Why Worship Teams Should Seek To Play With Excellence

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Music is a wonderful gift from God. It’s one of God’s greatest blessings in my life. Last night at our Care Group Christmas party we played Christmas tunes in the background from Bing Crosby singing White Christmas to The Nutcracker Suite to A Charlie Brown Christmas to Brenda Lee’s Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree. Monday night, while doing some oil painting with my 95 year-old Dad, we listened to Chuck Mangione’s jazz together. I loved music as a child, my mom told me, and my favorite song was “Turkey In the Straw” (see below). And I’ll never forget the night in 1964 when the Beatles made their debut on the Ed Sullivan Show and I knew my destiny was to be in a rock band and have girls chasing me down the street screaming (the girls not me).

Yes, music is a gift from God. There won’t be any music in hell. And heaven will resound and reverberate with incredible music, songs, angelic choirs and waterfall choruses of saints singing the glories of Jesus. Of course, in this fallen world, like every good gift, music is often misused and perverted. But it is still a wonderful gift from God.

Music has a power to stir our emotions. It can excite us. It can lift our spirits and energize us. Think of how different football games would be without music. Hundreds of TV commercials have music in the background or catchy jingles to remind you that the best part of waking up is Folger’s in your cup, and other ditties. Music can make a long vacation drive more fun. We play music at work and workouts. Some say playing classical music in the background helps you concentrate.

Music can express a sense of majesty or sadness. It moves us. Certain movie soundtracks do this for me, like the theme to Jurassic Park or Saving Private Ryan. Music affects our emotions.

And what a gift to be able to sing God’s praises together. It’s one glorious way the Lord has given for us to let the word of Christ dwell richly in us, as we sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs together (Co 3:16).

I recently encouraged and thanked our worship team for pursuing musical excellence as they lead us in singing to the Lord together. Though they are not seeking to perform or show off their talents, when they play with excellence, it helps us worship. Not that we need instruments to worship, but the music stirs us. Many come into a Sunday meeting distracted, harried, stressed, discouraged or worn out from a long week. Beautiful and energetic music can lift our spirits and help us engage with the song lyrics, which are the most important part. Glorious music conveys something of the glory of Jesus expressed in our lyrics.

Lyrics are critical and central, for they contain “the word of Christ,” yet God has given us “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” to convey that word, and music lets it dwell richly in us. If God didn’t want us to enjoy his wonderful gift of music, he would have told us to simply read the lyrics together, like we read poems or Scripture. But God said “Sing!”

A couple in our church came from a denomination that forbids the use of instruments in church. You can go to a concert and enjoy the violins, French horns, oboes and kettle drums, but when you come to church it’s vocals only. Yet even in their former church the congregation sang incredible harmonies together, and those harmonies would stir and move them.

I’m so grateful God has given us all kinds of instruments, from electric guitar to oboe. I’m even grateful for synthesizers (just kidding – I have an ongoing joke that guitars are better than keyboards). I personally would have a hard time in a vocals-only church, although I love the moments when our worship team selectively stops playing and we all lift our voices together. A church can certainly glorify God without instruments, but they help me in my worship. They enhance it for me. They stir me to worship. Every Sunday I tell one of our guitarists I want him to play me a face-melting lead. I say this jokingly, because he’s an incredible guitarist and he doesn’t want to show off or put himself forward, so for years he was reluctant to do too much other than play the chords, and I want him to add creative licks in places. He hasn’t melted my face off yet, but he really adds to the arrangements which enhances the worship.

So if you’re on a worship team, play with excellence. Sing with excellence. Not for it’s own sake, but for the glory of God. Not to entertain, but to help folks connect with the lyrics and with Jesus. Try not to be distracted and overly focused on the music, but play as well as you can. You’re expressing Jesus’s beauty and glory. Music is a gift of God’s grace to the world and especially his church.

If you’re not on a worship team, thank your singers and musicians for their hard work to enhance your worship.

I love music. I’m so grateful to God for it. Well, I’m off — as I go I’m humming Turkey in the Straw.

*If you don’t know Turkey in the Straw, see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D0DsPX26_60

They play it with excellence!

Comments

  1. Kim Noble says

    I believe it was Martin Luther who said that music was the handmaiden to theology. If this is true, then certainly our church music should be played with the excellence that points us and helps us hear the excellencies of God’s word. The interesting challenge, I suppose, for musicians leading worship that play at a high proficiency is the temptation to nitpick semitones vs. just playing “as unto the Lord.” I hear this quite a bit from our own musicians who are godly men and women and excel at their given talents. Thanks, Mark, for the reminder to thank them. I often forget such easy tokens of gratitude. Gotta a few e-mails to send…. :)

    • Mark_Altrogge says

      Great comments, Kim, thanks! I’ve started listening to your cd – so far great job! Some excellent arrangements!

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