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.