Before pastoring I served as a Music Leader for 23 years. I later pastored and continued to lead the music for another 3 years before training others to take up that role. I have always viewed the music portion of worship as preparation for the body to focus on and receive the movement of the Holy Spirit through the proclamation of the Word. Music is an art, and as such, it evokes emotion. Ever wonder why songs from our past bring up good memories and possibly even hurtful ones? Interesting how some of the old songs have been revived and renovated today. Things seem to come back if they are reinvented appropriately!
That being said, I hope you hear my experience and my love for the art as it pertains to both the benefits and barriers music may have on revitalization. I have been an avid reader of Dr. Robert Webber (author of Worship is a Verb), and have found great musical insights from men like him and Rick Muchow (former Music Pastor at Saddleback in CA.). Each give both practical and theological bases for the supportive role music can have on the health and renewal of the church.
I offer the following list and simple explanations to the benefits and barriers of music in revitalization. First, the barriers:
1. Style above Purpose – Rick Muchow said in a conference years ago – “style was not nearly as important as quality.” Across their campus are numerous musical genres, and all were helpful for evangelism and assimilation, because they demand quality. “We are always to offer the Lord our very best!”
2. Preferences above Culture – I led a worship seminar at a large church that was split over music style. The Music Pastor loved the liturgical, “high-church” style, but his congregation was not supportive of his ministry; they wanted something more “contemporary” (just a side note – what do we mean by contemporary? Yep, as many definitions as definers). During the workshop, we determined that the majority of the church preferred Country and Western music on daily basis. Guess what genre they moved toward, without an argument?
3. Art over Theology – Songs that suggest that we can “come to some dewy garden alone, walking and talking with the Lord, while the moisture is still on the flowers,” does not incite a theological parallel to the life-changing majesty of God. Yes, I love the tune, but the theology is weak at best. Consider songs that help disciples memorize scripture. The Scripture in Song movement of the 80s did this. I’m not suggesting we go back and dig up those relics, but memorizing scripture is invaluable – hiding God’s Word in our heart gives us the resource to resist temptation (Ps. 119:11). Make certain the lyrics match biblical theology.
4. Genre over Harmony – This point has a slight variance to the barrier found in #2. In the church setting above, there were those who said they preferred the “old Southern gospel” style of music, but when it came to their actual responses, given during the workshop, it was revealed that they found daily enjoyment out of a genre that was quite different from their Sunday choice. In a facade of keeping the peace (really desiring to have what they grew up with), the respondents shared that they would love to hear Christian music set to a country or bluegrass style. Some would secretly slip over to the local Cowboy church, now and then, just to hear “the good old gospel songs” accompanied by the banjo, mandolin and washtub. Their reason for remaining in their former dissatisfying worship environment was they didn’t want to dishonor the memory of their ancestors or “cause any waves.” We often choose to stay in our ritual rather than enjoy the freedom of our unity in Christ. It matters not what category of music you sing, as long as it comes from your heart and for His glory. Some of the most exciting worship experiences I ever heard were in a little church in Dacus, TX, where bluegrass Christian music was performed for the Lord with excellence. Those folks always seemed to be free and having fun! And people WANTED to join them.
5. Position over Purpose – I never considered myself “the Worship Pastor.” According to the Old Testament, the priests were the Worship Pastors. My ministry role has always been to be a supportive team member alongside the pastor. The role of all staff members should be to be a team member accomplishing Kingdom work in the local church, under the leadership of the shepherd who is called to that flock. The one thing that was sorely missing in my music education was humility. We should humbly support the direction, vision and goals of the church. Only then can we truly lead the heavenly host in praise. We were trained that our gift, our talent and our abilities were of utmost importance. Being a team player was not taught in Music Theory, Vocal Pedagogy, or Sightsinging and Ear Training. Our Lord needs unified hearts, singleness of direction, and Holy Spirit focus.
Second, are benefits of a worship experience that is God-honoring, selfless, and unifying:
1. Music becomes therapeutic. It leads listeners to focus on the One Who is healer, deliverer and savior. It can truly soothe the savage beast. We should plan to immerse the participants mind in the Word. Then, He can cut the bonds that strap us to worry, fear, hopelessness, etc. Music can free the mind! Remember the results of David playing the harp for Saul? (1 Samuel 16:14-23) It works today!
2. Word-centered music stirs the emotions toward the Author! When we sing and play about the One who saved us, who delivered us and healed us, we cannot help but recount His blessings and forget about the petty differences that drain the power of God and plague church unity. Look at David’s response to Nathan’s convicting parable/message (2 Samuel 12:1-14; Psalm 51). Psalm 51 is David’s song of repentance, cleansing and forgiveness. What would our congregations be like if we consistently confessed sin, renewed the sacrifice of our lives daily, and begged God for His washing and restoration?
3. Music becomes the paintbrush of our heart – Spreading the paint of our adoration on the canvas of the world so all may see His greatness. Art is one way we display what is in our soul. We sing in harmony and unite in symphony for the One Who is and was and is to come! We remind EVERYONE that He is coming again and victory will be His AND OURS forevermore. Painting the picture of His love for us will reveal the hope, the peace, and the love we have in Him and for others who receive Him. The Lord adds to the church that sacrifices their all for Him and for others (Acts 1:42-47).
4. Quality becomes the standard. We will cease getting out of bed on Sunday morning and picking 4-5 songs we enjoy, and we will stop “filling” 20-30 minutes on a Sunday morning program. We will be offering our best, our all, for the One Who gave His all (sounds like good lyrics). The church that practices praise with perfection offers a beautiful aroma to the Lord. We must tirelessly prepare so we honor and respect the One Who is the focus of the worship event. We must lift Him up so all people will be drawn to Him (John 12:32).
5. The Father is the Focus. The ego-centric desire to entertain gives way to intimate communion. Revival and renewal flows from God’s throne when we glorify His name/character/ attributes and when we lovingly adhere to His commands. If we love Him, we will keep His commands, and if we keep His commands, we will love others properly (1 John 5:1-5). It is at His feet that we gain what is vital!
In summary, weekly reflect on the music ministry of your local congregation. Make certain it is selflessly-anointed, culturally-relevant, emotionally-appropriate, therapeutically-beneficial, theologically-sound, God-focused, unifying, inclusive and stunning in quality.
May it be our strategy to utilize music to reinforce the Word, heal the soul and propel the believer toward repentance and daily renewal. What is your heart singing today?