Dr. Charlotte Kroeker, Executive Director
The music and liturgy of the church have developed over hundreds of years and continue to do so. Beginning with Scripture and early worship practice, Christian worshippers have contributed steadily to a body of literature and practices that can inform today’s worshipping congregations. We need not begin from a blank slate. In fact, we do so at our own peril, risking loss of wisdom of generations of Christians from whom we can learn. The Scriptures, Psalmody, hymnody, liturgy - all are both old and new, both traditional and contemporary, deep and fresh, life-giving sources of spiritual transcendence and transformation awaiting our engagement.
Since this article is brief, I will suggest a few rules of thumb for making decisions that engage worshippers and also respect longer term goals for building disciples.
- Choose music of musical and theological integrity that fits the scriptures of the day and serves the congregation’s worship well. A recent article quoted a megachurch leader who said you must match music to the kind of people you want to reach. He was partially right, in that the music chosen must be a vehicle the congregation can understand and access for praise and prayer. A further look at the way this theology of music worked tells another story, however. The church offers twenty-two different services “appealing to all different kinds of styles of music.” That is, music is a product for consumption according to consumer preferences. Conversely, music that expresses theological truths of the day for the congregation puts emphasis on worship of God rather than the worshipper or the means of worship. It matters what the goal is.
- Choose music of lasting value that will serve the congregation for their lifetimes. We are in the 500th year since the Reformation during which the song of the church was given back to the people in the Protestant tradition. Catholics affirmed lay participation in the Second Vatican Council of the 1960’s, calling for full, active participation of the people and making music integral to liturgy. Music that is accessible and of quality serves a purpose longer and deeper than attracting worshippers, though it can and should attract. It is lasting.
- Smile when hearing comments of “I like (or don’t like) that music.” (I am reminded of the friend who responds “I didn’t realize we were singing to/worshipping you.”) We choose music for worship for different reasons than if we are going to a concert or listening to music for pleasure. Percy Dearmer, vicar of Primrose Hill in England was told, “You must give people what they like.” Dearmer’s response was, “You must give people what is good and they will come to like it.”
- Equate music with the spoken word as a powerful tool for proclamation, prayer, and praise, and a way to remember text far longer than spoken word alone. The Rev. Christopher Girata of St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal in Dallas, TX recently said, “An excellent sermon can never save worship from mediocre music, but excellent music can save worship from a mediocre sermon every time.” Granted, he speaks in the context of an Episcopal liturgy where four scriptures are either spoken or sung at every liturgy, and beautifully written prayers are offered as a part of that liturgy. But he gives testimony to the power of music to carry the overall effect of the worship.
- Value education always. As school systems wax and wane in their offerings of music education, the church has historically been a place where music education has happened with regularity. Rightfully so. Our faith is a sung faith. If we do not teach our children to sing we will not have adults who sing. If we stop singing we cannot “Sing to the Lord,” a mandate that is woven through the Scriptures from beginning to end.
As we mark the 500th year of the Reformation and the person we most often associate with that important event, Martin Luther, may we also remember his observation that Scripture is God’s greatest gift to us, and music, God’s second greatest gift. That music texts carry Scripture is no accident, do you suppose?