November 22, 2017

What a Pastor Wants from the Music Ministry

Danny Sweatt

Music in the church is often seen as either an end in itself or as merely a means to an end. Some people, particularly musicians, consider music the most important component of a church service. The modern, contemporary movement certainly seems to encourage that viewpoint, in practice if not in creed. It is the music that stirs the emotions, that evokes the physical response that leaves the participant, in their view, with that warm worshipful feeling. Indeed, music is the cornerstone around which many churches are built.

Others, though, see music in a much more utilitarian way. In their view, it has little value unless it accomplishes some predetermined, nonmusical purpose. They seldom, if ever, speak of music as an offering to God. For them, music is more like a necessary activity to fill up time until the preaching begins. As is true in many ministry philosophies, there is truth and error in both positions.

As a person who became a senior pastor in midlife, I have a somewhat unique perspective. For years the music was my message. Before I occupied the pulpit, I led the music for 26 years. The songs that I sang or directed were my offering to God. During that delightful time of my life, I am sure that the music accomplished many nonmusical things, but always first, before any other consideration, we were fulfilling the Biblical mandate to “[sing] and [make] melody in your heart to the Lord.”

So what do I want from our church music now that I am in a different role, now that I am the preacher who “follows” the music? I want music to give a voice to our corporate praise. It is good to be thankful. It is important to express that thankfulness before others. Singing public praise to God honors Him, encourages others who may not feel like praising, and is a wonderful testimony to the lost that are doubtless among us. Psalm 96 admonishes, “Declare his glory among the heathen.” In agreement with that verse, the testimony of a thankful, praising church is a powerful witness to a heart burdened by sin.

Another purpose for music in a church service is to shift the attention of both pastor and people away from the cares of this world and toward the things of God. Many people enter the church spiritually battered and bruised. Some have failed in their Christian walk. Others come seeking help and guidance. To surround these people with songs that focus attention on man and his talents or on man and his experiences is to lead them to wells without water. Our dear people are fully aware of man and his views. They need to glimpse God, to hear from Him.

As a pastor, I want the music to teach great truths of Scripture in a way that my people and I can remember them. In the midst of the battle, a song can cheer the heart. Many times this middle-aged preacher has encouraged his heart with the words from a song my children used to sing: “God is bigger than giants are.” Sometimes in the darkness of sorrow or testing my heart begins to sing, “Joy will come in the morning. Hope is sorrow’s adorning. Tears will vanish at dawning, for joy will come in the morning.” Both of these songs divert attention away from the difficulty and toward a wonderful God who both cares and can do something. Attaching these truths to my memory by using a song is a worthy endeavor.

The music ministry is also a wonderful training ground for Christian living. Second fiddle is a difficult instrument to play. Since not everyone can sing the solo, many must learn contentment with lesser roles. Commitment and sacrifice—so necessary in music ministry—are virtually unknown in popular culture. These spiritual virtues can be readily taught within the church. In addition, public music ministry often exposes attitudes of pride and selfishness, but a wise music leader can deal with them firmly.

Last of all, I desire the music in church services to aid in preparing my heart to preach. Preaching is a strange exercise. There are few things to which it can be compared. Preparation, for sure. Prayer, of course. The “Fire of God,” sometimes. Week in and week out, before I stand in the pulpit with what I hope to be the message from God, I need my soul stirred. I need to see the cross. I must hear again the proclamation of grace. I want to hear someone remind me of the love of God. A last-minute reminder of God’s person and His purpose gives me great boldness for the task ahead.

Sing me an old song, Christ’s praise as its theme
On the cross dying the lost to redeem.
Saving and cleansing the vilest of men
Song of salvation, oh, sing it again.

Danny Sweatt is Senior Pastor of Berean Baptist Church in Lilburn, Georgia, and is a popular conference speaker on the topic of music.

(Originally published in FrontLine • March/April 2004. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)

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