A Church Full of Musicians

April 2008

It’s early in the morning and you’ve managed to drag yourself to church. You drowsily stand to sing the opening hymn and as the first verse begins, you hear from all around you the loudest voices ever. Later, when the worship leader invites you to greet those seated nearby, you get an explanation—you are sitting next to one of the numerous professional opera singers who attend Redeemer!
There are several hundred professional musicians in the church, representing nearly every musical genre, instrument, voice type, and major musical institution in the city. How did they end up at Redeemer and what are we doing to capitalize on this phenomenon? From the earliest days of the church, Redeemer leaders have explored ways to reach the musician community of New York. Here are four of them:
One of the simplest but most significant adjustments was scheduling. The schedule of a musician is in many ways the opposite of typical business hours. Nights are taken up with performances and networking, afternoons with rehearsals and practice, and mornings with sleeping! That’s why Redeemer offers five musician fellowship groups that meet in the late afternoon or early in the week, when theaters and concert halls are dark. In planning church-wide events, we don’t assume that everyone works on weekdays and is available on evenings and weekends. Nearly all of our musician events are on Monday nights. And we take our evening services seriously, in part so that musicians can attend a meaningful service when they are, well, awake.
Second, the tone towards artists from the pulpit matters. In many churches, artists are held up for condemnation. The problem with the world, we are told, is MTV, violent movies, and raunchy music lyrics. An artist hearing that message immediately understands what is being communicated—all would be well with society if not for the corrupting influence of culture-makers, and they feel unwelcome. Redeemer pastors have instead preached that the corruption of society comes from the sin within all of our hearts. They have intentionally made positive use of secular literature, movies and music in their presentations of the gospel message. To a musician exploring Christianity or returning to church for the first time in years, this approach validates their career path and makes them feel like an accepted part of the church.
Third, we seek to provide deep community. A free-lance musician’s life is often devoid of the kind of relationships that can be found in a consistent workplace or a family-oriented church. They often work alone and travel frequently, working with different people on each occasion. It can be lonely. We are trying to address that need by offering weekly fellowship groups as well as performance workshops for classical musicians, a monthly meeting for musical theater singers, a songwriters group, and other gatherings where musicians can build meaningful relationships with other Christians. To bolster our commitment to this effort, we recently created the position of Director of Musician Ministries and hired Laura Bergquist.
Fourth, we allow them to use their gifts in a natural way. My best memory from the first time I played piano at Redeemer was, oddly enough, not the service music or the sermon but the postlude. It was an evening service and following the benediction, the bandleader turned to us and said, “All the Things You Are” and counted off the tune. That song is a standard among jazz musicians, but I never considered that it could be played in church. In a subtle but effective way, the church was communicating to me that it was okay to be a jazz musician and that my gifts could be useful to the church. I knew instantly that this was a place I could put down roots and invite my musician friends. We don’t make our musicians restrict Beethoven and Miles Davis to their “secular” work.
Just as important as reaching artists, however, is building them into disciples who serve each other and the city. In this area we have significant work to do. Some of our musicians are using their gifts to serve Hope for New York ministries, mission organizations, other Redeemer ministries and church plants. Nevertheless, the goal is not merely to have a church with many musicians attending, but one with a strong community of musicians who are growing in knowledge of the gospel, and who are building up their church and city through sacrificial service. We need them to deeply consider the implications of their faith on their day-to-day life in the music scene. Pray that the music community of New York will become even more vibrant, just, and in line with gospel values because of the influence of the musicians from Redeemer.

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