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I recently shared with my pastors that I attended a course in which the instructor encouraged the class of music directors to view ourselves not merely as musicians, but rather as “church” musicians. One of my pastors responded by suggesting that the word “churchman” should be reflected in any such description, while the other recommended “chief musician” as an appropriate designation. While the question over the best title is debatable, these gentlemen reveal a similar concern that the church musician is not simply performing music, but is ministering through music.
I am quite confident that these same gentlemen also agree that only ordained ministers are to lead worship. This does not necessarily rule out the church musician, but, since I am not ordained, I am not the director of worship; my pastors are. Worship is of such importance that it must be carefully guarded by those who, having been ordained to “labor in preaching and teaching” (1 Tim. 5:17), are committed to worshiping the true God according to His will. The introduction to the Trinity Hymnal clearly summarizes the importance of the pastor in leading worship: “God has called you (the pastor) to be a worship leader…. Worship is the highest calling, and guiding a congregation through worship is one of your greatest privileges (p. 9). The ordained director of worship must do all he can to ensure that God’s people will “offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe” (Heb. 12:28–29).
Thus, the church musician diligently works to become a more able planner, organizer, administrator, speaker, listener, and leader to engage in music ministry more effectively. The church musician is involved in a lifelong labor of love in gaining knowledge and skill in conducting technique, choral concepts, instrumental proficiency, music theory, and history — indeed, to be as well-rounded a musician as possible. And certainly, the church musician should strive to be theologically equipped to engage in music ministry more effectively. There are a few important reasons why a sound theological education, in humble dependence upon the Lord, is edifying to music ministry.
First, it helps to develop a biblical theology of worship. Extreme care must be taken not to treat the solemn meeting of God with His people in worship presumptuously and carelessly. The church musician must earnestly pray that God would, by His Word and Spirit, illumine our minds to what Scripture teaches about worship, and open our hearts, bend our wills, and warm our affections to worship Him according to His will, and so guide our choices and guard our hearts. “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened” (Ps.66:18). Rather, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Ps. 34:18). Worship influences all of life. Terry L. Johnson succinctly writes: “The true knowledge of God leads to right worship which leads to right living” (Reformed Worship: Worship That Is According to Scripture, p. 18). John Calvin understood this when he explained that two things are absolutely necessary for an authentic, comprehensive Christian world-and-life-view: “First, of the mode in which God is duly worshipped; and, secondly, of the source from which salvation is to be obtained” (Selected Works of John Calvin, p. 126).
Second, music is an incredibly powerful carriage of texts and throughout history has conquered minds and hearts by wielding its sword both for enormous blessing and unspeakable tragedy. Andrew Fletcher once wrote: “If a man were permitted to make all the ballads, he need not care who should write the laws of a nation.” The church musician must show great care in selecting songs. The church’s song reflects her belief system. And where, because of lack of circumspection, the church allows questionable hymns to creep into her repertoire, she has quite effectively muddled and counteracted her otherwise careful attempts to clearly present biblical truth. Martin Luther called music the viva vox evangelii, the “living voice of the gospel,” which has a twofold purpose: to praise God and proclaim His Word. (Luther on Music: Paradigms of Praise, p. 30). He understood the influence of the church’s hymnody in catechizing the youth, instructing the believer in the faith, and countering heresy.
Third, the church musician must seek to cultivate a servant’s heart, earnestly praying with Calvin: “I offer You my heart, Lord, promptly and sincerely.” True piety and effective ministry cannot be attained apart from growing in the knowledge of the Lord. We must understand what Calvin knew so well, that “theological understanding and practical piety, truth and usefulness, are inseparable” (Joel R. Beeke, Puritan Reformed Spirituality, p. 2).
Though not all church musicians have the benefit of formal seminary training, all must be serious students of the Word and prayer. This task, of course, is not limited to the church musician. Every believer is a part of the church’s music ministry, for the congregation is the church’s most important choir, members of the royal priesthood of all believers, redeemed and equipped by Christ to enter God’s courts to “proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).