Christian Elistism?

My time is short, but my mind is swirling with the thoughts brought up by a comment made by Rubber Chicken Girl, who is actually my very dearest friend Shellie.  You can find it on my last blog post.

My previous post is on the pros and cons of the company Christian Book Distributors.  The many excellent comments that have been written touch on, among other things, aspects of the Christian faith as a commercial commodity, on craftsmanship and quality, and on the idea of Christian elitism, and the available pool of Christian craftsmen vs. secular craftsmen.

Shellie brings up some very thought-provoking ideas.  (In general, I find that we think similarly, but Shellie tends to be much less jaded than I, and a fair bit more passionate.)  Please read the post and comments if you haven’t already.

One of the thoughts I had, after I read her comment was, “Am I, then, a Christian elitist since I want Christians to do things well?”

Something that I’ve come to, though, is that much is dependent upon whether or not the Christian’s ministry or area of influence is public.

I’ve been involved in public ministry since marrying my dear husband, Martin.  He is the worship pastor of my greatly-beloved church, Vineyard Phoenix.  He’s done this for (I think it’s been) 17 years.  During a Sunday morning worship set, Martin plays an acoustic guitar, and usually an electric, too, depending on the song.  Also on stage, you’ll usually find an additional electric guitarist, a keyboardist, a bass player, a drummer, a percussionist, and three backup vocalists.

During our nearly-13 years of marriage, I have seen a lot of the inner workings of the worship team, its members and musicians.  I am especially acquainted with the vocalists, as that is my area of personal responsibility.  I arrange vocal parts – SAT – and make the schedule, as well as instruct the new vocalists. 

In my years of observation and involvement, it’s become apparent to me that the most effective members for this area of public ministry (that is, we’re in the public eye, on stage) have three qualities: 

  1. A heart for worship
  2. The willingness to be led
  3. A high level of skill

For purposes of this discussion, I’m going to skip addressing #2 in its entirety, as it is not altogether relevant to my point.

There have been many people who apply to be part of the worship team, who may or may not have all three of the above qualities. 

We see a lot of passionate, Godly individuals with a high degree of #1 on the list, a heart for worship.  They are the sort that we, on the stage, love to see in the congregation:  We don’t have to convince them to worship;  they are always connecting with God in worship, extravagantly and exuberantly worshiping.  So, this sort of person frequently reasons, “Well, I adore to worship.  We have a worship team.  It’s incomprehensible why I wouldn’t be allowed to be on the worship team!”  Then, after being turned away after an audition, this person frequently leaves in embarrassment, indignation, confusion, and (unfortunately) sometimes bitterness.  The short of it is, no matter how much they adore worshiping, and even how willingly they accept Martin’s leadership, if they don’t have the skill to play their instrument or effectively hold a tune, it’s just not appropriate to place them on a stage.  A lack of skill is a distraction to the purpose of leading the congregation into a place of meeting with God in the intimacy and power of worship.

With regards to #3, often, we have someone come into our church who has a HIGH level of skill.  They’ve played with X band for years, cut a CD, played at such-and-such megachurch, whatever.  Their reasoning follows thusly:  “I am a great drummer.  Better, in fact, than the guy who’s up there.  The team needs me.”  After presenting himself to Martin, usually after only their first or second Sunday visiting our church, and being turned away, that musician will then, usually, leave the church entirely, thinking Martin’s a fool for not allowing him to be on the team.  The thing is, such very skilled musicians are often simply looking for a stage on which to display themselves;  they often don’t have a heart for worship, and in that conversation with Martin, they often turn combative, displaying a complete unwillingness to be a team member, let alone an actual part of the church — gasp! — before being allowed to be on the team.  That sort of musician can often bring divisiveness to the team, and the resulting lack of peace and unity will greatly affect the effectiveness of the team, as a whole.

Both of these characters most often are, actually, elitist.

The first could be called a spiritual elitist:  “Why, I love God with all my heart, and I just live to worship.  Why don’t they allow me on the team?”  He thinks that a close relationship with God the Father is the only thing necessary for leading others. 

The second could be an elitist of skill:  “Man, my leads shred that electric player’s.  Why don’t they allow me on the stage?”  She thinks that a high level of flashy talent are the only things necessary for putting her on the stage.

But one isn’t successful in Christian leadership simply because one has one requirement or another.  It’s usually a combination of attitude, timing, skill, aptitude, anointing, and favor with God and man.

Long story short, I think that whatever Christians do, they should strive to do well.  BUT, I think that just because one has a desire to serve in some area of Christian ministry, doesn’t necessarily mean one should.  In other words, the person who is tone-deaf shouldn’t seek public ministry in music.  Those with only a minimal grasp of the English grammar shouldn’t seek to publish books.  Those with combative personalities or of flimsy character shouldn’t be seeking positions of leadership.  And so on.

In other words, if your skills (or lack thereof) don’t fit the requirements, find another place to serve that will be a good fit for you.

It’s understandable why skill-related elitism can be repulsive, especially as explained by Shellie.  But, to me, there’s another aspect of spiritual-elitism that is too easily ignored, one that says, “Well, I’m a real Christian, so my efforts should be accepted, and anyone who tells me that my efforts aren’t good enough is just being elitist.” 

Golly.  I’m not presenting this very clearly or succinctly.  But, I hope it makes sense to those who are still reading.

Comments?  Please leave ’em, even if (perhaps especially if) you don’t agree with me. 

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About Karen Joy

I'm a partially-homeschooling mother of six -- 3 boys ages 19, 17 and 15 years old, and three girls: 11, 8, and 3. I like birding, reading, writing, organic gardening, singing, playing guitar, hiking, the outdoors, and books. I very casually lead a very large group of homeschooling families in the Phoenix area. I have a dear hubby who designs homes for a local home builder and who is the worship pastor of our church. I live in the desert, which I used to hate, but now appreciate.

Posted on November 7, 2007, in Christian Living, Christianity, God/Christianity/Church, Introspective Musings, The Dear Hubby, Vineyard Phoenix. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. I’m not gonna touch the elitist issue, but have difficulty imagining your friend being ‘more passionate’ about issues than you. 😉

    You go, girl!

  2. Rubber Chicken Girl

    Gotta hit the hay….but….more rambling thoughts. I totally agree with being capable of singing up front. I totally have 2 of the qualities you mentioned, but cannot carry a tune to save my life. I wouldn’t expect or want to be up front for obvious (to me) reasons. BUT do we distance ourselves from people who sing poorly, write lousy, cliche stuff; who enjoy straight-forward non-vague lyrics to songs, who don’t get poetry let alone write something publishable, or who cannot draw beyond a stick figure?? I am just saying, sure, don’t put the person on stage, but don’t laugh and mock and poke fun and act like God is disappointed in their “less than” abilities/productivity. Does Jesus only dig the hipper than hip, the subtle, the evolutionist who *really gets it*. I am thinking of the sermon where the guy asked when was the last time Christians were known for intellectual rigor (as if we are called to that–I believe Paul called his equivalence to a Rhodes Scholar status DUNG). Ummm intellectual rigor is not a calling or mandate or command of God, like we are in sin if we are not all going to Harvard. If God gifted you that way, so be it. All to the glory of God not for our own pride. A. The world will never call us resoundingly BRILLIANT. They just won’t. Even if we were all CS Lewis or Blaise Pascal. They would spin us as dumb by default. They will only pat you on your proverbial head if you concede….on creation v evolution, on homosexuality as inborn v sin, or by dropping the f-bomb with regularity like Bono while doing good things in the world. Then and only then will you get the accolades of men–compromise=elevated status. No thanks. So, the emerging church continues to court the world by distancing themselves from the non-elite, lame everyday Wal-Mart Christian. That’s what is not okay in my book. In pointing the finger at vanilla evangelicals who they claim are pharisees all, they become what they judge. “I am so glad I am not like those lame Christians with cheezy art, bad literature with cliche plots who think they have to listen to lame Christian music.” That’s the kind of elitism that came to mind as I thought about the sermon I listened to (to which I listened!). Do we have to employee every unskilled Christian we meet, qualified or not? No. Do we disparage, mock or distance ourselves from them to elevate ourselves. Definitely, no. Not claiming you are doing this. The whole thing– your topic, the sermon– brought up a myriad of strong feelings and frustrations as you can see. Forgive all typos.

  3. Hey again. I left my comment on the wrong post, so I will copy/paste here to keep things on topic.

    Well, here’s my 2 cents. I don’t think striving for excellence is elitism. I think it’s a mandate.

    We are called to proclaim the gospel through our actions and gifts and we must try as best we can to bring honour to Christ in what we do. Churning out religious-esque laughable crap sends a message to the world that our religion is also a joke, in the same way that muslim extremism reinforces the stereotype that all muslims are crazed suicide bombers.

    If we can’t do a degree of justice to the glory of our saviour we should butt out and let someone who DOES have more than a modicum of ability do it instead of us, while we do something WE are more suited to and gifted for. We all need to be busy with the work of the gospel.

    There are artists and musicians who are superb and write wonderful songs within the “Christian Scene”, but there’s equally as much Jesus Junk in that sphere too. I speak as one who prior to conversion myself laughed at how dreadful some of it was.

    I would argue that our “Bread of Life” chopping board, by bringing scorn, is actually working in opposition to the gospel. Tackiness wrecks credibility, and in a day when christianity’s credibility is rock bottom, we don’t need it, gluten-free or otherwise!

  4. Shell ~ I was thinking, as I was reading your comment, how my rather insular church experience has… shortened my view on this topic. I mean, I have this fantastic church, where I think church-life is done well, and led well, and I just don’t SEE the sort of elitism that you describe. In my church, there’s just NO contest on hipness, arty-ness, or whatever, and I really don’t think those less-cool-than-thou are left out in the cold; there really is a place for everyone.

    But, I do see how the elitism you describe can be damaging to the Body of Christ. That said, I do agree w/ Iain’s assessment, below yours. And, I do think we DO need more intellectual rigor amongst Christians. NOT that it’s a requirement for salvation, and not that those with sub-par IQs should be sidelined. But scholarship is USEFUL, and in some ways, necessary. Not so we can be prideful and pat ourselves on the back because we’re so brainy, but there should be a place for deep Christian thought within the Body of Christ. NOT your described guy who *really gets it* — I know the sort – cough, cough, TS, cough – to whom you refer… but more… John Piper-ish: Truly in love with the Savior, but whose wheels are spinning, and who puts forth respectable work.

    I very much agree with this: ” Do we have to employee every unskilled Christian we meet, qualified or not? No. Do we disparage, mock or distance ourselves from them to elevate ourselves. Definitely, no. ” In fact, the boys and I are reading through James (very slowly… 2-5 verses at at time), and we have been discussing how MUCH the heart of Christ is FOR those who are disenfranchised and powerless.

  5. Rubber Chicken Girl

    I am not saying, “Do your worst.” I am saying, “Do your best.” while acknowledging that everyone’s best is NOT the same level. I am saying that I believe all can play/all are welcome, like the Vineyard believes. God is no respecter of persons comes to mind. Don’t bury your talent if it is 1 or 2 or 5 or 10 talents. Invest it. But don’t dare the 10 talent person shame or distance themselves from the 1 talent person, “I’m not with that inept person!” so to speak. I also stated that we don’t know that the christian junk is made by christians. We do know they buy it. Is it a sin to have a scripture on your bread board? No matter how dumb you think that is (and, no, I do not own anything like that), someone else thinks it’s lovely. What’s it to you if they like it? My girlfriend loves cutesy teddy bears. I don’t. I don’t “get” her taste. So what? You make art you find lovely and God-glorifying; I’ll do what I am capable that I find lovely. I don’t think anyone got what I was saying about the little fish in the big pond. There are WAAAAYYYY more secular people in the world so it stands to reason that they will often beat us in the production of art. And my last thougt was that I do not think we should stand around waiting for the accolades of the world. They will seldom come unless we compromise the truth.

    I’ll drop it. If I have to repeat myself, I am obviously not getting anywhere.

  6. The ironic thing about your post – is that you mention that #2 is not part of this discussion – but in particular – it IS part of the discussion. The reason people become bitter and leave have nothing to do with #1 or #3 – it has everything to do with #2.

    These individuals are not elitist – they simply do not wish to be led. In fact, there are plenty of people who lack both #1 and #3 and still leave churches or hold resentment due to #2.

    At the same time, being in command comes with an obligation – and in a sense the question is – as a responsible leader, do I surround myself exclusively with capable people?

    The role of leadership in a group is to take on the royal vocation and match people’s interests with where they need to grow. If a leader surrounds themselves only with achievers and provides no path of ascension, a developmental chasm exists where no growth can pass. People who enter the church will find themselves stifled or stagnate eventually. Likewise, the leadership eventually gets self-involved, sloppy and irrelevant.

    Regarding the triteness of embellished commercial objects. We tend to say this over items that have no meaning for us regardless of verses. Tying scripture or spiritual personality to childhood objects has a significant impact on childhood development. I learned to read by reading the bible, and as a result I cannot remember a time when God was not there. A prayer bear may not have the same impact, but at least it points to a greater love that I can transfer my interests to. For many people in their walk, the presence of a simple scriptural tapestry serves as a springboard to elevate them elsewhere. These are certainly disposable – we outgrow them – but they are not indispensable.

    I run the e-commerce store for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese… we started selling silver rings with the ‘Jesus Prayer’ on them – and yet I wondered about the commodity aspect of taking something as sacred and personal as the prayer of the heart and putting it on a piece of metal.

    For a handful, it was a visible piety piece of flair – see look, I’m a Christian.

    For a number of girls, they adopted it as a promise ring – adding a devotional element that encouraged chastity, not merely purity.

    Some divorcees bought the ring as a replacement while they worked on their personal struggles with relationships, to remind them to reset their priorities and to also keep away advancers during this process.

    And some used it as it was intended – as a reminder to pray – much like how someone ties a string to their finger to remember to pick up milk on the way home.

    The fact is that we never really knew how these would be used – or abused – but if the ring turns the finger green it doesn’t matter what the prayer says – dysfunctional materials manifest a vacuum where opportunity once existed. That’s why they suck.

    So we try our best to present the message in a medium that is worthy of it. This incidentally is the challenge of a good greeting card – and why there is an enormous industry built around saying the right thing with the right tone and quality – it is very difficult to produce a message in a format that will evoke the feelings we want for the person we give it to. And frankly, taking a group of 10 of your friends to the card store to pick out a card for all of you to sign and give to someone – only one person will walk out alive and with the card. There is a reason why thousands of cards exist in the market to do a simple thing like wish someone a happy birthday – and generally speaking 95% of those cards are cheesy/terrible for any given person.

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