I’ve recently been challenged by the thought of unconscious ranking systems that exist within the church. We may not promote it or acknowledge it, but it does exist. Images of church staff reporting structures usually trend vertically, reminding us of our position in the chain of command. Charts are designed to show who has authority over us and who we have authority over.
Job titles are used to clarify responsibilities and levels of leadership (Executive Pastor, Associate Pastor, Senior Director, Director, Associate, etc…). These lines of delineation provide clarity, eliminate chaos, reflect experience and education. Lines of hierarchy are even reflected in the Bible – Judges, Kings, God-appointed Leaders (such as Moses, Joseph and Abraham), 12 disciples, Deacons, Elders, and so on – each having clear responsibility and influence. I think we would all agree that order and structure are good in the church-staffing world!
Our culture is also one in which we strive to become more responsible stewards of the gifts God has entrusted us with. We seek to better ourselves, challenge and stretch ourselves with new opportunities, gain experience, discipline ourselves in order to refine and hone our skills. None of that is bad. Yet how easily good and Godly principles can become twisted.
I am employed in the Worship Arts Department of a church overseeing volunteer adult vocalists. Within that arena are various options: Musicals, Worship Choir, Chorale, & Vocal Community (mic’ed vocalists who sing with the worship band). And like most churches, these positions are either open to all volunteers, hand-selected by its leader, or auditioned. I am sadly aware that by controlling excellence (which God calls us to strive toward), automatic barriers, divisions, and rankings are created. But even churches who don’t audition for these roles are prone to our humanness which delineates, ranks, judges abilities, and puts people in categories or levels of hierarchy.
I have had more heart-to-heart debriefings, unreturned phone calls and emails, and cold conversations with people who have been wounded due to not being selected for certain teams that are deemed to rank higher than others. Whether they are auditioned positions or not, these unconsciously ranked service opportunities have created a source of wounding, and have squarely put me as the Offender and Wound Creator. These wounds have caused people to leave the Worship Arts Ministry and the church, often with the realization they could serve in the desired capacity by moving to a smaller church and become a “big fish in a small pond.” Sometimes it has positively fueled someone with a God-given dream to worker harder and refine their skill. Sometimes “rejection becomes redirection” and volunteers find another ability they never knew existed, filling a very important need of the church.
But in addition to shepherding adult vocalists through disappointment, which can become a huge vehicle for developing greater character through humility, perseverance, surrender, acceptance, these days I find myself wanting to blow up perceptions and verbiage which may lead to unconscious ranking systems. Rankings can’t be eliminated altogether, and while we all need to find ways to emotionally, spiritually and mentally work through a “no,” I am asking myself if there are ways to better to reflect The Body of Christ concept, where each role is necessary and crucial, rather than a ranking system which deems certain body parts as more honorable.
Paul starts First Corinthians 12 with the scripture: “Now, dear brothers and sisters, regarding your question about the special abilities the Spirit gives us. I don’t want you to misunderstand this.” Wow, the warning Paul/God gives us before even addressing the Body of Christ seems to reflect experience and foreknowledge about misunderstanding spiritual gifts and service within the church.
Paul dignifies each body part by explaining how they all work together, that no one part can say another is unnecessary or less important, that the Holy Spirit distributes the gifts (individuals don’t choose their own gift!) and that God (not me!) has put each part just where he wants it. Further in the chapter, verse seven says, “A spiritual gift is given to each of us so that we can help each other.” We use our gifts to serve others, which should minimize or eliminate the sting of disappointment or feelings of personal rejection. Where we serve is not a reflection on ourselves negatively or positively, rather it is where we can best serve another person. But often where we serve becomes an unhealthy source of pride or a reflection on our own identity rather than a reflection of Christ, and Christ is looking for those who point to His glory, not our own!
The teaching of the Body of Christ peaks by saying that skills and gifts mean little in light of being shown a way of life that is best of all: love. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. The Body does not allow for rankings nor does it allow for us to attach any other emotion to various positions within the church except love for the service of others.
Minimizing rankings in the Worship Arts Department of the Body of Christ forces me to changes my language: I can no longer say “you can gain experience and training for the position you desire by serving here first” (although that is true). I could require individuals who “made it” into the seemingly higher-ranked groups to learn from other vocal teams by serving there first. I could give extol the virtues of less-ranked ensembles (which are many!) and give “extra honor and care…to those parts that have less dignity” (1 Cor. 12:24).
Before auditioning anyone, I can meet with individuals to prayerfully discuss their goals, dreams and gifts in order to discern (with their input) which ministry fits and honors their uniqueness and current place in their journey the most. I can highlight the fact that wherever they serve is not a reflection of their personal identify or worth – rather, our identity is found in Christ alone. I can minimize wounding by saying “not yet” when true, instead of “no”. I could have “placements” for all ministries so that no one seems more important than another. I could emphasize the fact that I am in submission of discerning the Spirit’s will, just as they are of discerning the Spirit’s will in finding their niche.
The possibilities are endless. But I challenge you in the same way I challenge myself: let us fight ranking and wounding by accurately representing scripture and pointing toward an inclusive and unifying community that serves others.
Kendra currently serves on staff at Grace Community Church in Noblesville, Indiana, which embraces the artistic community and exclusively relies on its pool of volunteer artists to reach a congregation of 7,000. Passions of Kendra’s include creatively arranging worship music and shepherding the hearts of her volunteers.
Kendra currently serves on staff at Grace Community Church in Noblesville, Indiana, which embraces the artistic community and exclusively relies on its pool of 150 volunteer musicians to reach a congregation of 7,000. Passions of Kendra’s include arranging worship songs with unique and creative vocal lines for the choir, mic’ed vocalists, and worship leader.
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