Change the Oil or Design the Engine?

by vernsanders on August 3, 2012

Today, my father would have been 105. This one’s for you, dad…


Would you rather change the oil or design the engine? It isn’t a rhetorical question, so I’m asking you to ask yourself seriously what you’d rather do.

Changing the oil is a routine task. It takes place within known parameters, and there is a predictability to it. But, as they say of the dogs that don’t lead a sled, the view rarely changes…

Designing the engine is mostly conceptual. There are lots of fits and starts, lots of wadding of paper, a lot of trial and error. It takes place in your head, and there is a creative aspect to it. There’s also a lot, I say a LOT of pressure…

In church music and worship ministry, not many of us get to design the engine. Too many of us simply change the oil, metaphorically speaking.

But there is a third option: You can use your creativity to “fine tune” the engine, take care of all the parts — not just the oil, but the filters, the gaskets, the hoses, the belts and the other moving parts. I think that’s real ministry. You have to know — by listening carefully for a tell tale sound, or looking for cracks and wobbles — what is “normal” and what needs immediate attention. And you can’t do it by reading a manual (or…ahem..a blog…). It is something that takes a lot of paying attention, and learning by observation and asking people who have been “around the block.”

So I ask again? Which do you prefer? Your answer may say a lot about the shape of your ministry…

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

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{ 5 trackbacks }

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Janice August 3, 2012 at 9:56 am

I think I prefer to design the engine and then lovingly take care for the many aspects of fine-tuning it an keeping it running in top shape. Right now I am feeling as if it is time to completely take the engine apart and do a rebuild – or get a new engine. Most of the people around me, though, just want to keep adding fuel and oil — which will work for awhile, but then we all know the engine will eventually give out. (And then, most will opt to replace the entire car.) LOVE this metaphor!

vernsanders August 3, 2012 at 11:32 am

Thanks Janice, for going to the trouble of registering in order to leave the comment. By forcing people to do this, it has cut my spam influx from over 300 per day to zero. In terms of your comment, it is a common problem today. Fine tuning anything means more work, and a lot of people don’t want to do the work. Our artistic “resident evil” is “good enough.” I’m a big advocate of having a retreat every year when you can address the “big picture” items away from the week-to-week stress of preparing an anthem for next Sunday. Let me know how it goes, and whether there is anything I can do to help. I’d be happy to come and work with your group if you think that would be helpful…

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