Since I discussed yesterday why I think a locker room is a poor metaphor for the church, I feel I should offer an alternative metaphor. On one hand, the church and her divine worship are already rich with symbolism and don’t need another metaphor to explain them. On the other hand, metaphors are often useful, so I offer the image of a symphony orchestra.

It’s not perfect, but I think it offers some workable parallels to corporate worship. The parishioners are the instrumentalists. The officiant is the conductor. There may be others present — an audience.

The core of any symphony are the instrumentalists. Each one is an individual, though they may play the same instrument as another. There tend to be lots of violins and violas and cellos. For some instruments there are only one: the timpani, the tuba, and the English horn. When all the instruments combine with talent and good music, something beautiful happens. This is much like the church where people who are formed in worship come together with a good liturgy.

The instrumentalists in an orchestra also play in other contexts. One of the bass players may be part of a jazz trio. Some of them may play in smaller ensembles. Many probably teach in either group or private settings. There are two reasons for this. The first is passion. They are symphonic musicians because they love music. They desire to be a part of it and to share it and to help raise up the next generation. The second is economic. Very few people get rich playing classical music. Having multiple gigs also helps increase their standard of living.

There are parallels to parishioners. They might gather in smaller groups for Bible study or prayer. Some may be more high church in temperament and others may be lower church. Some will be involved in teaching others. Some may join with others from another church to serve or to study.

Then there is the conductor. He is the symbolic head of the group. If he is good, he helps the whole be more than the sum of the parts. Sometimes he is merely a formality. He often will chose the music to be played. Small ensembles will rarely use him, though he may pick up his instrument and play along in those settings.

The parallel in church is the priest. In many ways, we as priests are somewhat unnecessary. Much of the service can happen just fine without us. But a good officiant knows the liturgy and what is appropriate for certain times and seasons and leads his people accordingly. He may also join in small group studies.

The symphony impacts its city not just by the concert, though that is a focal point and important. It also enriches its city by preserving and promoting music in a myriad of other smaller ways because of the presence of so many highly trained musicians. I benefited from such a dynamic growing up in Elkhart, Indiana. It was once hailed as the band instrument capital of the world and it still hosts a well-respected jazz festival annually.

The city can be re-framed, to a degree, as the audience at the concert. We will have these folks in worship, those who come but spectate instead of participate, and there is no need for too much angst over that role. I listened to music long before I started playing it. Here the analogy of the symphony starts to break down a bit, but we need a space for listeners.

A vibrant symphony, or similar music culture focal-point, enriches the community in many ways beyond the concert hall. The effect is the same of a vibrant, healthy church. While the services in the building are a focal point, the people in those services serve as salt, light, and leaven to the surrounding community.


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