Music in the life of the church is an issue which always sustains tension. In this reflection, I will set about underlining some of the most frequent ways in which music can fail to serve worship, and then set some pointers for rectifying and solving these problems. I have divided the problems into three sections: Personal, Pastoral and Practical.
One way in which music fails to serve worship involves personal characteristics and attitudes of those who serve in the music ministry of the local church. Performance skills also play a part here too. In order to serve in music ministry, God has set a standard of personal holiness and servanthood to ensure that the Kingdom is built and that He is worshipped faithfully. This is reflected in scripture in both Old and New Testaments. King David set aside musicians especially for worship. They had to be good at their job; musical competency was important. So it is today in church music. We have to use our gifts skilfully, making time to practise and develop when we can. Neglecting this discipline creates poor music which insults the worship of God. However, not everyone is equal in their gifting. This leads to two further problems.
Firstly, a musician may concentrate too much on the ‘mechanics’ of music, forgetting why they are making music in the first place! Secondly, those who are not as competent may feel isolated or neglected. They may still carry on with their job, resulting in a failure to serve the congregation. This ultimately detracts from worship, and causes focus to be set on the individual rather than on Jesus.
As a music minister, there are many temptations involved when dealing with music ministry. For worship leaders and worship pastors especially, the temptation to think of an idealistic view of church can be a major problem. Issues such as lack of resources, the longing for a bigger music budget, the repairing of instruments and a bigger team can put a strain on the music minister. These factors may result in an unmoving strife to be the best to a point that music minister forgets the purposes that God has ordained in that person’s life. That is, to serve the Lord with gladness, to sing of the beauty of His holiness, to reflect the Gospel, and to bring God’s people into worship, building up the Kingdom of Christ.
Another temptation for the music minister is to create worship that isn’t authentic during music. Music is a very powerful tool that can be used to seduce and control. Musicians have to be wary that worship has to be genuine, and music has a part to play in doing this effectively. Linking to this, music encounters accusations of being an idol in people’s lives. Music ministers/musicians are especially prone to this. Following on from this problem, worship is stopped and therefore the praise and worship of God is non-existent.
If one encounters personal problems then the likelihood of that person developing pastoral problems is considerable. However, all musicians and music/leaders will encounter difficult pastoral situations. Music in worship is to serve the prayer of Christians. Indeed, songs set to music are prayers. In light of this, music should be a servant of the words, and those who are musicians and music ministers should be servants of people and ultimately of God.
Romans 12:9-13 demands ministerial and pastoral excellence off of those who are in pastoral positions. This is very different from strife for correctness, and it certainly doesn’t mean looking down on those who aren’t as musically competent as the music minister. It is very problematic when musicians abuse their pastoral position and make bad decisions resulting in a failure of worship.
Decisions which involve favouritism and lack an understanding of the local church or a disregard for the life, vision and values of the local church is detrimental to worship.
After considering the first two sections of the article, it is apparent that there will be practical problems intertwined in the discussion over how music can fail to serve worship. Culture is one major practical problem. Questions arise such as what instruments should be played, what style of music is used and even what language the songs are sung in.
Culture then links into the classic “Worship Wars” as it is commonly known; should we sing old or new songs? Or both? What about tradition? What about the content of the songs/hymns? The answers to these questions are often shaped by cultural influence and church tradition.
Remedying the situation
Personally, we as musicians and worship leaders need to be aware that it is important to play skilfully whilst having in mind that skill isn’t vital for correct worship. Worship requires a desire to develop with a servant and humble heart focussing on God rather than musical notes. Everything we do to develop our personal skills should be ‘as unto the Lord’.
Pastorally, it is important that we set up directives and initiatives that seek out skill and develop our music teams. Regular prayer, bible study and fellowship are the key to being pastoral to our worship teams and church. If we are supposed to be servants, then we are to imitate the Servant King. We are to build up the church using our gifts through praise and thanksgiving. Our motivation should be one of love. If we live out love in terms of our serving, then we are Christ like, therefore reducing risk of music becoming problematic.
Practically, problems can be solved and avoided by observing the church context. It’s important to be accessible to the congregation: mixing old and new songs, writing up to date music which reflects lyrics, using all age services are just some ideas for tackling practical problems. It is also vital that one doesn’t alienate a group or individual when ministering musically. This means choosing varied styles and allowing various people with various gifts onto the music teams. Effective training is essential too, especially on PA sound desks. Musical and theological training for musicians will be inevitable if music ministry is to be a success.
If these pointers are implemented in music ministry, we as music leaders have more of a defence against music failing to serve worship. Our goal should be that music enhances our meetings with God, whilst at the same time building up the church. These suggestions hopefully put us on the right road to reaching that final destination.