Monday, April 10

Of Bach and Church Planting

It is a hot, lazy afternoon in Guayaquil, Ecuador. (What's new? Everyday of the year is like this!)

After a good lunch of COLOMBIAN empanadas, MEXICAN quesadillas, and a big glass of fresh cold mango-papaya juice, I sat back in my easy chair with a strong cup of ECUADORIAN coffee to listen to GERMAN composer J.S. Bach's Fourth Brandenburg Concerto in G-major. How is that for being an international global-minded missionary? :-)

Speaking of Bach, did you know that he wrote these six concertos for a man who never even bothered to listen to them?

As the story goes, in 1721 Bach sent a carefully copied set of the six concertos as a gift to the Margrave Christian Ludwig of Brandenburg. The Margrave neither acknowledged their receipt, nor had them performed. For thirteen years the concertos lay unused in the Margrave's library until his death, whereupon they were lumped into a pile of miscellaneous musical works and valued at four groschen apiece. They were later sold as part of the Margrave's estate and divided amongst his five heirs. (Source:

They weren't even listened to! Totally ignored! Some of the most beautiful music ever written and it wasn't even acknowledged, let alone valued, during Bach's lifetime.

Do you ever feel all the work that goes into planting churches goes unnoticed or ignored by the "powers that be?" Does it even matter?

It didn't to Bach. He went right ahead until the time of his death creating composition after composition, all signed, �soli Deo Gloria� ("to God alone be glory"). Only after his death was he recognized as the genius he truly was.

Is there a point to all this background about Bach's Brandenburg concertos? Yes!--three to be exact.

1. Bach was a master of what is called �line.� No matter how a particular work is written or for how many instruments, you can always detect a sense of a line in the music... The sensation of a musical line is amazingly unbroken as the melodies pass from one register to another... The test is this�if you attempt to sing along, you will find it very easy to sing the line... (adapted from

Does that not speak to our work as church planters? Amen? If you didn't catch it, read it again, sloooooowly.

What does "line" have to do with church planting?

In all that we do, there must be a clear and simple "line" that all can identify and "hum along" with. Maybe that is why the term "simple church" is better suited to what we do than "house church." We need a simple melody that everyone can sing. There might be a lot of activity going on all around the melody, but all should be able to clearly hear the simple "line" and hum along. If they can't, what is being done is just too complicated. Some work needs to be done to further simplify.

In our own church planting, that "line" is every believer is a full participant in the Great Commission. Everyone senses their worth and value as a fully participating minister of the Gospel. Can you imagine what will begin to happen in our city when all the believers in town begin to hum that tune?

In the midst of volunteer teams, training sessions, VBS, materials, theological education, meetings, emails, evangelism, programs, mentoring, and all the other stuff we do, is there a clear line that is distinctly being heard by our people? Are they actually "humming along?"

I love the way Neil Cole expresses this same thought, "Simplicity is the key to the fulfillment of the Great Commission in this generation. If the process is complex, it will break down early in the transference to the next generation of disciples. The more complex the process, the greater the giftedness needed to keep it going. The simpler the process, the more available it is to the broader Christian populace."

2. Above all, Bach's music has a great sense of beauty. Bach was, despite all his intellectualism, capable of music of great emotional power. Perhaps it is this balance he achieves which makes him so human�because we are creatures of logic and emotion.

Can it be said that our church planting ministry has a sense of something "beautiful?" With its intellectual side, is there a clear emotional power to what we are doing? Is the beauty of Jesus being revealed in the church plants? People want to be part of something beautiful, something that has meaning, something that is going somewhere, something that touches their heart.

3. Like the artists of the Renaissance, Bach was keenly aware of the formal concerns of structure as well as the variety that is to be human. Combined with his great ability for improvisation, his understanding of keys and tonal relationships, and his willingness to be progressive, Bach was quite capable of employing dissonance to get his point across.

Structure? Variety? Improvisation? Understanding of keys and tonal relationships? Progressive? Employing dissonance?

These are all GREAT church planting words!

To get a churches planted, we often have to employ one or more of these terms. There is no one formula. Church planting is often a combination of these seemingly contradictory terms.

How are we to be structured? Is the structure simple?

Is there variety to the way we do things? Variety in our meetings?

Do we understand the "keys to relationships?"

Are we progressive, willing to stretch the limits of what is generally known and accepted? Bach stretched baroque music to its maximum limits, so much so that it was only truly appreciated after his death! In his own lifetime he was obscure and hardly known at all.

Anybody who has dabbled even a bit in church planting knows about improvisation. But improvisation is not a bad word, jazz music is one of the highest known musical forms and it is all about improvisation!

Employing dissonance is never popular and will often relegate us to obscurity within our lifetime, but without it, true musical beauty will never be heard.

Any other church planters out there ready to sit down with a cup of coffee and listen to some Bach?


alexander said...

Love the 'simple' analogy Guy. Excellent.

Ross Garner said...

Thanks Guy

I am going to send everyone a link to this blog. Simple is sustainable and reproducable. Our "big" churches stagnate at a size relative to the level of institutional competence. In professional areas c.250 - 300 people. In average areas with few professionals c.100 members. In UPA (inner city) c. 35-50 members.

geurinsharp said...

What a breath of fresh air to this 75 year old retired church organist! This is so wonderful to hear rather than the denominational dissonances abounding nowadays! May God continue to bless you and your mission here on earth.
Billie G. Sharp
Music major - Ouachita Baptist
Class of 1952

GuyMuse said...


Thanks so much for stopping by. I too am a church music major from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, TX. Glad the post was a "breath of fresh air", I enjoyed writing the article in that it allowed me to mix my love of music with the church planting we are doing overseas!