Balance - A Difficult But Needed Perspective for Church Music Leadership -- By: Ronald L. Sprunger

Journal: Ashland Theological Journal
Volume: ATJ 21:0 (NA 1989)
Article: Balance - A Difficult But Needed Perspective for Church Music Leadership
Author: Ronald L. Sprunger


Balance - A Difficult But Needed Perspective
for Church Music Leadership

Ronald L. Sprunger

Dr. Sprunger is Associate Professor of Music at ATS.

As an introduction to the above topic, several pages will be devoted to the tracing of my pilgrimage as a church musician. During the past years I have experienced a gradual growth in my understanding of the purpose of church music ministry. To a great extent this growth has been the result of dealing with polarities such as: art music vs. functional church music, thought vs. feeling, structure vs. freedom, new wine and old wineskins, transcendence vs. immanence, and habit vs. meaningful tradition. With regard to these polarities truth seems to be held in tension between what often appear as extreme opposites. A dialectical approach does not result in “pat answers,” but rather in a deeper appreciation of the need for a concept of truth as balance (tension) between extreme opposites. Those ideas which seem dialectically opposed to each other have the potential to nurture each other.

In terms of human development, this struggle was in accordance with the stage theories of Erik Erikson and Daniel Levinson. The transition from early adulthood to middle adulthood is characteristically a time of evaluation, reflection, and tension. With a firmer hold on things, and a clear vision, the days ahead should be most rewarding.

The tension began to build during my early 30’s, reaching a climax at age 37 when I removed myself from church music leadership for a period of two years in order to reflect on and evaluate what I had been doing. During this time of searching for meaning, I began to question my concept of music ministry which was based on stretching people so that they would learn to appreciate the kinds of music that I valued. Two experiences that occurred during my freshman year of college set the stage for this later struggle.

At this time I became aware of the disdain that some educated musicians have for gospel songs. During a chapel service, another student and I sang a Rodeheaver gospel song as a musical offering. Our voice teacher commended us for the quality of our rendition, then proceeded to discredit our choice of song. Against this backdrop, I share an experience that followed a few weeks later. My roommate invited me to sing in a performance of Handel’s Messiah, presented by his home church. The director, who holds a doctorate in music, had established a fine choral tradition at the church. However, to my surprise, this gentleman’s musical offering at the Sunday morning service was his singing and playing of a Rodeheaver gospel song. This experience of observing a well-trained musician performing two contrasting styles of music made a lasting impression. The eff...

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