Should Church Members Be Allowed to Serve Any Way They Want To?

To save you some time, I don’t have an answer to this question that works across the board. But just asking it might inspire some beneficial dialogue about it.

Most of us have heard, as church members, that part of our job is to serve the church.

Sometimes that means sweeping a floor, working in the nursery, or folding bulletins. Some service is boring and unglamorous but necessary. Our churches need menial and/or messy tasks done, and members ought to step up and do them on a regular basis.

Other times we serve with our particular spiritual gifts and skill sets. If we can teach well, we lead Bible study. If we can sing well, we lead worship. If we love to encourage, we speak life-giving words to people. If we’re good at fixing things, we can offer our services around the church building.

There are, then, many ways to serve our church. We all ought to be able to find a handful of ways we can contribute and get to it.

But what happens when a member wants to serve in a way the church doesn’t want them to serve? Does the church have the right to say no? Can a church say no lovingly?

If you know me at all, you know I am passionate about music. And you also know my ability to carry a tune is suspect. But my heart is there. If I were to go tell the music director at church I want to serve on the worship team, can he tell me no for the sake of preserving the quality of the music? How does he tell me no without hurting my feelings?

(This is a fictitious example, by the way. The only way I am leading worship is if my mic is turned off. Which, ridiculously, is one way this problem is addressed in some churches. Sigh.)

Let’s go a step further. What if I have amazing musical ability, and I want to serve in that capacity, but I don’t look the part? What if I want to join the traditional choir, whose members’ average age is 50, and I am 15 with face tattoos and green hair, and I’m in the midst of stretching my ear lobes to the size of a half-dollar? I don’t fit the look the music director is going for, and I might be a distraction from worship… should I be told I can’t serve in the choir? For the sake of image or ambiance, is the church overstepping it’s bounds by limiting who can serve where? Or is it ok because order and uniformity enhance the worship experience?

If the church tells a member he or she can’t serve in a particular way, should the church have to explain why? Should the church come up with an alternate space in which that person can serve in the way he or she desires (for instance – let my off-key self be apart of a group of singers but never let me have a solo, or send that talented, tatted teen to lead worship in senior high, just not in the traditional worship service)?

And what should the “rejected” church member’s response be? Should he or she be understanding and look for another way to serve? Is it their responsibility to come up with an alternate way to use their perceived gifts and talents? Should they leave that church all together and go find a church who will let them serve how they want to serve?

Unfortunately, there aren’t neat answers here. More unfortunately, these kinds of situations aren’t usually handled well in churches. They aren’t typically discussed openly, which is an unloving response to our church members.

So these are my thoughts and my questions. Would love to hear any insights you might have in the comments below. We won’t solve this problem, I’m sure, but maybe we can take a step forward?

9 thoughts on “Should Church Members Be Allowed to Serve Any Way They Want To?

  1. Kelly, that is a tough one. In some ways it depends on the situation, but I think we need to be sensitive to the feelings of others as much as possible. We must be loving, even if the answer is no.

  2. I’m one of those persons who is not being utilized in the church that my husband and I joined about a year ago. I actually have a solid history as a professional classical musician (degree in piano, and a mezzo soprano soloist). I grew up in the church–my Dad was a pastor–and I also hold a B.A. in Bible, so I know all about the typically “territorial” nature of church musicians. Our church has more competent musicians than most for its small size, and that was one of the things that drew us to this congregation.

    I am not in the habit of wearing green hair or nose rings (though I do have a nice ankle tattoo :-), I have bent over backwards NOT to intimidate anyone with the talents God gave me; I deliberately play relatively “average” difficulty on the few occasions where I play an offertory . . . I absolutely never ask to sing; but I am largely unused–and no, I don’t have to sing “opera-style” all the time. I can actually blend in the choir.

    I’ve been pre-empted off of the piano three times in the past year (I only do about 5 offertories each year)–without any notice at all, and without apology; including my scheduled prelude at the Christmas concert. It was shortened from 7 minutes to 3–even though the handbell choir was given 20 minutes worth of prelude.

    Though I volunteered to play the piano for the choir (after notice was put in the bulletin), I’m not doing it any more because our choir director is disorganized enough that all we’re working on is a “canned music”, mediocre Christmas presentation and she’s lost too many singers–so I have to sing. Last Easter, this same choir director’s female soloist in that cantata (who was given BOTH solos) became ill with a bad throat. She still ended up doing the first solo, but instead of assigning the second one to me (or the pastor, who was also picking up the slack for a sick tenor), she brought her daughter in and handed off the second solo to her. It was one of the most unprofessional things I’ve seen anyone do in a long time, especially as this girl had spent no time at all rehearsing with us. Aside from myself and the pastor, there were a couple others who could have stepped in and done it as well. And–because said daughter is a soprano (with no talent whatsoever), I actually got shunted to alto to make room for her (yes, at the last minute); and then the daughter was seated right next to me.

    I’ve chosen to simply take what has been pretty disrespectful treatment all this time, because I know that there is a greater–much more difficult–lesson to be learned in extending one’s capacity for humility. I am, however, coming close to a cross-roads where I simply bow out altogether. My goal has ALWAYS been to glorify Christ, and as such, even when I was a frequent oratorio soloist, I’d have people come up to me after concerts and say, “You really believe what you’re singing, don’t you!” Yes–yes, I do. Thanks be to God, yes I do.

    So . . . my advice for directors of music is to say, “Please–use the people God has brought to you. He didn’t gift them to do nothing. And please, don’t let YOUR insecurities, or what you may feel are lesser abilities prompt you to treat others who are more talented than you are as second class citizens. They can’t help it that God gave them extraordinary gifts, and they may be motivated by nothing more than a love for music and a desire to serve God. Let them.

  3. I am suffering in near silence because this happened to me regarding singing at my church. So, I’m no Yolanda Adams or Kari Jobe but the Lord gifted me. I do not look the part to be in with where the church is heading and t feels very cliquish to me. I would rarely get scheduled to sing and then the choir was completely eradicated while a select few sing every Sunday on the mic. I’ve been so hurt by this and if I were single I would have left. But I’m not single and my husband does not want to go. I feel physically sick when I go and I don’t want to be there at all. I have a desire to continue to develop this gift God gave me. I can do other things and have other gifts but my heart is for ministering through song at this time. I’m miserable and need prayer to help me at least make it to church and not rain on my husband’s church parade. He’s sympathetic but only to a certain point and wants me to find something else. It feels all wrong.

    • Thank you for sharing your experience. I am sorry to hear you’ve been hurt. I will pray for the Lord to comfort you and to guide you in future service to the Body. I encourage you to be on “high alert”, as I know Satan would love to use this issue to divide you and your husband. Blessings.

      • Thanks for responding and your prayers! I know that I am not to worship apart from my dear husband, so I have to at least make it to church to support him. I know he is secure and wants to stay, so I will honor that and trust Divine Providence. By the way, I found a great devotional that gave me comfort after I came on your blog last night! I love when God does that. Blessings for a lovely Christmas!

  4. I am a professional singer with a Bachelor degree in Music Education with a concentration in voice. I have performed for weddings, funerals, sang the Star-Spangled Banner for functions. I have even preformed for a President and celebrities. So, the question about my abilities are not in question. The last church I was attending for 8 years, I asked the director if I could sing a solo in the church. I felt that God had encouraged me to sing after a tragedy that happened in my life. I had not bothered anyone for 7 years in this church with a need. I had only served teaching and helping children. I auditioned for the music director and he told me I would have to find music to use with the band, which was not available it was a Christian pop song. I could only get the track. He did not give me anything to sing or any projects to sing, but he would use his same people each week at the front or a solo during offertory time. I just wanted to sing one song. SO, I joined the choir hoping that he could see that I was serious about serving and after 4 months I gave up and started looking for a new church. So, I joined a new church joined the choir upfront and still having the same problems. There are people in the choir that hold microphones while we sing. The other day they were short a person to hold a microphone for the second service. I told them I would be happy to help and even one of the choir members said she can sing she can do it. The lady holding the microphone looked at me and hugged the microphone like it was her first-born child….. (sigh). I asked the music secretary and the guy that did the music rehearsals who to audition to sing a solo . They all told me to go to the music director who has already blew me off. God has giving me this gift I don’t understand why no one uses me to help. I am 300 pounds and 44 years old, but if you closed your eyes and listen to me sing…. I can sing all different types of styles pop, country etc. I am very versatile. I have been classically trained and can sing in different languages. I just want to sing and glorify what God has gotten me through. I feel very worthless and unwanted. I prayed and asked God if he still wanted me to pursue this It has been two years since this has started.

  5. Im going through this right now ive been at my church for 4 years there are people that dont speak to me, they treat me bad, im in the choir but not allowed to lead sing, im so stressed at church, ive been seeking healing from lupus, but Im not going to receive it at that church, my whole life I have been rejected, I thought church would be different, but they reject me too, im so stressed out that my menstruation never goes away I constantly bleed, and my hair is coming out, why do they hate me

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