Vince Treadway, ACM Founder
Recently, I sent an e-mail to our ACM membership and asked this question: “What do you think are the main challenges for your ministry of music and worship, and for the church today?” The responses had an interesting similarity, and so I thought I would share them along with my own thoughts.
One of the common concerns was over the current trend in many churches to select music that has been “dumbed down” in order to please the congregants. With this concern was an observation that the styles and presentation of music reflect a casual, almost flippant attitude about worshiping a holy and all-powerful God. Posed more than once was an interesting question:“Is it our job necessarily to be popular?”
In response to that inquiry I note that unfortunately, we know all too well that church musicians who are inflexible and insensitive to their congregations often find themselves looking for another position. There are also church musicians whose musical selection criteria seem to blow in the wind and have no firm grounding.
I believe that musical selection has to be based primarily on adherence to Biblical truth and on how well the musical text is set, regardless of its genre or complexity. Does the music complement and support the text, or does it take away from it? Non-texted music should be chosen because it truthfully represents the glory and attributes of God, and because it suits the congregation where it is being used. I agree with Dr. Philip Ryken who states, “God’s aesthetic standards include goodness, truth, and beauty. These standards are not relative; they are absolute.”
Musical truth includes things such as beauty, comprehensibility, discernible structure, and all parts working together as a whole. Music that is selected without considering the congregation’s repertoire and musical experience will only serve to alienate and prevent successful worship. That does not mean the avoidance of new music; however, what we select should be of the highest quality and capable of helping the congregation to mature in their faith. For example, using excellent music from different cultures and genres can help us to connect with our brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the globe. but we should be careful to use enough well-known music so that all can participate fully in worship.*
Respondents also expressed concern about promoting musical illiteracy, particularly when projected lyrics without musical notation have replaced the use of a hymnal in many churches. The hymnal is valuable not only for promoting musical literacy but for also serving as a permanent statement of a church’s faith: we sing these words because we believe them.
Tangible evidence of one’s faith is a powerful tool, and a hymnal used by the congregation week after week helps to affirm one’s faith and also represents the music and faith of saints from centuries past. What a joy it is to know we are singing what our brothers and sisters in Christ sang long ago and are now singing in the glories of heaven! By not using hymns from the rich church heritage, we rob our congregations of an invaluable connection with our past.
Another expressed concern was the lack of training of future church musicians. One determining factor in this problem seems to be that our culture is demanding more activities in already overcrowded schedules. That leaves little time for service to God. We are sacrificing things of eternal value for temporal things.
Do we realize that training the church to sing now will make us better fit for praising God for eternity? Do we also note that singing praise to God is a command, not an option? When we train children to recognize and participate in great church music, we give them lifelong tools that will serve them as future leaders of the church and as they join the church triumphant. Let us be creative in finding ways to involve our children and train them to love and serve God with their voices and instruments!
Finally, many expressed concern about remembering Whom we serve and why we serve. Without the goal of glorifying God and leading God’s people in worship, a “wonderful” church program music falls short of its high purpose. With the empowering of the Holy Spirit, music sung and played from the hearts of those who love the Lord Jesus Christ transcends the words and notes and becomes a sweet smelling offering to our God! May all that we do glorify God and lead others to know Him and worship Him “in spirit and in truth!”
*Philip Graham Ryken, Art for God’s Sake (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2006), 37.