Music and Making Followers of Jesus

I want to begin with a question: How much consideration do you think the apostle Paul gave to the style of music in his ministry? I doubt the question ever crossed his mind, and yet today churches are being torn apart over music. One side argues that church music needs to be relevant in order to reach a targeted people group, while the other side can’t image why we would abandon our long, rich heritage found in hymns and sacred music.

I am not addressing here the topic of worship. Music does have a role in worship, but music does not equate worship. The topic of music has become complicated for a couple of reasons:

  1. Music is now used as a symbol.

    Music has become a volatile issue because music styles have gone beyond taste and become identifying symbols for different generations, denominations, ethnic, and subculture groups. Symbols are powerful. In Chicago a simple blue cap with a red “C” represents the story, passion, tragedy, and hope of the Chicago Cubs. (Woe to the St. Louis fan who shows up wearing his red bird symbol!) Even within the church, music symbols can cause passionate divisions between parents and children, brothers, sisters, and ethnic groups. These symbols usually form out of a meaningful memory of a life shaping experience. Old and young believers alike can associate a song to a particular period in their life when the Lord moved in an extraordinary way, whether the event was 50 years ago or just recently, that song will always be a reminder of the experience. It is difficult for anyone not to take personally the criticism of a musical style that is associated with a strong memory, whether the criticism is from a parent, child, friend, or grandchild.

  2. Technology

    Technology has also complicated the role of music in our Christian community. Up until the 20th century there was no sound amplification in the church, but the invention of electricity has brought with it amplification and electronic musical instruments. Later technology introduced film, slides, PowerPoint, video and lighting to our services. These advancements have raised issues with which our forefathers did not have to wrestle. Technology has also positioned music to a more prominent role in our daily lives. Today a teenager can listen to music anywhere at any time on his Ipod, whereas his great grandparents could have only listened to live music.

Our use of music in the church in recent years has had unforeseen consequences causing division in the family of God. Our unity as followers of Jesus glorifies God and is a point of witness with a lost world, so we should be concerned about anything that brings dissention among us. I am not asking anyone to give up his hymnbook or his electric guitar, but I do believe followers of Jesus need to reconsider the role we have given to music in the church and our evangelism strategies.

4 thoughts on “Music and Making Followers of Jesus

  1. Yes indeed. As a worship pastor (until a week ago), I have wrestled with giving leadership to all of these issues. Now that I have stepped away from full time vocational ministry, I look forward to concentrating on Christ’s prescription for my life … evangelism and discipleship … being a responsible and effective Christian. Thanks for the insight, encouragement and friendship.

  2. I agree fully that the body of Christ shouldn’t divide over music styles, but the question remains of how to deal with mixed congregations with varied preferences. Even if every congregational member agrees that the music style doesn’t matter, a choice would have to be made. I just don’t know how that decision should be made. I just finished Bob Kauflin’s Worship Matters last week and I’m still answerless.

  3. The issue certainly is real in most churches.

    I’m finding that we (evangelical churches) have sent a strong message by focusing so much on developing a certain look and feel (primarily though the worship band) and have down-played the essential elements and purposes of the gathered church. We try to create a musical feel that we think the unchurched will connect with. I believe we usually guess wrong, create a very man-centered approach to what we call worship, set ourselves up for disunity, and turn off those we intended to try to reach. Scripture says that the by-product of our gospel-centered song (not our musical style) will be that the lost will turn to God (Psalm 40). You can find an approach to musical style that is relevant to the greatest part of the body of Christ in your church and that enables them to engage in worship and respond to God. Convincing your lead pastor (or maybe yourself) that he is the primary worship leader as he opens the Word of God is huge in the process. Substantive lyrics usually helps people to be more tolerable of a style that is outside their box.

    As a worship pastor I believe and we’ve seen that as we communicate through teaching and example (and especially song choice) that we are passionate about the glory of God, the Son of God, and the gospel of God (and that those issues unite us, not musical style) musical preference and technology take a back seat and serve the role they were meant to serve. It’s unfortunately always an issue to some, but doesn’t have to be primary to most.

    I would highly recommend Bob Kauflin’s book Worship Matters. I feel it hits at the center of these issues and points in the right direction.

    Sorry for being so long-winded; I love this subject!

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