Is It Time to Preach to the Choir-or to Musicians?

by Terry Wilhite

Terry WilhiteThe loudest messages we often communicate in church sometimes emanate from musicians. If there's a rift among them, if they have an entertainment bent, or should they not grasp their spiritual role, communication in your church will be like listening to an AM radio station during a thunderstorm.

Being in a church for a long time can make one immune to what's happening around him or her. I know because it was only after I started searching for a new church home that I found myself utterly amazed that one can sense that something is not quite right on the stage, although the musicians seem to perform well.

Some of my recent experiences in new houses of worship have so overwhelmed me that I turned to a minister of music friend for help. He recommended a book that I wish had been around when I first started playing the piano in church more than 33 years ago. The book is called The Heart of the Artist: a Character-Building Guide for You and Your Ministry Team (Zondervan, 1999) written by Rory Noland, long-time worship leader for Willow Creek Community Church. It is still readily available on Internet book sites like Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.com. In fact, they're now so inexpensive that I would encourage you to consider buying one for every member of your worship team.

Chapter titles tell the story. "Proven Character," "Servanthood Vesus Stardom," "The Artist in Community," "Excellence Versus Perfectionism," "Handling Criticism," "Jealousy and Envy," "Managing Your Emotions," "Leading Artists," "The Artist and Sin," "The Spiritual Disciplines of the Artist"-all are masterfully written by Noland, who says in the preface, "I didn't consent to write this book because I had done a lot of research on character growth and thought that warranted a book. I wrote it because I've struggled with every character flaw discussed in this book. Most of what I've learned grew out of my quiet times with the Lord."

The personality characteristics that make most of us brave enough to play in front of a crowd of people are the very traits that get us in trouble, communicate bad vibes to the congregation, and hinder worship-as Noland poignantly brings out in Chapter Three, "The Artist in Community."

The author stresses teamwork and writes, "We can sometimes get so focused on ourselves that we miss what's really important. That's me first' thinking. When we're angry because we didn't get to sing the solos we think we deserve, that's me first' thinking. When we maneuver conversation around to spotlight something about us, that's me first' thinking. When the team is celebrating a recent success and we're more occupied with remorse because we didn't get to play the role we wanted to play, that's me first' thinking." He goes on to summarize that there are four things that kill teamwork: grumbling and complaining, a competitive spirit and unresolved relational conflict. But make no mistake. This isn't a pure leadership book although it's certainly written for people who lead in worship. It's a precise read for artistsin Kingdom work. That's clearly seen in the chapter titled, "Handling Criticism." In this chapter he stresses the importance of forgiving those who hurt you, being open to the truth and not being defensive about sin but dealing with it.

Writing about jealousy and envy, Noland says: "It is a sign of character when we are no longer threatened by the talents or abilities of others. It comes from being secure about who we are as individual and unique artists and from trusting God's work in our lives. The success of a fellow artist can't steal anything away from you. Somehow we think that we lose something when someone else is flourishing, but we don't."

One of most important things any pastor can do is to help those who lead in worship clearly see their spiritual roles and responsibilities and to deal with the character flaws that unfortunately also come packed with the gifts we use to serve.

I whole-heartedly recommend this book for pastors, worship leaders and the book's intended target audience, church artists. Mr. Preacher, after you read it, you may find it appropriate to preach to the choir, not to mention the other artists in your church. Noble certainly provides the points.

Terry Wilhite is a communications and music specialist.

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