Last week, John MacArthur and The Master’s Seminary hosted a historic summit on Biblical Inerrancy. Over 4 days, 18 sessions were presented by some of evangelicalism’s most well-known pastors, theologians and historians, affirming that there is no other authority by which we stand, than the authority of Scripture. It was thrilling to stand alongside 5000+ ministers of the Gospel in such a declaration. However, it was also equally stirring to hear the voices of these men reverberate in glorious song, as Dr. Clayton Erb and the entire music department of Grace Community Church, along with Keith & Kristyn Getty, and Fernando Ortega, led us before the throne grace through music.
Until recently, I’ve been a member at Grace Community Church and always wondered what it would be like to have to go worship elsewhere after Shepherds’ Conference. Those at GCC have grown accustomed to listening to some of the music world’s best serve week after week; but those going back to their smaller churches… what do they go back to? I knew one day I would leave the musically rich environment, and anticipated that it would be hard for me to let go. However, something completely unexpected happened. As I was leaving Friday night of Shepherds Conference to return home, I stopped by Dr. Erb’s office to thank him for his incredible service to the conference, but I also told him how excited I was to be back with my church family at Grace Bible Church. My heart was full from the conference, but I wanted nothing more than to be with my church… and to sing with them.
Sadly, I wish I could say I heard the same sentiment from other pastors I met at the summit. In the course of the week, I had the opportunity to sit down and talk with several men about their churches. These pastors love their churches. They love the people God has brought to fellowship with them, they love the ministry, they love the way the Gospel is changing lives, they love the opportunity to faithfully preach the Word of God week after week; but a common factor I heard was that they were struggling with the music in their churches. These pastors were genuinely grieved at the state of singing in their fellowship, because they see the importance of quality, God-honoring, Christ-exalting music in the life of the Church. They understand the value of Ephesians 5:19 & Colossians 3:16, yet struggle to see it lived out, because of the lack of talent in their congregations.
So I thought I might offer just a few practical tips for pastors out there, particularly in smaller churches, on how to help the music program in your church
- Don’t be afraid to keep it über simple. You don’t need to have a huge choir and orchestra to worship the Lord. Honestly, you don’t even need a piano or guitar. All you need is one person that’s not completely tone deaf, and even if that’s all you’ve got… sing it with gusto! The early church didn’t need much. They met in the catacombs and had nothing. Paul and Silas were literally in chains, and led the prison in singing hymns. Today, many in in countries closed to the Gospel sing, and have rich times of fellowship, but keep it quiet. If you’ve got vocal chords that work, you can have a music ministry. Don’t try to be something you’re not. You’re not going to have a 120 voice choir, if there’s only 50 people in your church. Be content with what the Lord has given you at this time. God left us all without excuse to honor Him through music (Luke 19:40).
- Find a piano player. If you have some musicians to pull from, start by finding a capable piano player. One of your jobs as a pastor is to protect the congregation from bad musicians. Don’t use them if they’ve just learned to play a simplified version of Für Elise for their Grade 3 recital. If a person is just learning piano, encourage them to continue to study, and use them when they’re ready. If they need time to rehearse for a piece, plan ahead and give them plenty of time. After a piano player, you’ll want to find… a Bass player. That’s right, not an acoustic or electric guitar. Trust me… a bass compliments a piano nicely, can add some rhythm, and is a lot easier to work with. The colors of the instruments also work well together. After that, if you have guitars, percussion, orchestral instruments- they all layer well with the piano and bass… and of course, you can always use more cowbell (just kidding…not really)!
- Sing worthwhile songs. Find songs that are theologically rich, carry lyrical substance and then just sing them. If you sing weak theology, it’ll sound pathetic. If you sing songs that say something, people can’t resist singing them. Compare the tenacity of when you sing:
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth and followed Thee.
Amazing love, how can it be,
That Thou my God shouldest die for me?
And I will call upon Your name,
And keep my eyes above the waves.
When oceans rise,
my soul will rest in Your embrace,
For I am Yours and You are mine.
One lyric inspires people to sing with gusto; the other leaves people drowning in Hallmark sentimentality. And there are plenty of good rich hymns being written even today (for a list of resources, begin by checking these out).
- Invest in some hymnals. They are not expensive ($10-$15/book). If your church is small and so is the budget, consider asking families to help purchase a copy for themselves, and maybe an additional one for any guests. Putting music in the hands of your people will do wonders. First, you will never learn to read music, if you’re never exposed to it. Secondly, you’ll have a resource that will literally have everyone reading from the same sheet of music (no pesky powerpoint issues). Thirdly, you’ll be connected with the history of church through generations. And finally, you’ll be singing songs that that are meant to be song corporately, not songs written as solos by wannabe pop stars, that have awkward rhythms and melody lines. There is a big difference.
- Shepherd the talent. Don’t let your musicians act like a bunch of divas. They are not there to perform. If that is their goal, as talented as they may be, protect your congregation from them, and have them sit down. Don’t sacrifice the ministry of your church, because someone feels like they need to be on stage, and you have a perceived need. Remember, you can always keep it simple. It’s hard to take away a platform, once it’s already been given. Be careful. You don’t let just anyone preach from the pulpit do you?
- Pray! Pray! Pray! I really shouldn’t have left this one to the end. It really should be in every point. Pray for the music ministry of your church. Pray that God will bring individuals with gifts and talents to serve the body of Christ. Pray that you will be content with those that the Lord has entrusted to you. Pray that your focus isn’t swayed. Pray that your music isn’t a hinderance to the Gospel. Be thankful that your music isn’t what draws people to your church, but that they’re coming to hear the faithful preaching of the Word of God. That’s a sign that your congregation is there for the right reasons: to learn from the God’s Word and not be entertained by a slick show.
A worship service should not resemble the world as much as possible, but be as much like heaven as it can be.
— Steven Lawson (@DrStevenJLawson) March 12, 2015