Music and Money (and Buildings)

Published on Fuller Seminary’s Burner Blog for Pastors and Leaders.

Read the Article here

by Marcus J. Carlson

The Church M & M’s

I did not really grow up in the church, nor was my family particularly religious. Shortly after I came to know Christ, my dad was able to experience the same. He eventually became involved in his local church and served on a church board for a short time. I recall sometime during my college or ministry career he decided to give me some advice about the church. He said to me, “Marcus, always watch out for the church M&M’s.” I asked him what he meant and he replied, “music and money.” Years later, I find myself not only repeating that advice, but I continue to see it as well. I would probably amend it to add ‘building’ to the list as well.

Certainly in the church, we all have the issues we are passionate about, the ones that are the most important and meaningful to us. Additionally, we also seem to have things we are most passionate against, whether rooted in theology, personality or fear. Often times, we are known more for what we are against than what we are for, which is unfortunate.

I have always wondered what it is about these two or three things (music, money and buildings) that stirs up the most passion and conflict in the church. While Jesus spoke quite a bit about money, he did not address the other two much and the way he talked about money does not seem to relate to the issues we tend to have in the church around money. Certainly when it comes to money, we need to be good stewards and be sure to both spend and save wisely. In my own home, I know we have different budget priorities and sometimes disagree, but not at the same level that can occur in the church. I remember one member of a board guarding a building maintenance fund that was exceptionally healthy as if it were the last twenty dollars he had to live on. It is interesting that in the church we ask our people to be generous, but struggle with having a positive posture towards money.

I have seen more angst over music in the church than any other issue: conflict, pain, people leaving the church – all over music. It has also been the source of the most passive-aggressive behavior I have seen in the church: from controlling music directors to ornery ones and everything in between. Then there is the drama and disagreement that comes in contemporary worship, in the congregation and the teams. It is always shocking to me that one of the most worshipful acts in our services can so easily become a source of contention and a distraction. Certainly our worship matters, and I love music and those who lead it, but it might just be one of the most divisive aspects of church life today.

Buildings also seem to create a lot of passion, much as our own homes might. It is good to care for our buildings and make good decisions, but most issues in churches around the building have to do with where or where not to place chairs and where you can and cannot drink coffee. Sometimes we treat our churches more like a museum than a home, care or community center than they probably should be.

What are you passionate about in the church? Does it align with the priorities of Jesus? Are you reflecting scripturally and theologically about it? It might be good to examine our own priorities and places of passion, especially before being critical of others.

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