The Involvement of Non-Musicians in the Church Music Program

The Involvement of Non-Musicians
In the Church Music Program
By Robert Berglund

The Congregation

The congregation is the most important group in the church music program since it is the purpose of all musicians and music groups to lead the congregation in active participation in the worship experience. In all services the congregation is never an audience for which musicians perform. It is, instead, the Body of Christ either actively participating in corporate and non-corporate God-directed worship experiences or else involved in a maturing process that ultimately issues in happy, healthy lives of service. The choir, organist, and minister of music all exist as leaders of the congregation. An anthem is sung as an expression of worship to God on behalf of the congregation as in other verbal corporate experiences. Anthems or songs of testimony or witness may be man-directed and legitimately communicate scriptural truth to fellow human beings, but in so doing they need to reflect honor and glory to the One of whom they sing.

Problem of Non-Involvement

As was true prior to Martin Luther’s revolutionary strategies, members of all congregations of all denominations today may “check their brains at the door” upon entering the sanctuary and thoughtlessly go through the motions of the service. The problem of non-involvement is not a new one. In the medieval period “worshipers understood little of what was being said or sung, since the service was in Latin. Their own vocal participation was almost nil.” Although Luther loved the Latin setting of the mass, he recognized the need for the involvement of his worshipers in their own language. He therefore translated the Bible into German and used hymns as well as other specific portions of the service in the language of the people. Although his choir sang polyphonic settings in Latin, he had them help lead the congregation in the new homophonic settings of the chorales. Concerning the need for singing by the congregation, Luther wrote:

The 96th Psalm [v. 1] says, “Sing to the Lord a new song. Sing to the Lord all the earth.” For in the Old Covenant under the law of Moses, divine service was tedious and tiresome as the people had to offer so many and varied sacrifices of all they possessed, both in house and field. And since they were restive and selfish, they performed this service unwillingly. . . . Now with a heart as lazy and unwilling as this, nothing or nothing good can be sung. Heart and mind must be cheerful and willing if one is to sing. . . . Thus there is now in the New Testament a better service of God, of which the Psalm [96:1] here says: “Sing to the Lord a new song. Sing to the Lord all the earth.” For God has cheered our hearts and minds through his dear Son, who he gave for us to redeem us from sin, death, and the devil. He who believes this earnestly cannot be quiet about it. But he must gladly and willingly sing and speak about it so that others may come and hear it.

Luther’s dilemma was probably greater than any that have existed since his time. Imagine a congregation that for years had functioned as spectators looking in on a mass that was generally void of personal subjectivity. Imagine being asked to sing in a new liturgical setting but not a new architectural setting. The mere idea of hearing one’s own voice in such circumstances would be frightening. Luther had to choose tunes with which the people were familiar. The only place people sang was in the local pubs where the people socialized, caught up on the current news, and sang folk songs (sometimes with bawdy texts). Luther was smart enough to know he had to start where the people were.

As time passed, however, he recognized the incongruity of using tunes on Sunday mornings that were sung on Saturday night. He explicitly referred on several occasions in his writings to the paradox created by the mixture of associations caused by the singing of those tunes. In time, he corrected the problem by composing new tunes and also hiring other musicians to write original chorale melodies for the purpose of worship. He involved his people in the singing process through the use of pop tunes, but he moved on from that point as soon as he recognized the new problems thus created.

It is interesting how some current writers have used Luther to defend the use of pop styles today to encourage congregations to sing. However, Luther felt that great care needed to be taken to avoid using music that would detract from praising God. He stated:

“The subject is much too great for me briefly to describe all its benefits. And you, my young friend, let this noble, wholesome, and cheerful creation of God be commended to you. By it you may escape shameful desires and bad company. At the same time you may by this creation accustom yourself to recognize and praise the Creator. Take special care to shun perverted minds who prostitute this lovely gift of nature and of art with their erotic rantings; and be quite assured that none but the devil goads them on to defy their very nature which would and should praise God its Maker with this gift, so that these bastards purloin the gift of God and use it to worship the foe of God, the enemy of nature and of this lovely art.”

To not tell the whole story of Luther’s approach is either willful misrepresentation or shabby scholarship. Further, to liken the causes of non-singing congregations in the sophisticated twentieth century to Luther’s situation reflects a whole series of problems in cause-and-effect evaluation and analytical techniques. To say that congregations and/or young people in particular do not sing because “they don’t like the tunes” is only touching on the problem. Luther was probably close to the truth when he said that young people need something to wean them away from love ballads and carnal songs and to teach them something of value in their place, thus combining the good with the pleasing, as is proper for youth. Nor am I of the opinion that the gospel should destroy and blight all the arts, as some of the pseudo religious claim. But I would like to see all the arts, especially music, used in the service of Him who gave and made them. … As it is, the world is too lax and indifferent about teaching and training the young for us to abet this trend.

The heart of the problem is that people – young and old – have become conditioned to being spectators by the hours they spend watching television or sporting events. They think going to church is for something the church does for them as in watching television. Sadly, pastors and church musicians are buying into that approach by, in fact, doing it for them. As mentioned in an earlier chapter, recorded orchestral tracks and some media-like techniques make services of worship into non-participatory spectator events. The cause of the problem is not bad music (although some, indeed, may be), but rather the lack of awareness of the purposes and procedures of the worship service itself. Many musicians who jumped on the pop music bandwagon a few years ago in order to better involve their congregations is now struggling with the non-involvement problem once again. It is difficult to keep up with all the new pop tunes so one can be “relevant” and keep the congregation involved.

Rather than solely focus on the music as the culprit that causes non-involvement it is better to focus on the responsibility of the worshiper, who must exert the effort to actively participate. The easy path is the one of accommodation. The best path is the one that has music suitable to the communication of scriptural truth. Assuming that non-involvement issues from a source other than an indifferent or non-existent relationship to God, a congregation can be taught how to worship. Again, classes or articles written for the church paper or bulletin can help a congregation learn that the act of singing in a worship service is not done for the pleasure of singing enjoyable tunes – sing-alongs and camp-sings serve that purpose. Service music is a vehicle for enhancing and supporting the meaning of the text and as such functions as a means to an end (spiritual involvement) rather than an end in itself (entertainment). Upon learning these perspectives, many churches are rediscovering the appropriateness and utilitarian solidity of the great hymns of the church for use alongside the functional and effective contemporary music of quality and significance. It is time for the church to challenge gifted composers to write church music that can evoke spiritual responses from people willing to give themselves to an active participation in services. Any new piece that can survive close scrutiny as to its appropriateness, both musically and textually, is worthy of use. If it does not measure up, why use it? The congregation deserves literature that is worthy of their time once they desire , to become involved.

Leaders of worship often think that the only time people worship is when a singularly voiced audible experience takes place. Some of the most meaningful worship experiences can take place when members of the congregation creatively and individually worship the Lord, whether silently or aloud. For the congregation that has learned how to use time in that way, the time is well spent and may be a source of great meaning. It is important, then, that when such experiences are desired, the organist not play a familiar hymn encouraging minds to gravitate to the text, thus making the experience a corporate one (see pp. 62-63).

Liturgical vs. Non-Liturgical Service Settings

As a young man I was told by friends and relatives (as well as instructors in my early education) that liturgical churches are dead – they only go through the motions of worship and are lulled to sleep by the devastating effect of weekly repetitions. In later years I served as minister of music in five non-liturgical denominations and discovered the same lethargy and lack of involvement I had heard existed in only liturgical churches. Sitting on the platform or leading the congregational singing I could readily see the glassy eyes of people who were simply going through the motions. The order of worship (Prelude/Call to Worship/Invocation/Opening Hymn/Scripture Reading/Pastoral Prayer/Anthem/Announcements and Offertory – always with special music/Hymn/Sermon/Closing Hymn/Benediction/Postlude) had its own repetitive form that could tranquilize the congregation if they were at the mercy of forms to involve themselves. Orders of worship do not exist to interest or activate the congregation. Members of the congregation activate themselves to participate. The order of worship can meaningfully function if the people involve themselves. The forms are only a means to an end, never an end in themselves. Congregations may be involved or uninvolved in both liturgical and non-liturgical services. It is the task of church musicians to constantly encourage congregations to involve themselves regardless of the forms or styles of music used in churches.

There is no greater gratification for a minister of music than for a member of the congregation to say, “I profoundly worshiped today through the music” (unlike the comment “I enjoyed the music,” which is like telling a pastor, “I enjoyed your sermon”). One should strive to provide experiences that evoke genuine and spiritually meaningful responses from all participants for the edification of the saints and the glory of God.

The Pastor – Minister of Music Relationship

There probably is not a book written on this subject that does not stress the importance of the pastor’s positive involvement in an effective church music ministry. However, it may be that some have overstated the pastor’s role. It is neither necessary nor ideal for the pastor to provide the primary leadership in the music life of the church. Undoubtedly the expected roles of the pastor in recent years have forced some clergy into a jack-of-all-trades involvement with a resulting master-of-none level of proficiency. Inadequate church budgets often hinder the work of the Lord although the pastor has the vision for a competent support staff.

But lack of money is not always the problem. Churches have required that pastors be psychologists in order to effectively counsel. They must be the equivalent of corporate presidents in order to run the complex administrative business affairs and budgetary matters of the church. Of course they must be sociologists, because it is impossible to relate to the social needs of people without such expertise. They certainly must be educators to teach the Word with a practical or current pedagogical techniques so as to effectively lead the church school program and possibly oversee an elementary, middle, and secondary school program associated with the church. If not a political activist, he must at least take positions on issues and possibly use the pulpit to articulate his own particular persuasion. If the pastor or church has aspirations for using the media (radio or television), he must be an effective salesman with the gift for raising money. Mannerisms, facial expressions, dress, and other personal characteristics must be developed in specific directions so as to make the package marketable. Some pastors and church musicians attend seminars that instruct in camera and staging techniques in order that services or programs to be aired appear professional. Finally, pastors are also expected to be good preachers.

Certainly many, perhaps all, of those expectations of the pastor have merit in one way or another. If the complex responsibilities of overseeing music program of the church are added to the list, it becomes apparent that no one person can handle half of the assignments – much less all of them. And yet there are those who not only try to do some of the above but think they should. It is irrelevant to comment here on the effectiveness of the pastors who endeavor to be multi-faceted superpersons. It is evident that one-half or even one course in the church music in seminary (as is the present requirement of many seminaries) will not begin to prepare the pastor in a thorough understanding of worship, hymnology, church music philosophy, and church music literature. It is no wonder that pastors are often admittedly confused or lacking in understanding in their leadership roles in church music.

Few pastors today deeply appreciate and understand the mission of music in the life of the church and have a vision of what ought to be in the utilization of the handmaiden of spiritual experience. Often their awareness encompasses only the records of their children, the old gospel songs of their youth, music of the media, Muzak they hear in the stores, and the few favorite hymns from their hymnbooks. The point is not to place blame on men of God called to the ministry but that the church expects an impossible breadth from pastors. Such demands have seriously diminished the effectiveness of many pastors in their primary tasks of being theologians, preachers, teachers of the Word, and godly ministers deeply committed to profound spiritual leadership through exemplary lives. Time demands made by all the peripheral responsibilities simply preclude the disciplined and exhaustive life of scholarship and study of the Word.

As the needs of the worshiper are considered, it would be far better to turn some of the responsibilities over to well prepared individuals and expect the pastor to concentrate upon the ministry of the Word. Much of what happens in church music today that is incongruous is the result of a hasty or ill-informed decision-making process by well-meaning pastors. When one has no clearly defensible reasons for objecting to inappropriate forms or styles as well as no vision as to what could be, expediency becomes the norm. The greater disservice to the church is the fact that the same pastors often rely on their church musicians for leadership, and they too are found wanting.

As It Might Be

The ideal role of the pastor in church music is one where the pastor provides leadership in service objectives, mutually arrives at overall goals or objectives for the music program with the minister of music, and functions in the role of counselor to the minister of music. It should not be inferred that final authority does not rest with the pastor. The pastor is the shepherd of the flock and should have the ultimate influence in all important decisions. But the ideal situation is one in which pastor and minister of music function as a team with a sense of unity and purpose in implementation. That team relationship can only take place, however, when the following conditions exist:

* The pastor and minister of music understand and concur on basic theological and philosophical matters as they relate to the ministry of music; seminaries and graduate programs in church music must begin to provide better opportunities for the development of those competencies.

* Both individuals are capable and qualified in their own areas of specialization.

* The individuals complement each other in personal attributes and leadership style.

* Lines of communication are always kept open and regularly utilized; the climate of openness is nurtured so as to encourage the discussion of any matters of potential disagreement.

* Both individuals are secure in their own self-image so the effectiveness of each is no threat to the other but rather a reason for personal satisfaction.

* Each individual is openly supportive of the ministries of the other with an obvious awareness on the part of the laity that the relationship is not only a professional one but also one of love and singleness of purpose.

When one or more of the above do not exist, the ministry of both the pastor and the minister of music will be difficult. Tactful exchanges between the two parties can provide insight and increased awareness as to the individual points of view that can result in the above ideals. Of course, in-depth pre-employment interviews can avoid such a gulf before a minister of music is hired, but where there is a distinct gulf between the two, all effort must be made to resolve the problem. The Lord’s work must not be allowed to suffer when dissension exists within the leadership ranks. If such problems exist, regardless of the cause, I believe the minister of music should open himself to another place of service. Because the pastor and minister of music must work so closely, and their responsibilities ideally interrelate, the pastor should initiate whatever action is necessary to guarantee a happy team relationship.

Occasionally a pastor may accept a call to a new ministry, leaving a good working relationship and supportive staff. It is my opinion that the minister of music (as well as other support staff) should be willing to resign if the new pastor has differing points of view. As coaches usually are free to bring their assistants with them or hire new assistance if their choice, so also is there wisdom in allowing a new pastor to build his own team. It is possible, of course, that the musician and new pastor will desire to be on the same team, but the door should be open for the pastor to select his own team members without embarrassment.

The ministry of music can be an experience of joy and productivity if the pastor-minister of music relationship is a good one. The call of God is essential for this to happen, and when it does, it is an exciting and challenging experience. What a privilege it is to serve God with a pastor whose signals are out of the same play book! It results in a deeply meaningful friendship and a happy situation in which to serve.

Perhaps the most important contribution a pastor can make to the total ministry of music in the church is his vocal support of the program and encouragement of those who participate. Where the pastor is dearly loved and respected because of his leadership in his other areas of responsibility, when he speaks in support of the ministry of music, such support helps insure effectiveness of the total program.

The Worship Committee – Minister of Music Relationship

The worship committee has the potential of being a great asset or a major hindrance to the church music ministry. Where the committee is composed of members informed to some degree in matters of church music with an interest in assisting and supporting the church music program, the relationship can be positive. Conversely, where the committee is selected not on the basis of qualification but due to willingness to be on a committee, problems can arise. It becomes a primary task of the church musician to provide educational experiences for the committee so that they understand the basis of a sound church music program. Ideally where such committees exists, the minister of music should first of all endeavor to tactfully and positively teach a series of classes for the committee and others in the church who may be interested. (I have found the Sunday school hour to be an effective time slot and in one church offered a thirteen-week course in church music. The course was popular enough for it to be re-offered several years in a row.) The minister of music should also work with the chairman of the nominating committee in order to have individuals on the worship committee who have the appropriate understandings. Nothing is more discouraging to a minister of music than to have a wonderfully functioning committee replaced by a whole new committee that requires a great deal of training.

The capable worship committee can function as a sounding board of the congregation, helping to avoid serious problems before they arise. Members can assist in routine matters such as making contacts, phone calls, recruitment of new members of groups, scheduling, and promoting of special events. In general, they can help interpret philosophical and theological implications of the program to the congregation. Obviously there can be a credibility gap between the minister of music and the committee if either is unqualified. Where tensions exist it is imperative that straightforward but loving and tactful verbal communication take place. In such instances examining and evaluating ideas rather than attacking people can solve problems. If the problem is due to a lack of qualification, seminars and formal courses can sometimes resolve the situation. Graduate programs for church musicians can often assist in upgrading the musician’s expertise. Positive steps must always be taken to provide for growth and not allow problems to smolder beneath the surface. The Lord expects committee members and church musicians to have joy in their service for Him, and when such a relationship exists the focus of the efforts can then be on the primary area of importance – the involvement of the congregation in a meaningful spiritual experience through music.

Article “The Involvement of Non-Musicians in the Church Music Program” excerpted from “A Philosophy of Church Music”. Written by Robert Berglund.

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.”