I have been active in music ministry in the local church since around 1980. During this time I have seen a lot of change in the philosophy of music ministry including the songs and instruments we use in worship. Being in the midst of all of these changes has at times been very confusing. The only way to keep a sense of stability in all of this change is to keep coming back to the biblical principles on which we base our ministry. The styles and instruments may change but the biblical principles become the guiding light to keep the direction of our ministries pleasing to God.
Do we as music and worship leaders think we are the only generation to deal with these issues? Upon some research you see that most generations in the church have had to deal with the issue of music in worship. What is appropriate? What is distracting? What is the music ministry philosophy that is most accurately based on biblical principles? In the late sixteenth to early seventeenth century during the Reformation we had three reformers who did not agree on the proper use of music in worship. Martin Luther promoted music in worship and sought to give the congregation a voice in the musical portion of the worship service. He desired for those who attended the services to join in praising God through music. Up until that point the music in the service was all performed by clergy and professional musicians. Luther wrote hymns and edited hymnbooks for the church.
John Calvin another reformer from this period decided that the biblical way would be to only allow the singing of Scripture in worship. He commissioned the writing of metrical settings of the Psalms so they could be sung in worship. Here we see the first Psalter created for use in corporate worship. Calvin not only wanted songs using Scripture texts, he also prescribed that the church would only sing a cappella (without instruments) and without harmony. The distracting charm of music meant that the music must be kept simple so that people would focus on the text and offering praise to the Lord.
Ulrich Zwingli felt strongly that much of what the church was doing in worship during his day was idol worship. In the church where he was pastor, he simplified the worship services. He went a step further than Calvin and decided that all music was distracting and took the worshiper’s focus off of the Lord. There would be no singing or not instruments used in worship. Zwingli wanted the service to focus on the Word of God and so his services were filled with Scripture and Bible teaching. To further see that the church would not have a problem with distractions in worship, Zwingli dismantled the organ in his church and took out tapestries, statues, and anything that might be seen as an idol in worship. Historians tell us that Zwingli was a musician, but thought music was much too distracting to true worship.
Deciding what are appropriate music styles and instruments for our worship services is not a new problem. One could look at every generation and see how this was an issue in the church. Here are several concluding thoughts on dealing with changes in worship music.
1. We should decide what the non-negotiables of corporate worship are and use worship songs that help to accomplish this goal.
2. When selecting a worship song – text is the first consideration. Is it faithful to the teachings of Scripture? Does it clearly speak the message of the Gospel?
3. A wise music minister/worship leader will know his congregation well and understand what style of music will communicate the song texts best for that congregation. This takes time and patience.
4. Whatever instrumentation is used should enhance the communication of the worship song text not take away from it. Instrumentation should support the song text not overwhelm it. This is true with traditional instruments (organ, piano) or with contemporary instruments (guitar, keyboard, drums).
5. Most of our congregations are multi-generational and sometimes multi-ethnic. We may need to use a number of styles of worship music to help communicate with a diverse group of worshipers.
6. Seek to keep the ‘family’ together. Unity in the Body of Christ should be of upmost importance. What a sad note to see the church divided over issues of personal taste in music. If we are to take a stand on anything in the church, let it be over biblical principles and biblical issues, not what types of instruments we will use in worship.
7. Teach your congregation to defer to the needs of others. This requires us to be unselfish when it comes to our desires in worship music. Senior adults should want to use a music style that helps a younger generation to worship. Young adults and teens need to respect the music of their parents and grandparents and defer to them. We should teach this principle in our churches not only in the area of worship music but in all aspects of our life together in the body of Christ. The mature worshiper can worship in most any music style if the Word is being proclaimed.
Ultimately, we must ask the question – what is pleasing to the Lord? What brings glory to His Name. Perhaps the top item on the list to consider is Prayer. When is the last time we sought the Lord’s Will when making changes in our worship music styles?
Lord, remind us that the opportunity to serve in your church is one of grace. Remind us that this is not my church but your church and these not are not my people but your people. Help us to do what will bring glory to You and build Your church.