I have served as a church musician for as long as I can remember and, although I am passionate about this ministry for many reasons, I admit that part of why I enjoy it so much is that it provides a clear role for me during worship services. As I wrote in an early post, “Musical Martha,” I tend to keep busy in ministry, not merely because I’m a naturally active person, but because I cherish the opportunity to serve others through music. What has been more of a learning curve for me, oddly, has been allowing others to serve me.
For example, during communion services, I underscore the distribution of the bread and wine. I keep hymn arrangements going as the congregation receives communion, happy to facilitate contemplation and fill what might otherwise become an uncomfortable silence. This is not burdensome to me, but I find that when it is my turn to receive the communion elements, I feel somewhat awkward. When the pastor brings me my prepackaged bread and wine (thanks, covid), I have to stop playing to remove my mask, open the package, and consume the elements. Although this takes mere seconds, it feels like a small eternity as the sanctuary falls silent, waiting for my music to resume. In that moment, it seems as though everyone must be waiting for me to continue playing piano and that my stopping to partake of communion is an inconvenience.
Rationally, I know that this is not at all the case, for my congregation is one of the most patient and encouraging groups of believers I have ever had the joy to serve. Probably they barely notice this small silence. Still, I am aware that as the pastor crosses the sanctuary to bring me the bread and wine and the congregation waits in sudden stillness, I am being truly served, for I am being included in the communion rite despite its inconvenience for everyone else.
I am sometimes not sure what to do with this. Sure, this is a rather small example of my tendency to prefer serving to being served, but it speaks volumes, and the heart struggle behind it has manifest lately in other, more overt areas of my life.
Lately, as I continue to work as a church musician at a beautiful, Christ-loving Lutheran church, I have also become more deeply involved at a church closer to my home. Very quickly, I have grown to love serving at student ministries events and helping the director however I can. As a result, I’ve been invited to numerous dinners with families from this church. Each one has been a blessing as I’ve enjoyed gracious hospitality and the company of genuinely amazing people! However, I find myself facing the same conundrum as I do during communion each week: it seems that, within the Church, I am more comfortable serving than being served.
I think that this odd discomfit comes partly from working in ministry and partly from my own pridefulness. It is humbling, after all, to know that a congregation is waiting for you to take communion. Likewise, it is humbling to know that an entire family is planning a dinner around meeting and getting to know and care for you. And yet, the heart of both is the same: both stem from the unified body of Christ seeking truer communion with one another, individual members of the body “submitting to one anther out of love” as Paul writes in Ephesians.
Now, it is easy to see how feeding someone or waiting for someone to eat is an act of service. I am finding, though, that part of a life of ministry is also letting myself receive the ministry of others. Consider all of the homes Christ visited, all of the meals He ate with others. He washed the feet of His disciples, but also let Himself be anointed with fine oil. Part of Christlike ministry, I am learning, is also submitting to the ministry of others.
Pridefully, I want to be the one who has everything together, to be the one to offer music and prayer and meals. Realistically, though, I find that I am only one member in the body of Christ. Indeed, I am a mere twenty-four-year-old member who does not yet have a home to welcome guests to or the life experience to provide extensive counsel. Even in another twenty-four years, while I may have more to offer, I will still need the care and service of others; I will still need, to accept the ministry of others, along with the encouragement, accountability, and vulnerability that this brings.
How humbling. How powerful. While some are vocationally called to ministry, we are all called to minister and be ministered to. The minute that I think I can only give or receive ministry is the moment of my downfall into either arrogance or selfishness. And so, lately, my prayers are something like this:
Lord, let me serve others faithfully, using my gifts and time to encourage other members of Your Body in truth and grace. At the same time, keep me humbly open to the love that You pour out on me through Your people. Let part of my ministry be to accept the ministry of others, and thus to grow in wisdom, fellowship, and hospitality.