This past Sunday we had a wonderful time of worship together at our little church in Bakersfield. Both morning and evening services were beautiful and I couldn’t help but express thanks to God as I drove home. I kept thinking how fortunate I was that God allowed me to be part of this church, but I also kept thinking how amazing it is that we are even allowed to worship the Lord. When you think about it, we have no right to come before a Holy God to offer our thanks. Who are we? He doesn’t need our feeble attempts at praise. But as Christian Bateman penned in the hymn Come, Christians, Join to Sing, we sing a remarkable phrase: “Praise is His gracious choice, Alleluia, Amen.” The worship and praise of our Holy God is something He allows us to partake in. This is why we can sing “Before the Throne of God above, I have a strong and perfect plea,” and we can “with confidence draw near to the throne of grace” (Hebrews 4:16). He delights in the praises of His people and even Psalm 100 commands all the earth to “Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!” It’s not that God needs our worship, but He delights in it. My heart was full and I was so grateful for the excellence in which our musicians presented it.
Before the evening service, our worship team was talking and one gentlemen asked, “Why does our country-bumpkin church have so many great musicians?” I can’t lie, I’ve wondered the same thing many times over. For some reason, the Lord has blessed Grace Bible Church of Bakersfield with a depth of musicianship which is uncommon for a church our size. I’m spoiled to work with great people week in and week out (yes, I’m bragging on them), and our congregation greatly benefits. But ultimately, it’s not about creating beautiful music for the sake of enjoying beautiful music; it’s about making beautiful music to honor the Lord and glorify Him.
So how does a little church in central California build a depth of musicianship for it’s congregation to worship? In my years of ministry I’ve noticed one common thread that is woven through churches with great music; one characteristic that attracts high worship and draws the best musicians to participate. It’s not what you may expect, because it really has nothing to do with music. It doesn’t start with a skilled piano player or trained guitarist. It’s not about having someone in your congregation who can lead a choir or a soprano who can out sing Sandi Patty. The worship leader doesn’t have to have his doctorate in music, and you don’t have to have a ornate sanctuary or organ that rivals Westminster Abbey. These are all great things, but none of them will build a God-honoring music ministry. In fact, a music ministry will be totally worthless and inept if a church is missing one thing.
It’s not up to your music minister to build a great music program, its up to your pastor. It boils down to what happens in the pulpit week in and week out. A church with a pastor who excellently preaches the Word of God will begin to see excellence trickle down into its music ministry (and every other ministry). When the pastor delivers excellence in preaching, making the clarity and application of the Scriptures a priority, worship becomes priority. It must become a priority. The congregation begins to understand what constitutes true worship and therefore demands it from the leadership. As Romans 12:1-2 is preached, those in the church understand worship is not about a passive, emotional experience to get you through the next week, it is a vital part in an individual’s life and the church’s corporate worship. Worship demands something from them.
I can’t express enough gratitude for my pastor. In many ways, his love of the Scriptures has made my job easy; because people want to serve as an overflow of their response to God’s Word in their life. I don’t have to beg and plead with people to get them involved. In fact, I get to pick and choose.
Another fallout of great preaching which engages the heart and mind is that you have a congregation who doesn’t want to waste their time at church. They don’t view their church family as a Sunday morning obligation, but an integral part of their life and family. They take God’s Word seriously, and to put it simply, they don’t have a lazy faith. It’s active and maturing. Those who have gifts in music recognize that God has given them that gift, and therefore they want serve Him with it. And as they serve their Savior and His Church they want to improve. Worshippers do not rest on their laurels, but constantly grow and mature in their talents, just as they do their faith. They are not satisfied with where they are at, but want to give God their best, week after week. Therefore they practice, and they get better.
In college, my Philosophy of Church Music professor said something that has always stuck with me: “Talent attracts talent.” What he meant was that musicians want to be utilized to the best of their ability. No one who has invested years of their life to perfect their craft, wants to waste their time in an embarrassing music ministry. They want to be pushed and improve their skills. When skilled musicians witness other musicians being challenged and producing beautiful music, they want to be part of it. They know their talent won’t be squandered.
You can begin to see the key to a successful music ministry. When God’s Word is held in high esteem, God’s people hold worship in high regard. When worship is held in high regard, because it is informed by God’s Word, it is not a fleeting ministry or a casual Sunday morning exercise… it is of vital importance.
Pastors, I know I’m putting more pressure on your shoulders, but be faithful to preach the Word. Instill a love of worship among your congregation that overflows from the Word of God informing your own worship, and you’ll see the Lord build your music ministry.