A few months ago I visited a wonderful church in America’s heartland. I had been asked to assist their music ministry and consult on what it means to have a Pastor over Worship. It was encouraging to share in what was going on at their church and I was sharpened by their great questions. Of course, coming from hot and dry California, it was especially rejuvenating to be surrounded by endless fields and beautiful, big blue skies, but there was joy greater in serving and worshipping with this Church, even though I had only known them for a few days. While I came to serve them, they encouraged my soul and reminded me of the sweet fellowship we have in our bonds of Christ. As we talked through a philosophy of ministry and the day-to-day roles of a music pastor, less of our time was spent discussing music, but more importantly the character, integrity and calling of the man of God.
One question that frequently came up was about exercising discernment in music selection. With an ever growing catalogue of music for the church to use, how (and why) does one exercise discernment in what and even who they sing? Why is the song “Reckless Love” a reckless choice for the church to sing? (For a more thorough look at this, read this)
The music minister has a responsibility not many people ever get. In fact, when others do exactly what he does, it’s often viewed as wrong and inappropriate. The music minister literally put words in your mouth.
Think about that? Who else do you let put words in your mouth about what you believe? The Preacher doesn’t make you read aloud a doctrinal statement each week. The Sunday School teacher doesn’t have you declare in front of a crowd your confession with words they have written. But those who lead in singing craft your words of praise and thanksgiving, your prayers of confession, and your doctrinal declarations of who God is, and what He has done for you.
This simple fact should place a holy fear in the heart of every worship minister. Words have weight. We are accountable for the words we say, and I, as a music minister, am greatly accountable for the words I make come forth out of your mouth. If I think about it (which I do), it causes me to quake in my boots, and therefore I pray there is substance in what is prepared for the congregation on any given Sunday. The songs we sing must be more than simplistic and trivial. Jonathan Edwards said “The duty of singing praises to God, seems to be appointed wholly to excite, and express religious affections.” In other words, the words we sing are an over flowing expression of what is in our hearts. Therefore, when you sing, don’t waste your time as you enter the presence of the Holy God of the universe with trivialities. You want it to make it count, because this may be the last time you get to sing and those words may be your lasting legacy to the body of Christ.
This came especially to bear for our church that same weekend I was away. Before leaving for Illinois, the services were planned for my church family in Bakersfield. We had been going through the book of Isaiah on Sunday evenings and April 29 landed us in Isaiah 61:1-11. A grand passage that gives us a glimpse of the Mighty King’s final agenda. As a closing response, the hymn “Come Quickly, Lord” by Chris Anderson was selected. Its glorious refrain accentuating the rich stanzas that speak our not yet realized eschatology, but offering great hope for those who are in Christ.
Creation groans beneath the curse–
Rebellion’s just reward.
We long to see the fall reversed
And Eden’s joys restored
Come quickly, Lord! Make all things new!
Redeem the church, Your bride.
With longing eyes we look for You,
For home is at Your side!
So weary of our traitorous flesh–
Of sin we hate, yet crave–
We yearn to see temptation’s death,
Indwelling sin’s dark grave.
We want to hear the joyous cries
And join the ransomed throng:
“The Lamb is worthy!” praise will rise
From ev’ry tribe and tongue!
We joy to fix our gaze on Christ,
Though now our view is dim.
We long for heaven’s grandest prize:
To see and be like Him!
I heard reports that the singing of the congregation that day was robust. In response to this Isaiah sermon, when this final song was sung and our Pastor delivered the benediction, one of our dear, sweet saints, Jane Mulligan, breathed out a contented sigh and declared aloud “What a day, I’m just so full!” Her heart overflowed with gratitude for the preached and sung Word, and she wanted everyone to know how thankful she was.
“What a day, I’m just so full!” These would be the last words most of us at Grace Bible Church would ever hear from Jane. With that loud, contented sigh, she expressed that she was fully content to be with her Church family, she was fully content after sitting under the preached Word, she was fully content at the songs she had sung. Jane let everyone know that it was well with her soul as she reflected on what the Lord had done for her and in her. She was content in the hope she had in this life and in the next, and with that she walked out of the church to her car.
A few minutes later, as Jane pulled out of the church parking lot, she was fatally struck by another vehicle. Emergency workers did their best to care for her, but the Lord called her home to Himself. I was in shock from the phone call I received halfway across the country, and immediately began thinking about the last words I prescribed to be put in Jane’s mouth. With a smile on my face, and in my heart, I knew Jane was ready for home, because she declared to everyone around her that her true “home is at Your side!”
Be careful of the words you put in your mouth. It is no small task when we choose what we sing. Popularity and marketing do not a great song make. Be wise that the songs you sing, and the words you permit be put in your mouth, are songs you can live and die by. Because as Psalm 96 reminds us, there is urgency:
“For He comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness,
and the peoples in his faithfulness.”