Encouraging a higher standard for Christian music

I appreciate the many books, articles, and seminars about what music is right and what is wrong. I’d like to direct a few very practical guidelines to anyone involved in church music ministry. By the way, you don’t have to be a performer on the platform to qualify as a church musician. If you sing with the congregation, then this is for you, too.

Guideline #1 – Sing. Now see, this isn’t hard stuff. I recall a well-known song leader stopping between two verses of a congregational hymn to say, “I see the problem! Some of you are trying to sing without moving your lips!” An effort is required, but it’s necessary and worth it.

Guideline #2 – Sing with the purpose in mind. It’s too easy to wander into a church auditorium and mindlessly go with the flow as a spectator. I’m glad for those in leadership who provide constant reminders that our audience is God. The words and melodies we sing must focus adoration on Him and encourage fellow believers. The Bible teaches that we should communicate with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Not coincidentally, those options are perfectly consistent with the Scripture’s instruction to worship God and use our spiritual gifts to edify the saints. There are nine tasks or serving gifts that Scripture talks about: Prophecy, Helper, Teaching, Exhortation, Giving, Administration, Showing Mercy, Evangelism, and Shepherding. Notice that musical ability isn’t mentioned as a spiritual gift. God has given music to ALL of us to further enhance our unique service gifts.

Guideline #3 – Sing as well as you are able. We’ve all heard about folks who will stand up in front of the congregation and say, “Now ya’ll pray for us. We ain’t practiced.” If you went to the White House to perform for the President of the United States, would you say something like that? Is God less important than the President who prays to Him? Doing anything well takes practice. Spend time learning the words and melodies. The tape or CD player in your car can be a valuable tool for reviewing, and of course, you can hear a wealth of great music on BBN. Sing along. I do this constantly in my car. Sure, I get a few strange looks, but I have improved as a singer. Scripture makes it clear that we are to do whatever we do cheerfully and with all our might.

Guideline #4 – Sing songs with words worth singing. I visited a church once where they sang, “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine” in the morning service. This is a fine song to sing in a food commercial, but I submit, a poor choice to represent our love and gratitude to the God of the universe. Take a careful look at the words and ask yourself a few questions. Do the words align with scriptural principles? Whether sung or spoken, heresy is still heresy. Church song lyrics should lead people to a greater understanding of God or help them learn to value God more highly.

Guideline #5 – Sing songs that cause a spiritual response. This is probably where church musicians have the most difficult time with discernment. Many are of the opinion that orchestration is a matter of personal taste and has no moral impact. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Chord structure, styles, and instruments communicate even more readily than words. Next time you watch a “tear-jerker” movie, pay attention to the music. You’ll typically hear sweeping high strings if it’s for a happy cry, or some kind of slow arrangement of a solo instrument if it’s for a sad cry. (My wife tells me there are different kinds of crying to go with stories.) Replace that with the music used for, say, Monday night football, and the scene would be ruined. The music alone without any lyrics communicates very effectively. Scary music tells us to be scared. Happy music tells us to feel happy. Majestic music causes us to feel anticipation or inspiration. Would it not follow then that sensual music would also have its effect on our bodies? I’ll guess we all instinctively know what music goes with sensuality. Let’s see… military marching band? Nope. Piccolo solo? Doubtful. Saxophone solo? Sometimes. Pulsating kick drum with a saxophone? Now THAT makes it easy to envision a bar. Since music is a powerful vehicle of communication, don’t expect to instill a longing for holiness when the words say, “God is holy,” and the score says, “Move your body.” Music ministers, and soloists have extra responsibility in this area, since they usually select the music the congregation will hear during services.

There’s an old saying that says, “If it looks like a duck and sounds like duck and acts like a duck, then it’s a duck.” The worst thing we can do in our churches is make ourselves look, sound, and act more like the lost world around us. CNN reported in December that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world. Islam is a religion that, by and large, requires liturgy, deep sacrifice, and conformation from its followers. I think it is logical to conclude that lost people are not looking for what they already have. If we simply communicate God’s truth consistently, our message will reach more people. May our musical communication be an example and reflection of God!

– Jeff Apthorp, Information Systems Manager, Bible Broadcasting Network

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