CONFESSIONS OF A CHRISTIAN MUSIC SNOB (AND MY SIX STEPS TO REHAB)
Confession: Of all the songs we sing at my church, I like about five of them.
Meaning, actually like them. Meaning, they’re songs I might listen to outside the four walls of my church.
No doubt this will come as a surprise to a lot of my church-mates and friends, who see me on stage as a volunteer worship leader. Let me explain.
I admit to being a recovering music snob. But even in that recovery process, I still have opinions. There is still music I like and music I don’t like. There still exists an uncomfortable tension between my artistic tastes and most of the worship music I hear. I want to offer my musical abilities to serve the church, but I also want to be honest. It’s not that I have anything against worship bands. And it’s definitely not that the lyrics are bad. It’s just a matter of opinion.
It’s not about maintaining “artistic integrity” or musical street cred. We all have to check that ego at the door when we come to church. It’s about trying to figure out how to play and lead songs I may not like and still be completely genuine.
At some point every worship leader is going to get asked to sing a song they hate in church. The way that we respond to these requests speaks volumes about our views on servanthood. It’s been a long road for me in releasing my musical pride and embracing worship music. Here are a few steps I found helpful:
1. Realize that your opinions are just that: opinions. Your musical tastes are 100% opinion. No amount of graphs and flowcharts and albums sales will “prove” that your taste is better than anyone else’s. Believe me, I’ve tried. I learned the hard way that my musical tastes are not sovereign.
Musical tastes are kind of like taste buds. They can be developed and stretched over time to appreciate more complex things. But the snob who looks down on people with different or less-developed tastes isn’t impressive. He’s just a jerk.
2. Know that your opinions are valid…and so are everyone else’s. I have to catch myself on this a lot. I try to replace phrases like “They’re the best band ever” with phrases like “they’re one of my favorites.” I know the semantics probably don’t matter in most conversations, but it keeps my music-critic ego from swelling up and entering a parallel universe where my musical opinions are absolute truths.
Understanding exactly why someone loves polka or nu-metal or funk-tron-burgercore probably isn’t very important. But respecting the fact that they’re entitled to that opinion is. All our tastes are subjective, and that’s okay.
3. Be honest. The world (and the church) doesn’t benefit from your silence about the creative process. If you want to offer alternative opinions, start with humility and be honest. If something sounds cheesy, it’s okay to say it, just be kind and diplomatic about how you communicate that. Remember never to challenge people, but to focus on the group’s creative goals and helping achieve them.
4. Be pragmatic. Remember that music is all about context. You might crank out some Bruce Springsteen while driving on the highway with the windows down, but you’ll likely turn to a very different genre to lull you to sleep. Worship music is the same. Respect the fact that while you may not have any worship music on your “all time favorites” playlist, Beatles and John Coltrane songs don’t make for very good worship tunes.
5. Resolve to submit to church authority on matters of opinion. Don’t ever give your church leadership a chance to question your loyalty to the church. If you’re serving with a large “platform” like worship leading, submission should be foundational anyway. Musicians are known for rebellious attitudes, and I’ve even seen it happen in the church before. Don’t be the rebellious punk rock guy that always quotes the Scripture about Jesus flipping over tables. That may score you “cool” points with scenesters, but not in the Kingdom of God.
6. Use your unique voice to bless the church and further the Kingdom. Every worship musician offers something unique to their church. Find out what your musical offering is, and give it gladly. Don’t worry about whether people “get” what you’re trying to do artistically. There is a place for raw art and creativity, but it’s probably not your local church.
You may have a deeper desire to serve the church through your creativity. Your local church may not recognize or need that. Don’t freak out. It’s okay to write, create, and serve outside of your local church. The advent of the Internet makes that easier than ever.
Leading worship in church may not satisfy all of your creative longings. That’s okay. Worship music is about glorifying Jesus and serving your church. “Serving your own agenda” is never part of the deal. The more we realize that, the more we’ll be able to serve with joy and clarity.
Are you willing to sacrifice your artistic tastes for the church? Even if you aren’t getting paid for it? What do you do when you don’t like a song you’re asked to sing in church? I’m convinced that the answers speak to our integrity and willingness to serve.
It may not always be easy, but it’s totally possible to serve the church with your musical talents, even when you don’t like the music.
Do you sometimes struggle with the music you play in church? What would you add to this list?