September 25, 2020

Five Thoughts from “Church Music Month”

As a way of concluding our “Church Music Month,” I offer the following five simple statements.

I will not take time to develop these today — I have had occasion to discuss most of them during the month. I draw these conclusions from what we have heard and thought about and talked about together. I simply set them forth as my way of summarizing what I’ve learned, as well as reiterating convictions I have developed about the role of music in the worship of the congregation.

I will leave it to you to discuss further implications of these principles today and in days to come.

Five Thoughts from “Church Music Month”

1. It is essential that churches and church leaders have a well-considered and carefully applied theology of worship and music.

2. Music should serve the larger purpose of the liturgy and worship and not be treated as an end in itself.

3. Leadership of music ministry in the church should be pastoral and not just musicological.

4. There is a place for musical excellence and “performance” as special gifted ministry within the church, but ultimately music belongs to the entire congregation as a means of worship and mutual edification.

5. Churches may have a genuine missional opportunity to provide serious music and arts education in their communities now and in the future.


  1. I have enjoyed reading the posts this month on church music. In Bible College my minor was church music and in the 7 years I spent on staff at a church, oversight of the music was one of my primary responsibilities. It’s been many years since I had any leadership involvement in church music, but it is still near and dear to my heart.

    Good summery and I agree with your broad conclusions with the understanding that the “carefully applied theology of worship and music” take into account that music is often the imperfect creative cry of a human heart and therefore not always theologically accurate. But I still think there is a place for those sorts of songs.

  2. “Leadership of music ministry in the church should be pastoral and not just musicological.”

    I would like to hear more discussion on this. Few things irritate me more than preachy music leaders, who have no call to a pastoral nor teaching role and often make uneducated errors, make offensive statements, and undermine the authority of the actual pastor.

    The most pastoral use of music I have experience is when the pastor or priest leads the congregation in liturgical chants. Unfortunately, many pastors can no more carry a tune than worship leaders can preach.

    • I don’t have a problem with preachy worship leaders. I do have a problem with churches (most) who have only one person involved in a teaching role. Just because a person is not the primary teacher, doesn’t mean that they don’t have something to contribute outside of their musical giftings.

      • I think the problem is two-fold:

        1. Being a pastor does require vocational training, to properly handle scripture and how to care for a congregation. The music leader, who may have a bible college degree in music or more likely was promoted to worship leader based on musical talent, does not have such training. The reformation elevated common vocations but as a unintended consequence trivialized religious vocations, as if anyone with a bible can be a pastor.

        2. As discussed this month, there is a tendancy among evangelicals to view the praise/worship portion of the service as the time when the presence of God is congured or called down upon the congregation, and the music leader is viewed as having these special powers of incantation. Add to this, most worship times are culminated with a prayer by the worship leader for the Holy Spirit to fall afresh on the pastor who is about to speak. The pastor becomes a secondary or subservant to the worship leader, who holds the true spiritual power. It forces the pastor to one-up the music leader by pulling off something spectacular, like divine healings.

    • Unfortunately, many pastors can no more carry a tune than worship leaders can preach.

      Wow, I must be lucky. Every pastor at every church I have ever been at has been a music reading singer. And though they’re never the best vocalist in the congregation, they’re nearly always the loudest. I think music literacy should be a requirement in seminaries.

      Some of the more heartfelt moments in our worship are when the Pastor leads the singing. IMO, the clergy ARE the “worship leaders,” and the kids with guitars and emo hair are just musicians, or glorified song-leaders.

      I must second your bad experiences with bad teaching from song leaders. I’m sorry, but being able to strum three chords and carry a tune in a bucket doesn’t make you profound, no matter how warm inside that latest devotional by CCM pop star makes you feel. It is so freeing to not have to do that stuff anymore. I’ll do my job (the music), and let Pastor do his (leading worship and teaching), and on occasion, he’ll do my job too. I have too much respect for the importance of his work to take it on my shoulders without the level of preparation our clergy go through.

      • Miguel,

        On an almost daily basis you share some deep theological insights with us here where you have a readership of 10s of thousands.. Why not with your congregation too.

        • Because Sunday morning isn’t the Miguel show. I say what needs to be said through the content of the worship service, and anything else I need to communicate can find alternate venues.

          • No, but Sunday morning can be an opportunity for wide participation from the membership. While I reject many of the practices from the church of my youth, I really did appreciate the opportunity for many members to share thoughts from scripture in the communion service.

          • Well, I’m not sure I’ve seen anything more dangerous than an open mic on Sunday morning. Really, I could tell you some horror stories. If you’re a theologically open church, then I’m sure it could make for exciting programming, but if you believe, like my church does, that what the Bible actually teaches can actually be rightly discerned, then it’s not necessarily the best idea to give a homily to somebody who could use just any interpretation. It’s not about sharing our views, it’s about proclaiming the truth, and our Pastors are highly trained to rightly divide the word of God. I’d much rather learn and grow from somebody older, wiser, and more studied than chip in my own 2 cents.

      • I actually appreciate any pastor who is willing to lead a congregation in chant or song. Music becomes a means of worship, rather than music turning worship into a performance. Chant is truly participatory worship.

        • It really is. Shame on us for letting it “go out of style” to the extent that it has. It’s time for a revival of the practice.

  3. There is a sixth principle, however: that music ministry is TO the musicians as well as BY them. There is some tendency among worship leaders to objectify music ministry and treat it as something that can be turned on and off like water, without concern for the faucet.