I (Danny) spent the first twenty years of my career in the music business as a performing and recording artist, musician and producer outside of the church—an exciting but brutal place. For the past 10 years I have had the privilege of working at a church in the Detroit area. It is a beautiful place to help build the kingdom of God here on earth. But at times, I can't help but see similarities between the music business and ministry.
Recently I watched an interview with Brian Eno, a very respected and successful music producer, who has worked with U2, Coldplay, and Paul Simon. In the interview, Eno says, "I often think artists divide [like in]the musical Oklahoma—the farmer and the cowboy."
Eno identifies the "cowboy" (or cowgirl, of course) as an artist who loves to ride off into the sunset looking for new territories. His life is driven by exploration and discovery. Cowboys thrive on finding new land and exploring. Without a new quest they are never fully satisfied. To use a musical analogy, cowboys are the experimentalists, the performance artists, the Cirque de Soleil-esque creators, like Beck, Prince, or Miles Davis. They don't let anything hinder them, the possibilities are always wide open, there's always a new horizon to be conquered. But their downfall is that they're always pursuing the new.
The "farmer" is one who flourishes closer to home, cultivating the land. They get their energy by working the soil of the established land and seeing new growth emerge year after year. They are not unadventurous though—working within existing territory is invigorating for them. Tom Petty is an artist that plays within a form that's been around forever, but he keeps finding nuances within that form that excite him, new and different angles on the same thing. The farmers' power comes from their willingness to create something new within a familiar space.
Innovators and cultivators
While history buffs will be quick to point out that real-life cowboys were pretty grounded too (riding into the sunset isn't typically a good agricultural business plan), you get the point of the metaphor. And I think that Eno's two creative categories for musicians are equally valid for church leaders. We tend to desire innovation and the new, or cultivation and the familiar. When I look at my current ministry—a local church with multiple campuses and many strong leaders, I see these same two personalities—cowboys and farmers—emerge.
There's some tension though. Farmers want to cultivate and take care of the people God has entrusted to them. They feel the responsibility to lead and pastor the ground God has given them. They dream, pray, and ask God to give them unique and new ways to care for this land. So, it's easy for the farmer to see cowboys as irresponsible when they talk about riding over the horizon. They feel like cowboys should stay home more and help with the "chores." Isn't it reckless for them to be dreaming about something else when there's plenty of work to keep the existing system functioning?
The cowboy on the other hand is bored silly doing the same things over and over to the same plot of land. They often resent the farmer for playing it safe. At times it can be interpreted as though the cowboy thinks the farmers work is "beneath them" and there are bigger things over the horizon. So walls arise between the groups, resulting in battle of roles, priorities, and territorial protection.