by Jonathan Allison
“Next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise.
The gift of language with the gift of song was given to man
that he should proclaim the Word of God through music” -Martin Luther
Ours is a singing faith, a faith that compels us to sing the praise of our Creator and Redeemer. The musical training of our children begins in the womb as mothers sing the hymns and spiritual songs of the church surrounded by a congregation doing the same. We offer more formal musical training for children as young as three years old. (Take a look at page 5 of the church Newsletter for the full schedule of Music and Drama Ministry.) It is obvious that music is a significant part of our worship here at New Life.
A number of years ago Pastor Sean and I sought to write out some of the underlying purposes and principles for the music used in worship each Lord’s Day. Keep in mind that the music is just part of our corporate worship.
Worship at New Life: (Some thoughts from Sean Whitenack and Jonathan Allison)
- The purpose of worship is to see and proclaim the majesty of God. We want to see His greatness and proclaim that majesty in our singing. Worship is not a means to an end (emotional excitement, evangelism, raising money, motivating workers, etc) but is the reason we gather together (John 4:24; Psalm 42:1). We do hope that in singing unbelievers will reflect on God’s majesty, goodness and seek to become worshippers themselves as The Lord is worthy of such praise.
- We are (and must be) confident in the culture and language of our worship style. Different people have different tastes. One family thinks we are too loose because of the Scripture songs. Another thinks we are too traditional. By the grace of God we are what we are (1 Cor. 15:10) and speak the way we speak. Out of conviction, we choose to display his majesty as demonstrated in tradition and also His immanency through our Scripture songs. Our style isn’t for everybody, we are thankful for varying musical forms at other churches, and realizes that some people will like what we do and others will not like it.
- Our worship style reflects our desire for unity (Philippians 2:1-4). We have such a range of ages that we need to respect and defer to one another. Some of the older people can’t sing younger people’s praise songs; younger people have a harder time with hymns and the Gaithers. I have been imagining how Paul would try to help Euodia and Syntyche in Philippians 4:2 if Euodia was 25 and wanting modern praise choruses and Syntyche was 60, only wanting to sing hymns. Our worship style attempts to promote harmony among our diverse congregation and include our diverse population.
- Our worship style cannot be an idol that we love more than the glory of God. For this reason, we constantly try to bring new songs in to our list of songs (Psalm 98:1). We test and try new songs in the Sunday Evening Service. This helps us not be overly complacent in our musical style. As we only have 4 songs (8 if you include evening services) per week we are unable to include new songs on a regular basis. In the future, if you are able to attend the evening service, you would find a few more modern songs than the morning service. Personally, I (Sean) love how the two services balance out each other. Upon reflection with Jonathan, it was helpful to see how we are very open to new music, even music tastes. If this music fits well with our doctrine and philosophy and the congregation warms to it, a song may frequently “graduate” to the morning service. We have many songs that have gradated to the morning. We are open to trying new songs in the evening service so if you have ideas they would be appreciated. In addition, many of the new songs we sing are written by members of our congregation. We are testing them as a congregation. We like this because it allows our church to work as a body which allows people to use their gifts in new and creative ways. It doesn’t look as professional, but it does edify our body. Plus, our songs connect with themes in our preaching and body life (like missions and stewardship).
- Our music ministry has a large focus on training up lead worshippers. We focus on discipling our children and adults through the music ministry and have a comprehensive church music program that allows kids to start with bells and youth choir and progress and grow in using their abilities. This is one of the most exciting opportunities for the children of the church.
Some points to ponder from: Worship in Spirit and Truth by John Frame…
“… [T]here are cultural differences in the ways that music expresses moods and thoughts. In our modern multicultural society, this is important to remember. Just as the French, German, and English languages differ in the words used to express thoughts, so Anglo, Jewish, and black cultures differ in the musical styles by which they express their faith. There are different “musical languages,” just as there are different spoken languages. Indeed…even within the same culture there are different musical languages, such as the difference between the music of the old and the music of the young. What one considers joyful, the other may hear as irreverent; what one considers reverent and dignified, the other may see as joyless and dull.
Therefore, if we are to pursue the biblical goal of intelligible worship… we should seek musical settings that speak the musical languages of our congregation and community. To do this is not to cater to human taste, but to honor God in his desire to edify people in his worship. We should not selfishly insist on using music only from our own favorite tradition. Rather, in the spirit of Christ the servant, we must be willing to sacrifice our own preferences in order to reach others with the truth. The Great Commission turns us outward, rather than inward: it calls us even in worship to reach out to those who are ignorant of Christ and of our musical traditions.
It is a good idea, then, for all of us to learn to appreciate music that doesn’t immediately appeal to us. In that way we serve one another, and we also grow by learning to praise God in new ways.”
One additional thought. Music plays such an important role in our corporate and individual worship. Many adults miss so much when they choose not to participate whether from lack of training/experience or from a lack of understanding. Our desire is to help our children more fully worship by learning music that is scriptural (giving it depth); from various traditions, to connect us with believers before and in other cultural settings (giving it breadth); and to be participants in the corporate worship of this local body of Christ so they may continue to do so as adults, training their children (passing on the ‘baton’). May all of us sing a joyful noise unto the Lord (Psalm 98:4)!