Music in the Church – Where we should go

Posted on May 25, 2012 by


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It is clear that God has command us to sing, and that He has imbued special attributes to music. What God hasn’t done is to give us a musical framework for how to worship Him through song. So how do we shape our music in a way that honor’s him, and is meaningful and useful to those who are in the church?

We need to start with words. Whether you see musical worship as a form of preaching or as sung prayers and scripture there is no denying that the words are of utmost importance. When we sing we are agreeing with the words by giving voice to them. We are also internalizing the lyrics and the theology behind those lyrics even if we don’t realize it. So WHAT we sing is very important. Every age has church music that is lyrically void, or downright unbiblical in its theology. And those are the two things that we must look for.

1)      Biblical and Theological Accuracy – It’s pretty clear that we all want our preachers to be making sure that their words line up with what the scriptures teach and with the beliefs that the local church has agreed upon. But the same must be true of the music. If we teach that we will spend eternity with God living on the new earth and not in heaven then we need to not sing songs that hold heaven as our eternal home. Or if we teach that Jesus is God and our Lord and that He will come again with a sword and a bloody cloak then we need to be careful of how often we sing the “Jesus is my girlfriend” songs that can emasculate our Savior.

2)      Poetic Quality – While maintaining the theological accuracy of our words we need to ensure we aren’t just singing through a systematic theology text. Part of the gift of music is that it increases our affections for God. So there is probably a better way to say Jesus died for our debt of sin than to drop in Penal Substitutionary Atonement. But at the same time the level of poeticism should correlate to the interpretive abilities of our people. Some will understand and be comfortable with singing “…So heaven meats earth like a sloppy wet kiss…” and others won’t.

So the words are the most important part of the music we sing, and so far we have 3 methods that are widely accepted and used; those being Traditional, Contemporary, and Blended. The way that music needs to be serving our local churches lies outside of these labels. Let’s call it the “Appropriate” method. (I’m not implying that the other methods are INappropriate, just to clear that up now)

Musically speaking traditional and contemporary have a goal set for the musicians. In the traditional setting it’s the music on the page. You interpret the sheet music using standard musical methods and shoot for technical and artistic proficiency. I.E. You play all four parts of the hymn with the descant and do some text painting with your dynamics and voicing. In the contemporary setting it’s the music that’s on the radio or CD. Most contemporary churches have a “Favorite” source of music like Hillsong, Passion, Sovereign Grace, New Life, etc… And the goal is to play the song like they do. Achieving note for note, riff for riff, fill for fill, accuracy while matching the dynamics and phrasing of either the studio or live album.

This does a disservice to the church and the musicians. Those arrangements and goals that we are working to achieve are tailored to fit the church/setting that they were written for. And while that may mirror our community perfectly, chances are it won’t.

Appropriate – The music we use for corporate worship needs to be appropriate for our community and our musicians.

First you need to know who the people you are trying to minister to are. And what style of music is easiest for them to connect with. This is not to say that we pander to people’s preferences but in an effort to not be a hindrance in corporate worship we need to understand what works and what doesn’t for our people. It may be that one congregation really connects with the new hymns of the Getty’s and Stuart Townend, while another‘s affections for God are stirred through the Artistic music of Gungor, or John Mark McMillan, and yet another worship God for his greatness through Tomlin, and Hillsong.

Figuring this out is not best done through a survey, it’s a sometimes difficult task if you are coming into an established church because they may have songs they “always do” but don’t seem to really care about. You need to test some songs out on them and listen to the congregation instead of yourself or the musicians. If you are really paying attention you will be able to hear when they “wake up”. If you are starting a church this is fairly straight forward, listen to the music that those you are trying to reach listen to, and emulate them. Steal riffs, drum beats, soundscapes, and melodic elements.

The difficult, and fun, part is arranging and crafting your music so that it connects with people’s hearts. This may be time-consuming and mentally taxing but the outcome will far outweigh the cost. This will also force you to streamline your song library, which is a good thing for your people’s comprehension and retention and your musicians sanity.

Speaking of your musicians.

Second is to know who your musicians are and what they are their capabilities. This is that authenticity deal coming through in practice. Forcing a rocker to drudge through the 1200 chords in hymns is going to not only suck all enthusiasm from him, it will begin to rub off on the people. If the musicians at your church lack the skill set to authentically lead music in the way that is easiest for the congregation to connect with you have a few choices to make. One is to pull back and lead yourself, assuming you can lead effectively from that stylistic sweet spot. Another is to find a middle ground stylistically and teach both your musicians and your people to the middle.

To sum up what was said here,

–          The words are the most important part (biblically and theologically sound)

–          The music should connect with who your people are (stylistically)

–          Maintain authenticity in leading


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