Imagine if the fans determined the calls in a baseball game by means of vote. Whichever team had more fans present would obviously win every call. Or imagine making someone umpire who knew nothing about baseball. Now, this individual might claim that because he has no experience with baseball, he has no biases and is therefore more likely to make fair calls than a seasoned veteran. While that makes some sense at first glance, without any experience, he has only his instantaneous whims and emotional reactions to guide his calls.  Besides that, this person actually has no idea what a fair call is if he doesn't know the rules of baseball.

Insofar as Jesus insists that every part of the Body do the work he designed it to do (1 Cor 12:15-18), sure, I guess some might call that elitism. We aren't all called to be worship leaders, just like we aren't all called to be pastors or teachers. But anticipating the elitism objection, St. Paul continues, "On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor" (1 Cor 12:22-23). He further argues in Rom 9:21, "Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?"

It is not our place to ask why God didn't give us this or that talent, much less to surgically implant ourselves into a different part of the Body of Christ. Our vocation is to serve with the talents he has given only to us, in the particular niches in which he has placed us. We are not all called to be worship leaders—but we are all called to worship. Whether or not we have a "voice" in the choosing of worship music, every one of us has a voice in the worship of our Redeemer. Believe it or not, we are perfectly suited to that and every vocation by the people and circumstances that God has placed in our lives to shape and form us into his special creations. Thanks be to God! He has not only redeemed us and asked for lives of worship, but he gives us the gifts, the motivation, and the grace to perform those acts, and sanctifies them by the work of his Holy Spirit!