While it certainly remains to be seen whether this concert can initiate any positive change — either within North Korea or for US/NK relations — the New York Philharmonic’s concert in North Korea on February 26th was historic as it represented the largest group of American citizens to set foot on North Korean soil since 1953, the end of the Korean War. In many ways, music transcends, permeates and changes cultures, but the totalitarian North Korean regime leaves me little hope for genuine change. Yet, despite my weary cynicism, it’s hard not to be moved by the New York Phil’s beautiful rendition of the Korean traditional, Arirang.

Today, I heard an interview with Lorin Maazel, conductor of the NY Phil, on Fresh Air. Towards the end of the interview, Terry Gross asks Maazel about techniques he uses for reducing tension as he conducts. Not only is his comment remarkably humble for such an accomplished person but his approach, I believe, could greatly benefit those of us in vocational church ministry:

Then you say to yourself, What I do is of no importance whatsoever. I am here as a servant. If I am nervous, it means that I think what I am doing is important. That is an egocentricity which no interpreter can allow himself the luxury of. You’re there to serve the music and you have to be in the best position, psychologically and physiologically, to do so. Which means no tension, no nerves — Yes, exhilaration; yes, enthusiasm; yes, focused energy — but no nervousness because that is counterproductive.

How easy it is, especially in an Asian American setting (where the pastor might be seen by some as a stand-in for a shaman), for church leaders to get carried away with themselves and their own significance.

Isn’t that part of the problem with attractional, event-oriented approaches to church? If my sense of success or failure depends on how well I go over at the big show, then there’s no joy — not for me or for anyone unlucky enough to be there. There’s music, all right — but it’s a praise chorus to me, not an invitation to dance to the heartbeat of God together. While big events do have their place in the spectrum of life and ministry for the people of God, I join with Once A Youth Pastor in asking whether the downside outweighs the benefits [h/t: Marko for highlighting this blog].

Like a good Presbyterian, I believe that the church must truly preach the Word of God and rightly administer the sacraments — so, in that sense, what pastors do every week is something important — but the temptation to blur the lines between the messenger and the Message is so great that the pulpit can easily exalt the person behind it and not the Word of God on top of it.

Maazel’s quote paints such a lovely picture of what church ministry could be — exhilarating, enthusiastic, joyful — if we would be so consumed by the Music that we could honestly stand in front of others and serve as an interpreters without ego.