In Praise of Musical Clergy

Great pastors know good congregational music is essential for worship.

By Dr. Charlotte Kroeker

Church musicians know a priest or pastor can make or break the effectiveness of music for worship.  This article is meant to thank those clergy who, while given responsibility for worship by their denominations, respect and enjoy a good working relationship with their musicians.  Musicians in these optimal situations have been heard saying things like this:

  • “My pastor often quotes the texts of hymns we sing in sermons.”
  • “My priest works closely with me to make certain I understand theological themes for the day so I can choose music to enhance and expand the impact of worship.”
  • “Our planning process begins 3-6 months out so our choir has enough time for rehearsal and is prepared to offer quality music.”
  • “Our church uses music everywhere, in children’s education classes, as part of devotions in vestry meetings, when we gather for church potlucks. Music pervades our church community.”
  • “I was asked to teach a course on hymnody! What an opportunity!”
  • “I’m never forced to choose music just because someone likes it – not even the pastor’s favorites. We choose music because it fits the liturgy for the day.”
  • “My church prioritizes children and youth music programs knowing they are critical to the future of the church.”

Clergy with vibrant music programs know which music is important to their congregations.  Dr. Mel Bringle, editor of the Glory to God hymnal, describes music most meaningful to congregations as their “heart music.”  Words of “heart music” are cemented in memories - the music helps remember them.  These hymns, songs, Psalms and service music are sung heartily and with conviction.  They appear at weddings and funerals where they bring tears of sadness or joy.  These congregations share a corporate memory, built over years of worshipping together, that is tapped for touchstone moments in their lives.  Clergy who are musical theologians build this heart music into worship planning knowing how important it is to spiritual growth.

Clergy and musicians who think both theologically and musically pack a wallop into worship services.  They listen to their congregations both during and outside worship and use what they hear to create transcendent worship.  They listen for differences between simple gratification and meaningful spiritual experience.  They give time in worship to allow final sounds of musical offerings to linger.  If an unfamiliar piece of music is used, reasons for inclusion of the new music are given.  The congregation is introduced to it thoughtfully.  The congregation knows music is chosen with purpose and respond by doing their part.

In these transformative congregations, clergy and musicians work together to create a varied and significant repertoire that spans the liturgical year.  Children, youth and new members learn a core repertoire of music to sing with the congregation.  The congregational family acquires a musical repertoire to accompany their corporate and individual faith journey at every stage of life.

Clergy in these congregations understand music as essential to their preaching, presiding, and pastoral ministry, a vital tool for developing spiritual growth over the lifetimes of their congregation.  They work as a team with musicians who also are beneficiaries of theological depth from their clerical partners.  These musicians grow their own faith and ability to impart spiritual meaning via music.  The team is a partnership for the greater good.

Musicians and congregations give thanks for these musical theologians with whom we are privileged to share our religious journey.  If you are a musician or congregation member with clergy who have these characteristics, you will understand.  We give thanks and praise to God for these important clergy.


Let’s start a conversation.  Email responses to the following questions along with your comments to  A composite of readers’ thoughts will appear in a future communication.


  1. How do clergy and musicians fulfill different but important roles in worship?
  2. What unique gifts does each bring to worship?
  3. What is the role of the congregation in worship, and how can clergy and musicians best enable their worship?
  4. Why is it important to choose music carefully for worship?
  5. What music is important to you? Can you name hymns/songs/Psalms that have enriched the spiritual journey of your congregation?
  6. What else would you like to say about music and worship?