January 19, 2018

Keys to a Musical Reawakening

A Revival of Biblical Worship

Gene Trantham

“Hallelujah! Thine the glory; Revive us again.” Oh, how we desire genuine God-sent revival. How does one achieve a musical reawakening that rekindles our souls? Over the years, I have heard several music directors mention things that they do to generate energy in their musical situations: (1) upbeat music (often implying a quick tempo in a major key with a driving rhythm or beat); (2) big choral/instrumental ensembles (the more the better, with the thinking that size reflects success); and (3) spirited performances (often more entertaining than worshipful). Upon hearing these comments, I wondered whether these “generators” were driven by the skills of a music leader or by the power of Christ. It is certainly possible for us to be self-deceived if we rely on our own human abilities and woefully miss our true goal of humble adoration. As servant-leaders we must cry out to the Most High God for genuine revival that cannot be explained as the result of human adeptness.

The aim of this essay is to focus our attention on several Biblical principles that might guide us to revival in music. First, we will consider the concept of being Word-filled and how we can exhort others to focus on our Redeemer as we offer praise to Him. Second, our discussion will focus on ways that we can point others to Christ by reflecting His glory. Special care will be taken with how we can mistakenly draw attention to ourselves. Third, we will contemplate the importance of like-mindedness through Jesus Christ our Lord.

When we consider Colossians 3:16, it is clear that “the word of Christ [must] dwell [in us] richly.” As music leaders, are we meditating on His precepts daily, causing us to break forth in joyful praise? If we are not getting something from the Word of God each day, how can teach others to do the same? Scriptural memorization is a key element as we consider ways that music directors can encourage others to sing to the Lord with their whole hearts filled with the Word of God. The psalmist has given us wonderful reminders about proper attitudes and reasons for praise to the Almighty God. For example, the following passages can turn our attention to God as we commence singing hymns near the beginning of a worship service:

Psalm 9:1 – ”I will praise thee, O Lord, with my whole heart.”

Psalm 13:6 – ”I will sing unto the Lord, because he hath dealt bountifully with me.”

Psalm 92:1 – ”It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord, and to sing praises unto thy name, O most High.”

Psalm 95:1 – ”O come, let us sing unto the Lord: let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation.”

Psalm 96:3, 4 – ”Declare his glory among the heathen, his wonders among all people. For the Lord is great, and greatly to be praised: he is to be feared above all gods.”

Psalm 98:1 – ”O sing unto the Lord a new song; for he hath done marvellous things.”

Psalm 111:1 – ”Praise ye the Lord. I will praise the Lord with my whole heart, in the assembly of the upright, and in the congregation.”

Psalm 115:1 – ”Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory.”

It is not my intent to suggest and promote long introductions by song leaders prior to hymn singing. Rather, it is to encourage worshippers through Scripture to sing unto the Lord with proper attitudes and motivation (see Ps. 115:1 above). The choir can also benefit from Scriptural reminders about offering a sacrifice of praise to God. Monthly memory passages can cause us to reflect on the privilege and responsibility we have to serve the Lord and enter His courts with praise. These could be repeated as a part of regular rehearsals especially before prayer time. In addition to the ones mentioned above, the following might serve as a primer for choral memory verses:

2 Chronicles 5:13 – ”It came even to pass, as the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the Lord.”

Psalm 22:22 – ”I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee.”

Psalm 145:4 – ”One generation shall praise thy works to another; and shall declare Thy mighty acts.”

Colossians 3:16 – ”Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.”

Hebrews 13:15 – ”By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name.”

Tim Fisher reminds us about how easy it is for “canals” or “vessels” to become the center of attention, receiving praise and gratitude for musical performances.[1] Care should be taken that we do not receive the glory. This also must be conveyed to choir members, instrumentalists, accompanists, soloists, and other musicians. Perhaps the following Scriptural prompts could be distributed to your musical co-laborers with a brief connection to practical application. For example, it is clear that we are not to draw attention to ourselves, thus stealing the glory away from the King of Glory as indicated in the following passages:

Matthew 5:16 – ”Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”

1 Corinthians 1:29, 31 – ”That no flesh should glory in his presence. . . . He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.”

Galatians 6:14 – ”But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

So how does one draw attention to self as a musician? The secular world uses deliberate techniques to achieve this through scooping (also known as sliding), whispering (using a breathy or airy tone), and delaying vibrato (employing a straight tone often slightly off pitch for a note before adding vibrato).[2] Additional focus can be given to the performer through showiness and lack of preparation. Many musicians are gifted with technical ability and dramatic presentation skills. However, problems can arise when these come to the forefront and move the glory to the presenter. For example, choir directors and song leaders can over-conduct or project their voices too much, thus creating a distraction while the choir is presenting music or when the congregation is singing. Equally problematic is a performance that is underprepared and lacks unity and like-mindedness between musicians. (“Y’all pray for us. We ain’t practiced much.”) In these instances, listeners can become concerned about whether the performer will make it through the piece without stopping. The focus moves away from praising the Lord to surviving the performance. Likewise, music directors must know their musical scores (including hymns) so that they are free to focus on praising the Lord and directing others to do the same. A miscue while directing the choir (even during rehearsals) or a misstated hymn text can immediately distract worshippers. We must be transparent as servant-leaders, always pointing others to the glory of God.

Distraction in worship can also occur when there is a lack of like-mindedness among the service leaders. As mentioned previously, we must focus our attention on our Savior so that we will “sing unto the Lord.” A natural result of this like-mindedness in worship is unity. The Bible mentions several important connections between unity and praise to the Lord:

2 Chronicles 5:13 – ”The trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the Lord.”

Isaiah 52:8, 9 – ”With the voice together shall they sing: for they shall see eye to eye. . . . Break forth into joy, sing together.”

Jeremiah 31:12 – ”They shall come and sing . . . and shall flow together.”

Romans 15:5, 6 – ”Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus: That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Coming together with one mind is a key element in reawakening our worship. To make this happen, it is essential to anticipate and communicate. Many people serve in various capacities as a part of our worship services. We often construct an order of service so that information is communicated effectively to these individuals. Ushers, sound personnel, accompanists, and platform leaders can work harmoniously through a series of events when they are of one mind. However, a breakdown of this unified process can distract worshippers and draw attention away from the Lord. Choir directors generally understand that an important purpose of choral rehearsal is to be as one “to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the Lord.” For this reason we often stress the importance of common vowel sounds, clear entrances and cut offs, unified shaping of a musical phrase with a specific climax and flow of dynamics, and clearly articulated texts accentuated by word emphasis that reflects its meaning. We may spend hours on these musical details yet not stress the importance of like-mindedness in worshipping God in spirit and in truth. Here is a wonderful opportunity to connect the items mentioned previously so that we might be word filled offering glory to God as transparent vessels coming together with one mind and one voice. This approach can also encompass the communication between the music director and the pastor. As sermon topics are determined, this information can be communicated to the song leader so that hymn selection can be one in mind with the focus of the message. I do not suggest this so that the hymns will prepare us for worship. It is important that people come to church prepared to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness. I have found that when people are aware of the title or Scriptural text of the message before worship, they can have even more depth to their worship preparation. This cultivates the soil of their hearts so that it can be applied to the word when it is preached. Knowing this, they are word filled ready to offer praise to the Lord in the midst of the congregation.

Perhaps you see the connections between these Biblical principles that supply keys to musical reawakenings. It is also evident that it is not the adeptness of the music director or any other human for that matter. Revival of Biblical worship is centered on the Word of God as people filled with the Word come together, falling on their knees crying out to the Most High God, who is able to revive us again. May we as humble servants step out of the way lest we draw attention to ourselves — for “Thine be the glory.”

Gene S. Trantham is an Associate Professor and Coordinator of Music Theory, Bowling Green State University, and the Music Director of Calvary Baptist Church in Findlay, Ohio.

(Originally published in FrontLine • January / February 2006. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)

  1. Tim Fisher, The Battle for Christian Music, 2nd ed. (Greenville, SC: Sacred Music Services, 2004), 115–16. []
  2. For more discussion on this topic, see Frank Garlock, Music in the Balance (Greenville, SC: Majesty Music, 1992), 93–97. []

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