Not everybody can play

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In 1818, the organ of the church in Oberndorf, Austria, broke. Quickly it became clear, that it would not be fixed for the Christmas service. So, father Joseph Mohr gave a poem, he had written two years prior, to the schoolmaster and organist Franz Xaver Gruber (No relations to Hans.), asking him, to write the music on his guitar. The song was first performed on Christmas Eve 1818. Karl Mauracher, who came to fix the organ, liked the song so much, he took a copy, which was quickly picked up by folk singers. Soon it was played before kings (Franz I of Austria and Alexander I of Russia, to name some) and country. In 1839 it crossed the great pond making its debut in New York. And finally 20 years later it was translated into English, making it the song we know today as “Silent Night”. (Fun fact: sung by Bing Crosby it became the fourth best-selling single of all-time.) This way it became a famous example of international church songs. Back then it took 41 years to be translated and spread around. Now a days songs are picked up by worship leaders within days of publishing. So much so that we tend to put songs, which are one or two decades old, in the same category as old hymns like Silent Night. And even though singing the same songs all over the world unites churches, there is a tremendous downside.

The Vineyard movement uses the phrase “everybody can play”. It is a catchy way of emphasizing 1 Kor 14:26. When we come together everybody should have something to participate. (Thank God, it does not mean, that everyone is allowed or called to play an instrument. That would be nasty.) I see three implications when I read this verse. A. The Spirit of God poured out on everyone gives different things to different people. And we need all to get the full picture. B. Everybody, not just a few, receives something from God. And C. It is the duty of the local church to make room for all of it. Though a service like this sounds chaotic, it is a reflection of the local Body of Christ. It is what we gather to be.

When we look at professional worship songwriters from this perspective, we start to understand the problem. Musicians in the local church might see themselves less talented. And even though they could be right, it should not stop them from writing their own songs. But it does. I don’t know any church that has its completely unique repertoire of songs, written out of their own unique circumstances. But wouldn’t that reflect their unique facet of God best? (Almost all the great worship songs are written out of very specific circumstances. We copy them without going through the same things.) For songs this is very obvious, but I also met preachers preaching the sermons of others, people praying the prayers of others, prophets speaking the words of others. Just because we want to present the best (whatever that might be), rather than ourselves. But this is not what God asked for. We are the living sacrifices, the living stones, the royal priesthood. And as much as unity in the Church is a thing to strive for, we should never exchange that for presenting ourselves and what God has given us uniquely. As individuals and as the local church.

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