We’ve been sorting out how to think about achievement from a biblical perspective, and we’ve been exploring some of the implications of this. But whatever theology arises, there is one place in which believers’ thinking and living is shaped more than any other: the local church. How church leaders, pastors, and elders think about achievement will shape the attitudes and activities of everyday Christians more than anyone else.
So, what is the “culture of achievement” like in our churches? I’ll explore this topic over a few weeks, but first what I call an “achievement double standard.”
A double standard in the church?
I’m generalizing, but I have noticed an “achievement double standard” in many local churches. That is, there are some activities for which achievement is encouraged and celebrated, while achievement in other activities are not so encouraged and celebrated.
Take preaching vs. congregational music. I have preached in many churches, and I have played music in many churches—both over several years—and here are my general Why do we expect the preacher to harness all his God-given abilities and put them on display for the service of the church, but we do not expect the same from musicians?impressions across the board. People expect the preacher to excel—to fan into flame the gift of God, to leap over the bar, to “perform.” Excellence in the pulpit is celebrated, and God is rightly honored in it. I have no issue with that (except when it becomes hero-worship rather than God-honoring).
But it feels very different as a church musician. Musicians are often not encouraged to excel, to fan into flame the gift of God, and especially not to “perform.” In fact, musicians are sometimes actively discouraged to excel. After all, church is not the place for musicians to perform. The role of music in the church is to serve the congregation.
Well, I totally endorse the service role of music in the church. It’s not for our glory, or for showing off. But neither is preaching. Preaching is serving too. So, why do we expect the preacher to harness all his God-given abilities and put them on display for the service of the church, but we do not expect the same from musicians?
As a preacher, I feel encouraged to cut loose and not hold back. I go to full throttle. But as a musician I feel the need to stay in second gear. I dare not cut loose or go to full throttle lest I seem to be “showing off.”
How is this not a double standard?
Both are acts of service
Preaching and playing congregational music are both acts of service. Both are for the edification of the church. Both are aimed for the glory of God. Both require gifting from God. Both require years of discipline, hard work, and sacrifice. Both are pleasing to God.
So, again, I ask: why do we celebrate the preacher who excels, but not the musician?
Is it because the Pentecostal movement has elevated music to a position that most evangelicals find offensive? Is it because musicians are perceived to be self-centered, glory-seeking, prima donnas? Or is it just an un-thought-through cultural blindness that exists in many churches?
This is not meant to be a rant about music in the church. It is simply an illustration garnered from my own experience. But I think it does highlight a problem in our churches related to achievement. There are some activities for which achievement is encouraged and celebrated, while others are not necessarily encouraged or celebrated. There is an achievement double standard in the church.
We need to fix that.