Music Ministry in the Church
Welcome to music ministry! You may be surprised to hear that many of these problems, including the feeling of being under-resourced , are common even to large churches. Everyone wishes they had more: If only we had more musicians! More talent! A better sound system! More time to rehearse! A more vibrant congregation that wants to sing!
I have a friend who used to play electric guitar for one of largest churches in Sydney, with one of the most well-known worship teams in the world. They’d have everything sorted, wouldn’t they? Think again. I went on a road trip with him one summer, and he kept getting phone calls from his music director desperately asking for help filling the music roster for the month. It turns out half the music team had decided to go away for holidays.
More resources don’t necessarily take away the feeling of not having enough – enough time, people, gifts or equipment. In fact more resources can make you feel more limited because everything is twice as complicated. We all feel limited. But that’s not the fundamental problem. Above all, there are two problems every church music team faces:
In the following sections we’ll think about the answers to several key problems. Hopefully in the process you’ll see that your church isn’t really under-resourced after all.
Music Ministry: The Clash of Expectations
Where do you get your expectations for what music at church should be like? I don’t know about you, I’m always comparing my little music team with larger church bands, or what I heard on the latest major worship CD. The members of the music team always have a few opinions about how things should be done. Then there are the expectations of congregation members and the senior pastor.
But What Are God’s Expectations?
God loves music. He loves it when his people sing, and he loves to sing himself! In Zephaniah 3:17, the prophet tells us that God sings as he rejoices in the salvation of his people:
The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love he will exult over you with loud singing.
God is a jealous God who requires our complete devotion, not just with our lips as we sing, but also with our hearts. In Isaiah 29:13, this was his complaint against Israel:
This people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men.
God’s expectation is that in all things at church, his people will be faithful.
God’s Purpose for Music
In Colossians 3:12-17, God gives a model for corporate worship at a church, including an instruction to sing:
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
The outworking of Christ’s word in our lives is to be filled with thanks for all God has done for us in Christ, and to encourage one another to give our lives to him as Lord. Singing is the expression of that in a fundamentally human way. God has given us only a few ways to express our relationship with others. We can speak, we can touch, we can read and write, we can gesture. And we can sing.
It seems to me that singing is one of the most emotive ways human beings can communicate their thoughts and feelings. From the joy of a love song, to the triumph of the winning team’s anthem, the rhyming taunts of the schoolyard bully, or the grief of a funeral hymn. Songs affect us in a way that mere spoken words can’t. They are emotional. They fill our eyes with tears, or cause us to lift our hands with joy.
Music has been at the heart of creation from the beginning of time, and has been the inescapable emotional response of God’s creatures to his goodness. When God laid the foundations of the earth, all the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy (Job 38:7). And at the end of days, at the wedding feast of the Lamb, the great multitude will sing Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns! (Revelation 19:6).
When King David established the Levitical music ministry in the tabernacle, he appointed 288 singers and musicians to play loudly on musical instruments, on harps and lyres and cymbals, to raise sounds of joy. (1 Chronicles 15:16 and 25:7). The purpose of David’s music was emotional – to help the people of Israel express the joy of knowing the Lord was their God, and all he had done for them.
So what does it mean to be faithful to God’s purpose for music at church? Our singing should be an emotional response to the God who has revealed himself in the Scriptures. Having been restored to God through the death and resurrection of Jesus, we can confidently draw near to the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16). And within that relationship of grace, this is God’s purpose for music:
Music helps us respond emotionally to God and his people, as we sing of God’s works, give him thanks and praise, and encourage one another to live for him.
Faithfulness in Serving God’s People
As with all spiritual gifts, musical gifts are given for the common good as we come together in worship:
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (1 Corinthians 12:4-7)
The task of the music team is to apply God’s purpose for music in faithful service of his people at church. Here’s how:
1. Choose songs with great words and music
2. Play expressively
3. Do your best to play with skill
4. Don’t play to show your skill
1. Choose Songs with Great Words and Music
It’s essential that the songs we choose for church contain lyrics that match God’s purpose for music at church – faithful lyrics that move us and speak to who we are as humans under God, proclaiming his works, giving him thanks and praise, and encouraging us to give our lives to him. (Although not every song has to do all those things at once!)
Not only that but the music written needs to match the words in a way that lifts them off the song sheet and into our hearts! We are blessed with many great songs that do this well. But there are more out there – go find them!
2. Play Expressively
Why do we bother including instruments when we sing at church? After all, it’s an awful lot of work! Why not just sing unaccompanied? In Psalm 33, King David seemed to think there was something to this whole idea of using instruments:
Give thanks to the Lord with the lyre; make melody to him with the harp of ten strings! (Psalm 33:2)
The ten-stringed harp, or kinnor, was rare and expensive – most kinnor in the ancient near-East had only nine strings. Its sound was described as pleasant and sweet (Psalm 81:2), and it remained silent during periods of mourning (Psalm 137:2). Beyond that, we know very little about how it was played, or what its songs sounded like. But the fact that it is mentioned throughout the Psalms as an instrument of praise brings to mind a sound that went some way in expressing the beauty and joy of knowing God.
Whether you re playing a 10-string kinnor, or a 12-string guitar, the whole purpose for your existence at church is to help people express the words of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs in a way they wouldn’t quite be able to with words alone.
That means your playing at church must be consciously expressive. Never just go through the motions. How would you feel if your preacher simply read out the text of his sermon in monotone? Just as a good preacher uses his voice to express the message he wants to convey, the way you play your instrument or sing should reflect the emotional content of the song lyrics. If you’re enjoying yourself when you sing at church-good! The role of the musicians is to help the congregation express those words emotionally.
Unfortunately as instrumentalists we’re often totally oblivious to the lyrics of songs we’re playing. The classic situation is the drummer who doesn’t even look at the song sheet: How many verses? Four? OK, cool. Encourage the musicians to engage with the lyrical content of the songs. One way to do is to pray together through the words of the songs each week.
3. Do Your Best to Play with Skill
You don’t have to be an amazing musician to play in church, but you do actually have to put some effort in! Faithfulness in service entails doing the necessary preparation to serve effectively.
There is value in skilful playing. In Psalm 33, David continues by calling on his musicians to play with skill to the Lord:
Sing to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts. (Psalm 33:3)
If you know you need to practice at home beforehand, don’t turn up to the rehearsal without practicing. If you’re just beginning on an instrument and want to serve by playing in church – go ahead have a go! – but also take an opportunity to get more training.
4. Don’t Play to Show Your Skill
Praise God that he’s given you a great gift for the service of his people. Keep God’s purpose for music at church in your heart, and keep praying God will keep it there.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.
This article Music Ministry in the Church by John Weathers was excerpted from: www.reason.mu web site. July 2009. It may be used for study & research purposes only.