December 18, 2017

The Goal of a Minister of Music

Kurt Stephens

Any minister of music who could master the question “What are you trying to accomplish?” would truly be successful. Having spent the past eleven years serving as Minister of Music, I can attest that the elements I contribute to my church’s services have been shaped and motivated by many factors. The first of those factors is that I am motivated by the study of God’s Word. The second motivating factor for any music minister is the senior pastor under whom he serves. Woe unto any second man who cannot work alongside his pastor to accomplish the desired goals. While these factors play an integral role in what any music minister seeks to accomplish, my intention is to challenge our thinking on an entirely different level.

Much musical training on the college level is theoretical, and it emphasizes the development of tools. Philosophy of ministry is emphasized but never fully realized until you find yourself outside the textbook and actually serving in the confines of a local church. It is in the heart of ministry that each of us is forced to answer the questions of purpose, goal, and meaning: “What is it that I do, and why?” “What are the real motivating factors, and what motivating factors are selfimposed?” Of course, no textbook— except the Bible—prepares you to answer those questions.

What is the primary role for us ministers of music? Naturally, we all have a built-in answer: we lead in worship. But if I am to lead the congregation effectively in worship, I had better know more about the subject than a mere definition. One key word summarizes my goal for music ministry, and that word is opportunity. I want to give the members of my church every possible opportunity to worship the Lord in “spirit and in truth” and “the beauty of holiness.”

We live in a day when increasing numbers of churches are altering the flavor of their services to broaden the appeal for worship. I, too, am constantly seeking creative ideas to improve services. So what makes my church’s approach different from the “seeker-friendly” methods? The difference lies in how we view our opportunity to worship. Do we structure the service so that worship takes place on our terms, or on God’s terms? Is our worship built around the outward (form) or the inward (heart)? The Bible has much to say concerning these probing questions.

Hundreds of passages in Scripture deal specifically with the topic of worship. The Biblical model presupposes that the worshiper is coming to give of himself and not get for himself. Yet the contemporary-service movement is concerned primarily with providing an answer to the frustrations of the worshiper. Frankly, we Christians find it easy to analyze other movements, but have we ever considered our own? Have you ever found yourself discouraged in a worship service because a spirit of apathy seemed to prevail over your spirit of zeal and devotion? Perhaps you can’t even get through the first verse of the first hymn without being distracted. If you find yourself battling your flesh on a regular basis, you are not alone. The apostle Paul echoed those sentiments: “For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do” (Rom. 7:19). What stands between you and a focused heart of worship is your own flesh. So what’s the solution?

God has provided the opportunity in His divine plan to energize the heart through worship. In fact, He has spelled out specific ways to accomplish this. Contemporary religion is always experimenting with new ways to “do worship.” However, Hebrews 10:19, 20 teaches us about the literal “new and living way” to approach a thrice-holy God in worship. That passage admonishes us as Christians to come confidently through the blood of Jesus Christ into the very presence of God and to dwell there. What an awesome prospect to consider. Following this exhortation, verses 22–24 give us a threefold invitation: “Let us draw near,” “Let us hold fast,” and “Let us consider one another.”

Drawing Near

The first invitation is “Let us draw near.” God’s Word encourages us to draw near with a sincere heart, without hypocrisy. Acceptable worship does not happen spontaneously. It requires preparation. The choir prepares, the pastor prepares, and other teachers prepare. The New Testament believer is instructed to approach God with a pure heart and a clean conscience. We cannot rush into the presence of God with a double-minded heart and a preoccupation with self. Fellowship with God demands purity; therefore, true worship cannot occur when unconfessed sin reigns in the heart of the believer. If we are really interested in drawing near to God, we will be less concerned with whether the service pleases self and more interested with whether our heart pleases God.

Having said that, let’s be perfectly honest: how many times do we find ourselves emphasizing the form of our worship instead of the substance? Yes, music and liturgy do provide the opportunity to express a worshiping heart, but we must be careful in leading others to believe that artificial methods produce true worship. The crucial point for any music minister is not the form of his service, but what elements are provided to challenge and prepare the believer’s heart.

Holding Firm

The second invitation is, “Let us hold fast.” In other words, hold fast the profession (or confession) of our faith, that confidence that we have in our Savior and Lord. It is as Paul reminds us in Philippians 1:6, “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” When we have our hope fixed solely on God and His faithfulness, we are less likely to be distracted in worship. Our own desires become subservient to the worship of His person. Does your worship service provide the opportunity for average believers to “hold fast the profession” of their faith? A public service is a place for every believer to confess openly his or her confidence in a faithful and sovereign God. The Lord in His infinite wisdom knew that testifying of our confidence in Him would provide help and encouragement for the weary soul. Somehow our frail flesh needs that reassurance from other believers as well.

Considering Fellow Believers

The final invitation is this: “Let us consider one another.” We must encourage each other “unto love and to good works.” A believer who bears fruit and walks worthy of the Lord not only glorifies God, but encourages others as well. God’s Word teaches us that loving the brethren exhibits the evidence of one’s salvation. For instance, 1 John 3:14 says, “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.”

If your primary goal in formulating the worship service is to please the pastor, appease the critic, or pacify the music police, then your values are sadly misplaced. On the other hand, if your ultimate purpose is to edify the body of Christ and to stimulate the congregation to worship God, you will hit a home run every time. The writer of Hebrews makes it crystal clear: the heart of worship is not what we receive from assembling together; it is what we contribute. When we draw near to God in sincerity, and with a fixed confidence, elevating the needs of others above ourselves, the lens of worship sharpens its focus, and we see God in the beauty of His holiness.

In summary, the Bible tells us that the Christian has been given a new song and that the hymns and spiritual songs we sing serve a threefold purpose. Hymns provide the avenue for us to draw near. They supply an endless resource of psalms and spiritual songs that aid in heartfelt expression. And lastly, they encourage us in the public service when we need it the most. God designed worship first and foremost to bring praise to Himself. If we look at the three New Testament sacrifices that remain—praise, doing good, and communicating (sharing with others)— we will discover that the worship service provides a wonderful medium for giving of ourselves in every area.

So, returning to the opening question, what am I trying to accomplish as a minister of music? I want to see that the believer is afforded every opportunity to come with a sincere heart into the very presence of God and worship without distraction, to profess openly his confidence in a faithful God, and lastly, to stimulate the body to love one another and bear fruit for the glory of God. May God teach us how to worship Him in sincerity and in “the beauty of holiness.”

Kurt Stephens currently serves on the staff of Palmetto Baptist Church in Powdersville, SC.

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

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