Earlier this Summer I had the opportunity to serve for two weeks at City Evangelical Church in Leeds, England. Among the many wonderful English traditions I partook in, was the magnificent experience of attending a rugby match between longtime rivals, the Leeds Rhinos and Wakefield Wildcats. The atmosphere was so exciting and quickly made me a rugby enthusiast. Pressed shoulder to shoulder in a raucous crowd, people hopped up on adrenaline (and probably a few pints) stood for nearly three hours, enthusiastically supporting their hometown heroes. Yet there was a unique element to this exuberant crowd. In their excitement they did not cheer…they sang. For three hours, they moved seamlessly through song after song, stirring passion, captivating emotion and eventually serenading their team onto victory. It was magnificent and inspiring. I still have those songs stuck in my head, and I smile as I hum them at work.
Now fast forward to this past week, when I overheard a colleague listening to music they had just purchased. It was the latest worship album and as a person actively involved in music ministry, I always enjoy hearing new material and gleaning ideas. But something grabbed my attention very quickly as I overheard this recording. This “live worship” carried the same sound and was evoking it’s audience to experience the same excitement, as those which I encountered in an English Rugby match. While I couldn’t visually see what was happening, I could assume the crowd was standing and enthusiastically raising their hands as they sang for hours on end. The enthusiasm, the stirring of emotions, the passion of people singing, was difficult to distinguish from what I heard at a wild European sporting event. Little, to no difference existed between those who were celebrating a fleeting game, from those who were honoring the eternal King of kings. The reality stopped me where I was. Have we cheapened the worship of a Holy God, taking that which is sacred and holy, and relegating it to that which is common and trivial? Who is responsible for this degeneration?
The reality is, those of us who lead in music and corporate worship are responsible to foster environments that transcend emotion and move the worshipper to worshipping in the truth of God’s Word. Alistair Begg makes both a humourous and profound point here.
The title of Music Minister is one I proudly hold. Yet I fear that a subtle and strategic way the enemy is causing the Church to be led astray is through those who lead in music ministry. Music is emotional. It can cause the strong-willed person to breakdown, and it can lift up the down-hearted. Music can teach us profound truth, and yet we can catch ourselves singing lyrics while never paying attention to their meaning. Music can focus us, and it can distract us.
When we think about the average North American church, 20-40 minutes of the service is often given to music, a rather significant and worthwhile portion. This is not wasted time that serves merely as a pep rally in anticipation of the main event, the sermon. No, it’s an opportunity for believers to come together, acknowledging all that God has done, and who we are in light of that truth. It should be grounded in the Scriptures. We can learn phenomenal truths as they ring forth in hymns like “Come, Christians, Join to Sing” which states of Christ that, “Praise is His gracious choice: Alleluia! Amen!” Our ability to come before Him with hearts full of praise, is because He permits us to do so. It’s His grace that allows our praise, and in extending to us the opportunity to glorify Him, He finds pleasure. Psalm 95 expresses the corporate nature of worship and extols us to humble ourselves in His presence:
O come, let us sing for joy to the Lord,
Let us shout joyfully to the rock of our salvation.
Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving,
Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms.
For the Lord is a great God
And a great King above all gods,
In whose hand are the depths of the earth,
The peaks of the mountains are His also.
The sea is His, for it was He who made it,
And His hands formed the dry land.
Come, let us worship and bow down,
Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.
For He is our God,
And we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand.
Because worship is important to God and also mandated by Him, it should be assumed that the Church also places a high value on music and worship. Yet worship wars exist because the church is full of inadequate leaders, with an unbiblical understanding of the issue. This leads the Church of God astray and into error. So what qualifies a man to lead this ministry? What should Pastors and Elders look for, so that they may protect the flock from an emotional manipulator who is ungrounded in truth?
Music Ministers need to be mature and equipped
Colossians 3:16 states, “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.” Notice that Paul equates singing with teaching? This requires great maturity among the one leading the singing. The music minister needs to understand their role is not just to make beautiful music, but it is to teach. Scripture is clear what it requires for those who lead (1 Tim 3:1-7; 2 Tim 2:15-17). The music minister is not exempt from these responsibilities and he must be qualified to serve the Church spiritually.
But a musician must also be skilled. Psalm 33:2-3 says,
Give thanks to the Lord with the lyre;
Sing praises to Him with a harp of ten strings.
Sing to Him a new song;
Play skillfully with a shout of joy.
It’s not enough for someone to learn to play chopsticks on the piano, and then say they’re a pianist. Musicians must spend years privately developing their skills. This is not so they may boast in their great ability, or draw attention to their talent, but rather to present their absolute best to the One who gave His life as a ransom for sinners. Two of the greatest church composers and musicians, J.S. Bach and G.F Handel, recognized that their talent was not for personal gain and signed their compositions with “SDG” (Soli Deo Gloria! = To God Alone be Glory). However, in this day of reality TV and overnight celebrities, fame seekers use the church as a platform to promote themselves, hoping to catch their big break. It becomes tough to balance skill and pride. Yet the Music Minister must master this himself, and also discern and counsel those who serve underneath him. Church musicians must constantly battle their own pride, because it is the Lord who deserves the honor and glory. The musician is simply the instrument.
Music Ministers need to understand theology
How many churches have relegated their music to the guy who can play the best guitar, or has the nicest voice, as if this is the chief qualification for leadership? One church is too many! Yet unfortunately, all too often the expectation for Biblical and theological training becomes secondary. This cavalier attitude is how false teaching and heresy slip into the church, as the undiscerning begin to lead and direct the masses, while at the same time, lacking direction themselves. The astute music minister must be a theologian that understands what is necessary to protect the church from error, so the people can learn Biblical theology from the lyrics they sing.
The German reformer and hymn writer, Martin Luther said, “Next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise. The gift of language combined with the gift of song was given to man that he should proclaim the Word of God through music.” At the end of every Sunday morning, people go home from sitting under the preaching of the Word of God. The pastor has poured countless hours into study and preparation, and yet the music is what they hum in their cars. R.C. Sproul has called music “The Handmaiden of Theology.” It delivers truth, making it memorable and applicable. He then states, “Not every traditional hymn is good simply because it is old, and not every contemporary song is unfit for worship simply because it is new. There are bad traditional songs, and there are edifying contemporary songs. Our goal in worship should be to sing those songs that cause us to ponder the greatness of God, glorify Him for His salvation, and help us understand His Word. Let the songs we use for public worship and private devotion do all these things.”
Music Ministers need to be shepherds
I’m so grateful that God has made us to be emotional people. And yet we often allow emotions to drive us. A Music Minister must have a shepherd’s heart. He must serve as one who helps guide and direct through those emotions, pointing people to the truth of God’s Word. His responsibility is to help the worshiper understand what it means to present oneself to God as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1-2), and how to worship in spirit and in truth (John 4: 22-24). He must care for those in his flock, and be willing to invest in their lives.
John Calvin said, “Man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.” Music in the church can quickly feed this production of idols. The music minister must be a man who is mature and qualified, able to discern truth from error and shepherd the people of God. Pray for your music minister, as you do your Senior Pastor. There must be a desire in the music minister’s heart to not only create beautiful music, but to bring truth of God’s Word to the people, and give glory to God alone.