It's been said that song-leaders ("worship" leaders/pastors) in the church are subjected to the most impossible of jobs. It's not having to perform flawlessly in front of a large group. Its not having to work and lead fastidious musicians. Its not even having to choose the "right" songs. Above all of these, the most impossible of all jobs is that of pleasing everyone.

All of us have at one time or another tried to please people. Our strategy centers around finding out the likes or dislikes of a person and meeting their preferences. Pleasing one person is relatively easy. Pleasing more than one person at a time requires some skill, as you're now working to please more preferences and the odds that they are all the same goes down as the body count goes up. Pleasing many people at once is truly the impossible job because inevitably each person's preferences conflict with one another. Sometimes the difference is slight, other times it's black versus white.

Regarding music, would you believe that I receive rather opposing and sometimes paradoxical opinions on a weekly basis at our church? Below is a list of the very real comments I've received at ABEFC. It is the reality of my experience, not a catalogue of my grievances. I value the constructive criticisms just as much as the encouragements:

  • "I think we should do more hymns. After all, those are the ones I know best."

  • "I've noticed we're singing a lot of hymns, but I know of plenty newer songs that are just as good."

  • "Music sounded great today - it really made me want to sing! And I love those new drums!"

  • "I'm really disappointed with the direction of the music - I think all the instruments are just noisy. Piano alone is perfectly fine by me."

  • "The music was excellent, but I wish it was a little louder. I feel like my singing is sticking out, and I'm not a good singer."

  • "The music was too loud today. I couldn't hear myself singing."

  • "That musical piece during offering was beautiful - it really kept my heart engaged and ready to sing again!"

  • "That musical piece during offering was distracting - I was ready to sing, but that left me feeling disengaged."

  • "Thanks for changing the word in that one song - it makes more sense now."

  • "Why did you change the word in that one song? Its been fine for hundreds of years, so why change it now?"

  • "I wish you'd let everyone use their musical gifts, not just a few elite persons. It shows you care too much about performance and being noticed."

  • "I'm glad you have skilled musicians and singers leading us. It shows you care very much about excellence and limiting distractions."

  • "The songs today were too energetic. I felt rushed through worship."

  • "The songs today were so energetic. I felt joyful in worship."

  • "The songs today were so laid-back that I was bored with them when I normally like them."

  • "The songs today were so laid-back that I was engaged with them when I don't normally think about what I'm singing."

  • "Acapella singing is so uncreative."

  • "Acapella singing is so dynamic."

  • "You need more guitars up there."

  • "You have too many guitars up there."

  • "I like the changes you've made."

  • "I wish you'd stop changing things."

Point is, the job of appeasing all these preferences is an impossible one. I used to think that the key was compromise - just give everyone a little bit of what they like. I quickly learned that this didn't work. In fact, compromise is a sure way to un-please everyone. Then I thought the answer was to reason with people, to show them that the other side is greener than they might have considered. But in the end it's much more difficult to change a person's preferences than it is to please them.

The real problem with preferences is not that we have them; the real problem is how we prioritize them. When we elevate our preferences over another person's, what we're really saying is that our way is the right way or the only way. We are saying that our judgement is infallible, our style is sanctified and our emotional barometer is perfectly precise. Preferences become opinions, opinions become judgments, and judgments become condemnations.

But what if instead of fighting for our own preferences we set them just a little lower on the scale below - not above - the needs of others? After all, isn't this really what God calls us to do in every relationship -- with the new believer (1 Cor. 8), our spouse (Eph. 5), our enemies (Matt. 5), authorities (Rom. 13), and everyone (Phil. 2)? Unfortunately, it's too often the case that all these admonishments to serve and submit to one another go out the window when we open our mouths to sing.

What I am not saying is that we should all forsake our preferences. What I am saying is that we should work hard at keeping them in check for the sake of our brothers and sisters in Christ. It is an impossible job pleasing everyone, if that truly is what this calling is all about. But I don't believe that it is. I believe the Lord gave us singing to unite, not divide; to encourage, not to frustrate; to give thanks, not complain.

The songs of the church are a gift from God to be returned to Him and given to one another. We must guard against letting them become anything less. If we can see music in this way, then the music will not control us. Instead, we will control the power of music and use it for its God-ordained purposes of teaching, admonishing and giving thanks (Col. 3:16). Much will be accomplished, but at the very least we'll be making one impossible job just a little more possible.