To Be For the People, Be With the People.


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Being involved with music in church is a blessing that comes with a few challenges. I won’t list them here, for that’s a task for another day. I believe one of the most important challenges is realizing that worship ministry is pastoral ministry primarily, and music and arts ministry secondly. What I mean by this is simply that it is an act of pastoral leadership and pastoral care. It is about people first, and music and arts second.

It should be pretty obvious that in order to have an impact on people, you have to be with them. I have been combing through Arthur Mann’s reader entitled Immigrants in American Life and he describes the mid-19th Century political climate that immigrants found themselves. George Washington Plunkitt was a politician in the 1850’s in New York City. He held the title of what was know as a ward boss. Plunkitt capitalized on the increasingly important people group by adopting a brilliant political strategy of avoiding mailers and biased literature. He opted to simply spend time being with the people he represented. Because of this, the immigrants looked to him boss as a friend, adviser and protector. The knew he was on their side, at least politically. In exchange, they gave him their vote when election time came. Plunkitt breaks the system down quite simply:

To learn real human nature you have to go be among the people, see them and be seen. I know every man, woman, and child in the Fifteenth District, except those born this summer — and I know some of them, too. I know what they like and what they don’t like, what they are strong at and what they are weak in, and I reach them by approaching at the right side.

There’s only one way to hold a district: you must study human nature and act accordingly.

I believe there is some profound wisdom there. Obviously, Plunkitt’s reasons for being among the people are politically motivated and Plunkitt was guilty of graft and other dodgy political activity. But he understood how unify people toward his goal of election: be among them. Know them as neighbors and friends. Live with them. Mourn with them. Rejoice with them. Walk and sit with them. To use his words, approach them by being right there beside them. Sounds like a definition of community to me, actually. And it precisely describes how Jesus ministered to people.

Maybe it is just me, but one of the most difficult challenges in worship ministry is remembering people. Individual people. It is easy to look at a group of people and see them as a congregation. But it is much different to view them as a collective of individuals, making up the body of Christ. These individuals have hurts. They have worries. They have needs and celebrations. They have stories to tell and questions to ask.

The stage, therefore, is not a separation of leader and people. It is an avenue of engagement. It is a door of opportunity. The most important personal interactions will happen before or after the service and these interactions are of the utmost importance and should not be neglected, forgotten or avoided. I believe this changes how we lead worship during a service, as well.  It is a body of people gathered, not just a room full of people.  It is a communal act of hearing God, and responding. It is a beautiful act of adoration and praise coming from people we know and love. When we know our congregation, there is natural movement towards a unified song of praise. If my congregation is only a sea of faces, I’m spending much of the service trying to “read” them and gauge their reaction. When I am alongside them, the dynamic changes.

So my question to you (and mostly myself) is:

How close are you getting to the people you lead?

Dr. Mike Mitchell says that “ministry happens in proximity.” This comes directly from the way the Jesus’ was among people. He certainly when off alone to pray, but when he encountered crowds, he had compassion on them like sheep without a shepherd (Matt. 9:36).  Look at Jesus interaction with a leper in Luke 5:12-13. Lepers were to be avoided, not touched. But Jesus was comfortable being with them, and he healed them. He came alongside them and treated them as they were: Image bearers of God, handcrafted by the Creator. 

When we see the people sitting in the chairs in this light, worship ministry becomes so much more exciting. It is not simply putting together a set list of Biblical songs that tell a story to communicate the Gospel (though that is important!). It is doing all that alongside the Body of Christ. This is the privilege and the challenge. It is not all roses and rainbows. People are not easy to deal with, but they are our family. And it is the pastoral duty of the worship team to lead while being alongside. 

-SHF

Mann, Arthur. Immigrants in American Life. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1974.

Mitchell, Michael. Leading, Teaching and Making Disciples. Bloomington, IL: CrossBooks, 2010.

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