In my 11 years of full time music ministry, I have come across many people inside of the church that view the music part of a worship service as merely ‘preliminaries’ to the main event of the pastor’s sermon. As a worship pastor I have to tell you, that mindset drove me nuts. For starters, surely if the music portion of the service were just the pre-show, no church in their right mind would pay me or anyone else a full time salary to handle those 20-30 minutes each Sunday morning. Secondly, I found that many that hold this philosophy still like to put a whole lot of pressure on the worship pastor to ‘set the table’ for them. This mindset essentially puts the worship pastor and the worship team in a role much like that of the clowns at Ringling Brothers circus. We get everybody in the right mood to watch the real show. You really want to be a worship pastor now, don’t you?
At some point I came across a quote from Andrew Fletcher, who was a Scottish writer, politician and patriot. He said, ‘Let me write the songs of a nation and I care not who makes its laws.’ Wow. That’s pretty profound. (At least in my humble opinion) What in the world would cause a politician to say that they would rather write the songs of a nation than make its laws?
Then it dawned on me. People of my generation certainly would have a hard time reciting even the preamble to the Constitution or the introductory paragraph to the Declaration of Independence. However those same people could spit out the words to most of the songs on the top 40 without batting an eye. Interesting.
This led me to ask the question, what about previous generations. In our American culture the most glaring example of this would be the generation that experienced Woodstock. When you look at the message of a vast majority of the artists that played Woodstock, you can see a direct correlation to the values that we see written into law today. Well, guess what? Most of our lawmakers are part of that Woodstock generation.
Music is an incredibly powerful tool. It serves to educate our children. Think about it. Do you say the alphabet or sing it? In the hands of a gifted artist, it can cause the human emotion to range from one extreme to the other in a matter of minutes. Don’t think this is true in church as well? Watch the reaction of the congregation when a very well timed key change happens. (Sorry, my cynicism is on display there.)
The overall point that I’m trying to make is that the music portion of a worship service is not a preliminary event. It is (or at least should be) a direct partnership with the sermon in a joint effort to teach people about the greatness of our God. Such a powerful tool should not be cast aside or poorly used in the context of worship to Almighty God.
Music’s power also makes me very glad to see a resurgence of good theological content in modern worship music. For about 20 years, finding a new praise chorus that was more than fluff was as challenging as locating a needle in a haystack. It is a tragedy that for many years, the church has essentially brushed aside this powerful tool. I truly do think that we are starting to come back around and that makes me happy.
Two final notes.
Worship leaders – don’t just browse the CCM Top 40 when looking for your next new song. Listen to as much stuff as you can. Use Spotify, Pandora or any type of music streaming service to see what’s out there. Don’t just listen for a groove or a feel. Listen to the words. Does the theology of what you want to lead your congregation in line up with what scripture says? Be worship music’s biggest critic. Look for depth. Finally, don’t be afraid to dust off an old hymn every now and then. There’s some good stuff there as well.
Pastors – challenge your worship leaders to stretch themselves. Give them your plan for Sunday as far out as possible so that they can help put the big puzzle together to connect the music to the message. Get involved with listening to new music as much as time will allow you. Ask your worship leader to make a playlist to put on your iPod of new music so that you can give valuable insight as well. Treat your worship leader as a team mate when it comes to the Sunday morning game plan.