Sacrifice

This week on the ECC Worship forum we welcomed several new members, discussed practicalities such as presentation software (Pro Presenter was the overwhelming consensus), and even discussed (at some length) the complexities of music and its relationship to taste; much like garage sales, it seems that what may be one person’s ear ache is another’s inspiration.

It was a strong reminder that music is an intensely cultural commodity, and while there is not a single culture on earth that does NOT have music, its form varies quite a bit from culture to culture. From the drums of Africa to the sitars of India to the organs of Europe to the guitars of America and Australia, music takes on many, many forms, and even within cultures one may find a plethora of styles and tastes. As our world shrinks, these styles collide with one another, with near-infinite possibilities and combinations.

What is an arts pastor to do in such a world?

We have so many choices, and in America, it seems that the congregations for which we are to curate worship gatherings have such a wide variety of preferences that it’s nearly impossible to find a medium. The successful blended gathering is a rarity that seems to please fewer people than it offends (it takes very special people to curate these well), and offering a gamut of gathering styles spreads our resources too thin. Throw in a desire for excellence, to honor each culture or taste represented, and it’s a perfect storm. I’ve known churches who burned through worship pastors faster than a teenager burns through phone battery precisely because they could never seem to deliver what their members wanted; to curate a worship gathering to the preferences of a congregation is no easy task.

Except that a worship gathering isn’t about our preferences.

In 1 Chronicles, David, in an act of worship, says these words: “I will not take for the LORD what is yours, or sacrifice a burnt offering that costs me nothing.” Worship, it seems, is not about what we want at the expense of others. Instead, worship throughout the scriptures is about sacrifice, about giving of ourselves, at our own expense. It’s an orientation of our attitudes, of our choices, of our hearts and minds towards God, where God is the subject of the story rather than ourselves. Our gatherings, then, are less about what music we find to be exciting, tasteful, and preferable, and more about a weekly rhythm of growing as a corporate community into the character and principles of Jesus.

Sure, we have our tastes, and yes, we have our “heart-languages,” those primary culture in which we feel most strongly at home. And in no way am I saying that we shouldn’t be allowed to engage in worship through music that we love – I get to do that every week! But as we grow and mature in our faith, so too must we come to understand that living in a way that mimics the character of Jesus means living less for ourselves, less for our tastes, less for our preferences, and more towards serving others, more towards sacrifice for those that are less mature. By living the example of Jesus’ life, we are leading others to better understand and mimic that sacrificial lifestyle. Sometimes that looks like getting to sing the hymns or songs that we love, that we feel connects us more strongly to the movement of the Spirit. But other times that means sacrificing our preferences and choosing to worship through the preferences of others, by singing their hymns or songs with as much passion as we sing our own.

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How does your church maintain that tension between preference and sacrifice?

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5 comments “Sacrifice”

I loved you’re article, this is indeed our task. an impossible task if it were not for the one we worship. I’ve been using the term “heart language” for several years now, and this has been very helpful for folks. But it is difficult. At a gradeschool close to our church, there are 23 differnet languages represented by the families of those that attend, and it occurs to me, we probably have at least that many “heart-languages” represented in most of the churches we serve. Recently our Worship Design Team began to focus on the “sacrafice” of worship, our hope and prayer is too help our congregation see the act of cooperate worship, especialy when it comes to singing, needs to be a sacrificial gift, and to use an old saying;”God loves a cheerful giver”. I think It’s interesting to note, God’s people seem to experience great joy in other area’s of sacrifical service, ie; feeding programs, mission trips, helping at risk kids.Perhaps if we could see singing in other peoples heart languge(s)as “Helping Gods at risk kids” we could do it with great joy, and together truly worship the only one worthy of our praise.Thanks again for your article, I will be sharing with our congregation.

…and, with respect, this may start as a sacrifice; but it quickly becomes an expression of love and care. As I share in the joy that springs from knowing your music, rooted in your testimony, celebrating your faith… we become more closely allied in serving and honoring the same King.

Tom: I appreciate your kind words, and the difficulty of such an ethnically diverse suburb. Something seems to happen in the midst of such diversity that’s beautiful, where community is built within the boundaries of shared trials, and I think that fosters true worship in a strong way. In order to get along with one another’s differences, we HAVE to be willing to give up of ourselves and our preferences, and that itself is worship, I think, if we’ve oriented it towards our creator.

Geoff: “This may start as a sacrifice; but it quickly becomes an expression of love and care.” I’m actually not sure I’d really make a distinction between those two for this reason: orientation. We can still sacrifice our preferences for other reasons than worship. I heard a definition once that works well: to worship is to acknowledge greatness and then respond. If that’s true, then it matters to WHOM we make that sacrifice, and sometimes we sacrifice our preferences on the altars of manipulation and attention rather than for the purpose of, as you say, love and care. So I’d say yes, that’s a needed qualifier in the midst of this discussion, that we make that sacrifice oriented in the right direction.

Thanks for your insight, Chris. This has been one of the primary lessons in my first three years as the worship director at my church (I’ve come full circle since my early days as an alternative service “separatist” in high school and college). I think that, as we learn to love the church as Christ does, we begin to better appreciate diversity in worship.

“Oh for a thousand tongues”… as long as they’re mine 🙂 Indeed, agape love reveals a core of sacrifice that we often enjoy in many areas but oh how we hold to our “sacred cows… err… notes, songs and hymnody”. For both worship leader, team members and congregations, it’s about spiritually growing up. Thanks Chris, excellent truths I’ve passed on to our worship leaders here at JPUSA Ev. Covenant. -Glenn


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