Small Church, Big Church, Same Problems
“If we only had…” seems to be the beginning of too many conversations in the church when talking to worship leaders. Normally the conversation ends with the need for a certain instrumentalist that the leader feels they are missing and if only they had that their team would be complete. At the same time, the conversation with many of the larger church worship leaders has taken on the direction of wanting less and yearning for the simplicity of the way it once was. I believe both directions have a lot to teach us about the worship in our churches and the heart behind what we do.
As important as it is to seek excellence in all we do it’s important to stop and think about what our church music ministry looks like to God? We would be foolish to claim God lays out a certain musical style and even more foolish if we miss God’s clear direction for the purpose of our singing when we gather. The following questions can help keep us centered as we seek to foster growth and build up our music ministry.
Is your current music serving those God has gathered in your care?
Paul speaking of the church gathered and singing said, “…addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,” (Ephesians 5:19-20)
The “one to another” aspect of a song is a powerful ministry tool and when kept in mind shows believers actively loving one another and expressing unity in belief and purpose. Paul also has said, “What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.” (1 Cor. 14:26)
So often the focus within churches for the music ministry becomes a subjective discussion about what music really honors God. God seems to lay out clearly that the music isn’t for God’s necessity but more for man’s edification. So is the way you lead the music, while fostering a “one to another” activity, serving those in your care? Actively loving your brother and sister while we unite in song is an act of worship.
Is your current music repelling those from the outside?
In church’s fear to not be too seeker friendly, have we taken too big of a swing in the opposite direction? Paul, again writing to a church about what they were doing within their gatherings said,
“Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say “Amen” to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying?… But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.” (1 Corinthians 14:16, 24-25)
Certainly we need to care about how the music we lead serves the believers that are part of our body but in doing so we must not forget that their will be many that join us who have not come to know Jesus yet. What are they seeing, hearing, and experiencing? Are they seeing believers truly worshiping and loving one another united in song or are they seeing the church disengaged because the song choice and musical style isn’t connecting with the cultural language of your specific region? John Piper said, “Missions exists because worship doesn’t.” (p. 15, Let the Nations Be Glad). The people of God, worshipping God and showing their value to be God above all other things is a way God works to open non-believers ears to hear the Gospel. Is our music ministry enabling and cultivating this as a possible result?
Is your current music using the parts of the body God has formed?
“For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.” (1 Corinthians 12:14-18)
Practically speaking, “the grass is greener on the other side of the fence philosophy” applied to our worship ministry is an attack on God as the one who has formed your local church. I have seen first hand many large churches abandon all the production and set aside all the extra instruments just so they could lead with an acoustic guitar. In the big churches it’s easy to get to the point where all the extras feel like a distraction. At the same time, I’ve seen the smaller churches pushing to try to create something that they saw in a big church with more resources and participants within the worship ministry. Put simply, they just aren’t able to pull off the song stylistically in a way that serves their church. There will be times it seems you are missing a major piece to lead worship effectively in your community but by asking the first two questions posed it will help to find contentment in the way God has formed your specific body. If God wants our music ministry to edify believers while at the same time not repelling non-believers, do we trust that God will ultimately give us what we need to accomplish this?
Jonathan Mason is a graduate of Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, IL and has further studied at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. As a bass player he’s played churches, camps, and conferences all around the country. Currently he is serving as the director of Word Worship, a label imprint and publisher under Word Entertainment in Nashville, TN.