What Should Motivate A Musical Ministry?

By: Raymond Shepard

Pentecostal churches have been both blessed and cursed by their success. The phenomenal growth of many churches has enabled them to minister musically in powerful new ways. A large sanctuary provides a sense of grandeur, an atmosphere conducive to musical productions. The danger lies in the temptation merely to
entertain people while pretending to exalt the Lord.

We musicians need to be careful. It is so easy to fall into the world’s pattern of performance, focusing on the audience instead of fixing our hearts and minds upon the Lord, making our music into an offering acceptable to Him. The psalmist clearly identified the only target to which he always aimed his music: “I will sing unto the Lord as long as I live” (Ps. 104:33).

In working with students who see music as part of their call to ministry, I find myself frequently concerned with attitudes. I urge these talented young people to ask themselves, “Am I ministering in music to call attention to myself or to Jesus?”

Congregations sometimes contribute to the problem. “O clap your hands, all ye people” (Ps. 47:1) has nothing to do with the secular world’s practice of applause. An anointed musical rendition may indeed move a group of worshippers to give what some call a “clap offering” to God. But there’s a thin line not to be overstepped by congregation or musician. “There is no place for human pride in the presence of the Lord” (1 Cor. 1:29, NEB). Personally, I have adopted a practice of avoiding applause after a musical offering. Instead, I choose to exalt God in another form-raising my hands, singing in the Spirit, or some other response which is less likely to be misinterpreted as exaltation of those who ministered musically.

The twice-a-year musical extravaganza syndrome can be faulted for leading us down the road away from music to extol the Lord and toward performance to exalt the performers. My experience indicates that at such times key decisions must be made, such as: “Will we recruit a person who loves to be seen and heard at Easter and Christmas, but he or she avoids choir participation the rest of the year?”

I do not condemn seasonal musicals as a form, for they can be exactly what pleases the Lord. After all, He set up a schedule of annual festivals of celebration when skilled choirs and orchestras led Israel in praising God. What I condemn is the carnal appetite for entertainment-the demand for frequent, professionally slick productions.

Few non-musicians realize the tremendous expenditure of time and effort required in preparation for such spectaculars, nor the strains exerted through the undue pressures on the family life of the participants.

The focus of the choir’s activity should be musical excellence which produces praise and worship of God. All the musicians David appointed were “trained and skilled in music for the Lord.” But none of them could pick and choose when they would minister-“young and old alike, teacher as well as student, cast lots for
their duties” (See 1 Chron. 25:7,8, NIV). Some were assigned to minister at ordinary times, others at great festivals, but none for any kind of an ego trip. The bottom line always must be the goal of glorifying the Lord.

And that also includes the selection of musical forms and styles. Pentecostal churches generally do well at adapting music that will relate to contemporary people. Worship will be inhibited if the musical format is unfamiliar, even though the spiritual content of the lyrics is powerful in the opinion of the performer.

The underlying danger in adopting contemporary musical styles, however, lies in also adopting the same attitudes that accompany those styles in the world. Such attitudes include a self-aggrandizing spirit and a disdain for anyone who fails to be enthralled whenever this particular style of music is performed.

Such a spirit can result in tension at best, and conflict at worst. Musical tastes vary widely, and some people, right or wrong, assign more spiritual merit to one musical idiom than they do to another. And some go as far as to ascribe the existence of certain musical patterns (lyrics not withstanding) to the malevolent
powers of the underworld.

The musician who wants to lift a congregation into God’s presence will be sensitive to the musical tastes (and prejudices) of the people. On the other hand, the self-centered performer will be determined to display his skill in the kind of arrangement he likes, even though he knows it will offend various people
throughout the church.

Musicians must set their priorities right. When they do, God will bless their ministry. These priorities will include a desire to please the Lord, a desire to lift God’s people into a keener awareness of His presence, and a desire to touch the hearts of unregenerated persons.

How will these priorities affect a choir director’s planning? or a soloist’s selections? or an organist’s practice? or a drummer’s restraint? or a music minister’s motivation?

When these priorities are in place, dedicated work will follow. The musicians will serve in the Lord’s temple as an expression of their love for Him. They will develop their abilities as an offering acceptable to Him. And He will add His anointing.

Wrong attitudes will then be no problem, mutual love will flourish and believers will worship in unity of heart and holiness of life.

(The above material originally appeared in Ministries Magazine.)

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