Worship Wars was Pastor Hopson’s recent teaching series on Wednesday nights at Poquoson Baptist Church. Click here to listen to the recordings.
The following is part 25 in a series of articles based on the Worship Wars series.
Character Matters for Church Musicians
We recently discussed some basic truths about leadership in the local church and made specific application for those who would lead in music ministry. But what about everybody else involved in music ministry? To some extent, every local church has a large team of musicians involved in leadership as we sing–whether you’re a drummer, a pianist, or a choir member. What should be true of each of you? I want to suggest four areas where you should concentrate.
First, every individual on the music team should consider his or her heart. What do you love? What does it matter if you get that complex rhythm down pat but the whole time your heart is filled with pride, envy, worry, or bitterness? If you’re on the worship team or in the choir, I want you to think about how much time you spend practicing every week. Maybe it’s an hour, maybe two. Sometimes even more. Now ask yourself, how much time you spend preparing your own heart to worship King Jesus. When we spend hours and hours practicing and preparing—not a bad thing!—but we don’t prepare our own hearts, we’re acting as if the art of worship matters more than the heart of worship. Nothing could be further from the truth! Isaac Watts put it this way:
“The Great God values not the service of men, if the heart be not in it: The Lord sees and judges the heart; he has no regard to outward forms of worship, if there be no inward adoration, if no devout affection be employed therein. It is therefore a matter of infinite importance, to have the whole heart engaged steadfastly for God.”[i]
The old hymnwriter wrote “tune my heart to sing Thy grace.” But how can we do this practically? Here’s a few suggestions. First, pray. Before and after you practice. Before and during each worship gathering. Second, prioritize. If you really believe your heart in worship matters more than the art of worship, you should prioritize many things before music practice. Maybe for you it’s Sunday School and you need to prioritize a small group gathering with other believers. Maybe for you it’s personal Bible study. You rarely miss a practice but you regularly miss time in God’s Word. Maybe it’s your church attendance. You’re faithful whenever you’re scheduled to sing, but your attendance is spotty everywhere else. If any of those things are true for you, I want to encourage you to check your priorities. Third, confess. In Matthew 5:24 Jesus talks about being reconciled with your brother before you sacrifice your gift at the altar. How much sweeter would our worship be if we confessed to one another before we sang? Fourth, arrive early. Few things disrupt my own spirit of worship more than arriving right on time or late. Fifth, read. Read the lyrics to the songs for Sunday. Read the text for Sunday’s sermon. Sixth, preach. Preach the Gospel to yourself. Are you tempted towards pride? Remind yourself that you apart from Christ you are dead. Remind yourself that any good in you is what He has worked in you. Are you tempted towards envy? Remind yourself that in Christ the ground at the foot of the cross is level. Think about the words as you sing them or play your instrument. Meditate on the Gospel!
Now before we move on, let me just say as an aside that I believe those who serve on a worship team should be believers in Jesus Christ. After all, you’re leading us in worship, not performing a piece of music.
Second, every individual on the music team should consider his or her head. What do you know? Do you know the truth about God? Can you clearly articulate the gospel? Do you understand what that lyric means in Sunday’s song? Have you even read or thought about those lyrics? Do you have discernment to catch that phrase that’s unhelpful, untrue or unbiblical? Whether you like it or not, because of your role you are a part of the public face of Poquoson Baptist Church. If a guest came up to you after service on Sunday and asked you how they could have a relationship with Jesus, what would you say? Could you lead them to Jesus or would you need to find somebody else for help? The sad truth is that many Christian musicians have spent far more time sharpening their skill than they have spent sharpening their minds.
So I want to encourage you as a music team to strive to grow in your knowledge of the truth. One of the best ways we can do this is reading good Christian books together. Maybe you’ll read a book on worship together as a team. Maybe you’ll read a book on the holiness of God or healthy churches or the Gospel. Maybe you’re not much of a book person. In 2 Timothy 4:13 the great Apostle Paul asked Timothy to bring him books in prison. Charles Spurgeon said this about that passage:
“He is inspired, and yet he wants books! He has seen the Lord, and yet he wants books! He has wider experience than most men, and yet he wants books! He had been caught up in the third heaven, and had heard things unlawful for a man to utter, yet he wants books! He has written a major part of the New Testament, and yet he wants books! . . . He who will not use the thoughts of other men’s brains proves he has no brains of his own.”[ii]
If you’re on the music team, I would strongly encourage you to develop a love for good Christian books.
Third, every individual on the music team should consider his or her hands. How is your skill? Skill matters. It’s not everything, but it does matter. Moses didn’t pass around a sign-up sheet when he was looking for people to construct the tabernacle. He chose craftsmen blessed with “skill and intelligence” (Exodus 36:1). When David was looking for a song leader he chose Kenaniah “because he was skillful at it” (1 Chronicles 15:22). The Holy Spirit led David to encourage us to “play skillfully on the strings” in Psalm 33:3. Skill matters to God, and it should matter to us too.
Bob Kauflin suggest five things to remember about skill in his book Worship Matters.[iii] First, skill is a gift from God, for His glory. If you have musical skill, it’s because God gave it to you. Use your skill as a reason to praise God, not as a reason to praise yourself. If you don’t have musical skill, it’s not because God loved you any less. He’s just gifted you in different ways.
Second, skill must be developed. In 1 Chronicles 25:7 we read that the tabernacle singers “were trained in singing to the Lord, all who were skillful.” In other words, these individuals had skill, but they also developed their skill. They cultivated it. And you should do the same with whatever skill you’ve been given.
Third, skill doesn’t make worship more acceptable to God. As Kauflin writes, “God values our skill, but He doesn’t accept our worship on the basis of it.”[iv] God accepts our feeble offerings because of the perfect offering of Christ. Nothing more, nothing less.
Fourth, skill should be evaluated by others. You may feel that you have a great deal of skill. But if your skill hasn’t been objectively evaluated by others, you may be sadly mistaken. So don’t be afraid to receive feedback from others on your team. Listen to them. Welcome their critique. Use it to grow.
Fifth, skill is not an end in itself. If we value skill too highly, we will become in danger of worshiping worship. As one pastor put it, “God is not interested in something brilliant; He’s looking for something broken.” One thing this means practically is we should not evaluate someone for music ministry on skill alone. It’s part of the picture, but not the whole picture.
Finally, every individual on the music team should consider his or her honor. How is your life? Are you marked by Christian character? Bob Kauflin writes this in hiw book: “It’s wise to have standards for our musicians that spell out responsibilities and expectations. Worship isn’t a gig. It’s the overflow of a life devoted to the glory of Jesus Christ. If standards aren’t written down, they should be clearly communicated before someone joins the team.”[v]
What standards should be put forth? Kauflin encourages the worship team members to attest that:
- I am a member of our church and actively involved in a small group.
- I am in agreement with the doctrines and practices of our church.
- I will grow in my knowledge of and love for God through prayer and Bible study.
- I will pursue humility and servanthood.
- I will be faithful and punctual in attending required meetings and rehearsals.
- I will strive to grow in my musical skill.
- I will communicate to the appropriate pastor any circumstances that might affect the integrity of my participation on the team.[vi]
Whether our standards are implicit or explicit, specific or general, we should have standards. The hymnwriter was right: we really are prone to wander. And one of the ways we fight that temptation to leave the God we love is to cling to Christ together.
© M. Hopson Boutot, 2017
Image Credit: http://lutheranconfessions.blogspot.com/2016/05/5-signs-worship-wars-are-over.html
[i] As quoted in Kaufflin, 26.
[ii] As quoted in Kaufflin, 29.
[iii] Kauflin, 34-37.
[iv] Kauflin, 35.
[v] Kauflin, 230.
[vi] Adapted from Kauflin, 231.