There are some musicians I really, really envy. They have never passed an examination in their life. They have never learnt to read a sheet of music. They can simply sit down at their chosen instrument and they can play. It might be a tune they have heard. It might simply be a melody they are improvising on the spur of the moment. Whenever you are in their presence you can just feel the creativity flow through their fingers.
But I am not that kind of musician. I have had to work through the musical grades, and I am still learning. If you ask me to play something, I have to have the music written out in front of me, and I have to learn the notes. My world is a world of practice, of scales and of a growing pile of books.
Thinking about it, however, I realise more and more that both sorts of musicians need each other. We need the creative bluesman (or woman) who plays by ear. They enrich the world of sound with new and innovative tunes. But we need also the solid classical performer who can write the music down and turn it into a score others can learn and play. (Of course there are some frighteningly gifted people who can play both by ear and by eye, but that’s another story).
How does this relate to the life of the church? Well, it seems to me that in the body of Christ we need to have both creativity and a right order. The church in Corinth was a swinging from the rafters kind of affair where the worship was frankly a mess, with people prohesying and speaking in tongues, without any real regard for anyone else. Paul had to remind them that God is not a God of disorder but of peace (1 Corinthians 14:33). At the other extreme the church in Ephesus was commended by the Lord for their deeds, their hard work and their perseverance (Revelation 2:2) but was dying a slow spiritual death. Why? Because they had forsaken their first love (Revelation 2:4). They were doing all the right things but there was no creativity and no soul.
We need both creativity and order. I have been to some churches which are fantastically creative and led by gifted, charismatic leaders. The only trouble is, no-one knows what is going to happen next. The church lurches from one new initiative to the next, the services seem to have no pattern or structure, and anyone visiting leaves not really any wiser as to what has been going on. (I am caricaturing – slightly).
But there are some churches which seem to have lost their creative spark completely. It’s not that they aren’t doing any good. The dedication and faith of their members is remarkable. But every duty is rota’d and seen as a job to be done, every decision is scrutinised to the smallest detail by a committee, every new initiative analysed and reanalysed to the nth degree until all the practical pitfalls have been ironed out.
And the funny thing is, folk from both sorts of churches look at the other and wish they could be like them! What we need is that Spirit-filled sense of creativity and order. We need some folk who have the permission to improvise and to play by ear, and we need others who have the skill to turn chaos into order. We need those who play the blues and those who are classically trained. And we need to create space for both sorts of people to flourish. That requires a lot of love, and a lot of acceptance by both sides. None of us relate easily to people who are very different from ourselves.
But if we can have both sorts of people working together side by side, then I believe we really will be seen to be the body of Christ where the Holy Spirit is at work and many confess Jesus is Lord.