This past week we recorded some of the lead vocals for our upcoming project, Come Weary Saints, due out in April. It’s a project of congregational worship songs designed to encourage faith and hope in the hearts of those who are going through trials.
Each of the vocalists who came to sing was clearly there not to promote themselves, but to serve those whoever would be listening. It was evident from their preparation, the way they joyfully received comments, and their gratefulness for the opportunity to participate in the project. Grace abounded.
It reminded me of a message I gave at the Sovereign Grace WorshipGod conference in 2002. I was seeking to answer questions like, “How do we know whether we’re successful as a musician or not? What standards do we use? Does being a Christian musician mean we only play or sing songs that reference our faith in Christ? If that’s true, then can someone glorify God as a member of a symphony orchestra or a jazz trio?”
The message was titled, “The Call of the Christian Musician.” I spoke from Romans 12:1-8 and suggested that the call of the Christian musician is to faithfully make music, in any context, that reflects a grateful servant’s response to the Gospel.
Here’s a portion of the video. You can download the MP3 here for free.
It doesn’t matter whether we make music for the church on Sunday morning, for a recording, or in some completely different context. Our musical gifts are just that – gifts. May our music making, no matter where it happens, always be a humble servant’s response to the Gospel and bring glory to the Giver of all gifts.
Wow, Thank you Bob,
it really gets me to think of my motive and look for who am I doing things.
Thank you for serving us
Years ago when attending a worship leader / guitarist conference in Illinois, Phil Keaggy was the featured clinician. In a Q&A session, he fielded a question about “getting into the contemporary Christian music market.” Part of his answer lamented the lack of spiritual Christian musicians involved in secular music — an area where salt and light would certainly stand out. I would like to briefly muse about this aspect of Bob’s post, even though it wasn’t the main point of focus.
Although I am involved in music and leading worship at my local church, the nature of this job assignment is to focus attention away from myself and my music, and towards God. As such, the opportunities to insert anything “fancy” are limited. In a secular setting where the musician is featured, it would not be out of place for a competent musician to add more of “himself” into the performance and still glorify God in the process, as the goals and reasons for the musician and audience are different. Although this may be an area that is wide-open for Christians to participate in, there certainly are challenges to the task of using a secular venue to bring glory to God, especially since most of the audience won’t have come for a worship event! Yet I’m very interested in giving this a try, as we have an ideal venue on our small town — the small sandwich shop with stage and open-mic night. The challenge will be to craft a program using either secular cover tunes that have a positive message, instrumental tunes, or some subtle spiritual songs carefully selected. If Bob or anyone else would like to take off on this aspect of today’s blog, I’d be interested to see other ideas for a secular music “ministry”.
Great words! Very encouraging to hear you say some of those things, as this has been a big part of my development and struggle as a Corporate Worship Leader.
I also wanted to just dialog with Steve briefly about some of the thoughts that he had. This is a big passion of mine and I intend to root all of it in scripture, but Bob any wisdom you can interject would be much appreciated.
Steve, I don’t necessarily agree with you about a few of the things that you said in your post, and as a brother, just wanted to mention my perspective.
First off, it seems to me that Acts 17 suggests people at a rock concert (or an open mic at the corner sandwich shop) are definitely there to worship, they’re just there to worship something or someone besides Jesus. Based on that, the expectation for us as worship leaders should be no different. Some people are at church to worship Jesus, some aren’t. It all depends on how we can best direct peoples hearts towards Him. I think at a sandwich shop this is hard to do and may not be very easy to accomplish from behind the mic. But if you’re good, or you connect with some folks while you’re there, you may build relationships or conversations which allow you to address people and their gods directly rather than simply trying to preach through your songs – though that could work…
I also had some thoughts on what you said about musicians inserting ‘fancy’ things during corporate worship. I actually got asked question pertaining to this subject at a conference my church recently had, and these thoughts are based less on a specific passage of scripture and more on combined ideas I’ve gotten from things such as Acts 17 and 1 Corinthians 9:18-23…
My general thought is that people can play in a church context or a ‘secular’ context and be in it for their glory or Jesus’ glory – even if they’re a Christian. In the context of corporate worship, I ALWAYS enjoy God’s blessing of music more (and am therefore more inclined to worship Him through it) when excellent musicianship is displayed. This could be a shredding guitar solo or even a subtle drum grove that doesn’t stand out. For me, when the musician’s heart is in the right place, they become a mere vessel for God to display His glory through them rather than a distraction from me being ‘able to worship’.
So, that’s my thoughts – sorry to be so long-winded. I would love to see what other people think of that (especially Bob!).
I really enjoyed what you had to say. I agree that whether we are using our gifts in a Christian environment or in a secular environment. I think that you are right in saying that Christian musicians are called to a high calling. Having musical talent is such a gift from God and to be able to use that to bring him glory is something that not everyone one of us can do. I believe that this is a vital part of the body that Paul was speaking about. Though not all parts are the same or created for the same use they are all equally as important and the body cannot function to its full potential
I agree with Joel Keck-
I believe the motive behind the gift is where humility needs to play. I think musician who is wanting to glorify the name of the Lord will do just that. An obedience follower will not get lost in their own pride; but boldly find those who are lost. The idea is likely with how music has grasped the favor of our society.
“Each of the vocalists who came to sing was clearly there not to promote themselves, but to serve those whoever would be listening”
I have been listening to the Savior Christmas CD since we received it. It has been such a benefit to my soul and mind! There have been several times throughout the day that my thinking has been corrected by listening and focusing on the words about Jesus. I just wanted you to know that I “one who would be listening” has indeed been served.
I Think that this is really cool, what you are saying. The success is not to fill the seats; it is to use the view of Gods mercy. Are we willing to worship God? Are we being faithful? Those questions that you ask are great, and so challenging. Why do we spend so much time focusing on other things for our own glory when we should be giving him all of our glory and we should focus on our goal of giving him our adoration.
I think that what you are saying is so true about worship its not about or talent it’s about what we can do for the glory of God.
Interesting to link back to this article from the recent (1-18-08) post and see a few more comments.
Were I to play in a secular venue, my primary purpose would not be to overtly lead people to consider God, nor to worship Him. I would be there to have fun, to pursue a hobby, to interact with friends, to share my talents with them. Pure and simple. I don’t care what reason the audience had for coming, and I don’t expect (nor do they, in general) for there to be any anticipation of anything “spiritual” going on. I don’t have any pre-conceived notion that they will be moved to seriously consider God were I to get on a soapbox and preach. I rather assume due to the venue that this would be deemed out of place and might draw a hostile reaction. However, my intent in such a setting would be to use my gifts and talents in a way that honors and glorifies God, that puts forth my talent in a humble manner, that dispels the myths that Christians don’t know how to have fun and enjoy life (or the gifts that God has given us — “to richly enjoy” I Tim 6:17). I am always an ambassador for Christ. But this does not mean that the primary goal of everything I do as a musician is to direct people to focus their attention toward Him for the purpose of worship. However, this also does not mean that God is not glorified when I am involved with music with a primary goal other than the WORSHIP of God.
I am also a tuba player and play in a local brass quintet and a community band. I also play both tuba and guitar with local civic theater plays — when the subject matter of the play is not blatantly off-color or inappropriate. Some of my quintet performances are in churches, although not all of the musicians are believers and therefore I cannot state that the intent of this group is specifically spiritual. MY intent when playing a tuba in a church setting is to glorify God. My involvement in this group allows me with witnessing opportunities and Christian fellowship with the members who ARE believers.
The Principal Tuba player with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, Tony Kniffen, is a professing believer. The ISO is a secular group. He is both a believer and a musician, and during his “day job” he has the ability to be an ambassador for Christ and to glorify God using his musical talents completely outside of a church setting.
As we evaluate our paradigms, we need to leave room for instruments that are not particularly “popular” with the world, for forms of music other than pop or rock, and for people enjoying a talent God has provided with a community band or a symphony orchestra — who have no interest in worldly fame. We also need to comprehend the opportunities where God can use mature believers outside of a church context to bring glory to Him in more subtle ways — ways that can parallel the planting and watering ministries in I Cor 3:6, and don’t necessarily minister directly to the Body of Christ, and don’t overtly preach to the unconverted.
How big is your God, and how much liberty in Christ is there for mature believers to be involved in the world without loving it? Is it permissible for someone to merely perform for the fun and enjoyment of music? What is Tony Kniffen doing? As a Christian serving God in his profession as I try to do as an electrical engineer (I Cor 10:31) — isn’t Tony’s tuba playing actually a “spiritual” endeavor? I suggest the widest possible search for ways for believers to be salt and light to a dying world and not to cocoon inside their local congregations. Having said this, however, do know that my primary area of musical focus is to serve God WITHIN the Body as a worship leader. But this is not the only musical involvement that I have in the community.
Brothers and sisters in Christ
This question isn’t really that deep. God gives the gift of musicianship to a person, and when they offer it back to Him, it brings God pleasure. When we have the opportunity to play or sing, whatever the venue, if we are playing for Him, He digs it. If someone is able to play/sing at an open mic night, it just may lead to opportunities to share Christ with someone you meet at a later time. There has been a tremendous amount of music written and performed over the years that was not intended to be sung at a Sunday morning service!
We need to get over the idea that music has to have a Christian label on it to please God. When a musician plays a hot improv solo, or a conductor and orchestra perform a beautiful symphony, if the musician “making the music” is playing from a heart full of love for God, and appreciation for what He has given to share with others, it honors God by seeking “what is pure, beautiful, and honorable…” If they sing or play with an self centered attitude, God won’t honor it.
God has made me for a specific purpose. But He also has made me a musician, and when I play instruments, sing, conduct an ensemble, or humbly lead a congregation in worship and praise, I do it for Him and His glory, I feel His pleasure, and I am overwhelmed with His blessings!
That’s enough for me.
I serve as pastor of worship and find it quite refreshing that there is a biblical science, if you will, in the way we as Christians approach Praise and Worship. Music is powerful. And it is evident that the temptation for self glorification is always there; in fact, you can see how music has led many people throughout history to Idol status. I believe that we as Christians wrestle with our carnal flesh and our spiritual self when it comes to serving in worship. Our motives shift constantly as we wrestle with this inside. Yet, we somehow made the choice to use our musical gifts for the Glory of God. And in playing worship we should give it our best and play skillfully to avoid those distractions that appear when mistakes happen. Yet our hearts need to remember that our approach is to Glorify God. And yes, from time to time someone will compliment you for the “Great job” you did on stage, but remember to take that compliment and turn it as a “Glory be to God” moment. There’s enough good worship music out there that really blows away Worldly music in style, skill, and sound. But most importantly in Substance. In the end I like what the Apostle Paul said in Phillipians 1:15-18. Here’s the punch line….verse 18 “But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached, and because of this I rejoice.” As pastor of worship I always sit down with the team before we practice to meditate and pray for our time together. And I encourage them to have a walk with God. In the end, when we are up there singing and playing, their motives are personal between them and God. The spirit of God is peace, unselfish, and harbors unity. The spirit of selfishness is what causes personality conflicts. I actually emptied my Ipod of all the trash I had…Van Halen, Boston, Red hot chilly peppers, and all that stuff that now means nothing to me. I used to hang onto it for what? No, we either serve God or we serve the evil one. You can’t serve two masters. With music comes culture and with culture comes behaviors. Let’s take what the evil one has used for years to empty the soul of many leading to destruction and let us take music as an instrument to fill souls with Gods everlasting goodness and love.
This may be a bit irrelevant to the post but i need advice. I have been given a divine gift of music from god that i recieved out of nowhere in the 7th grade, and when it hit me i knew it was my calling and that moment was very important. This started with the trumpet and moved on to the baritone.. then on to the tuba where i now am perfectly in place. One small problem however, My church that i am newly dedicated to has no real music program now besides a lil bit of a guitar to a few hymns and awkward participation in it, other than that its all gospel. The church has relocated to a small community building that is not in my eyes an ideal place for a brass instrument and especially one like a tuba. I have no instrument to call my own at this point seeing as how at school i rented them through them.Other than that i have a very strong and persuading call and conviction to act on my musical ability for God’s glory a request from the holy spirit, as if its my purpose.. well the most important. Does anyone have any guidance or usefull comments that might lead me in a path to Glorifying him while I haves so little rescources and location to do so? Any feed back will be muchly appreciated and May God Bless. sorry for the long post
When I play in a secular environment I’m always ready to give an answer for ….1 Peter 3:15. Actually we should be ready wherever we are to share our faith. It’s easy to share your faith in a bar if you are sensitive to the opportunities and are there as a servant, not to just soak up the praise for yourself – do everything as unto the lord. I wouldn’t necessarily go into a bar a try to preach to the entire room or try to push P&W songs on them that I wrote – how can you even get a gig that would allow that when the owners demand a promo CD. I try to select songs that aren’t blatantly evil and if/when someone compliments me I always try to work my faith into the conversation. Ppl notice if you’re sober and not acting like a heathen and it draws them, there’s something different about that guy. I have met and prayed with many backslidden people in bars. I never wanted to play in bars, it was opened to me after losing my job in 05. Prior to that I played only in church. I think I can safely say that I’ve ministered to more ppl at this job than most lay people on their jobs. It’s a mission field thats ripe for the harvest but if you are easily tempted, have a problem with drink or any other weakness it may not be for you. Aren’t we supposed to go out into the highways and byways and compel them to come in? Why should musicians not use their talent as a tool. I’ve never had stars in my eyes. To me my ability to play is like a hammer, it’s a tool to share my faith when I’m in the world and when I play in church its a tool to help the congregation enter into the presence of the lord. We are servants, so serve wherever you find yourself, always with a humble heart.
To Tylor Jackson – I met an 85 yr old man at an open mic jam session a few yrs ago that played the trumpet. As we talked I discovered that he played in the community Brass band and that they played in churches in the area. We invited them (about 60 pcs) to play at our church where we recorded them. I still bump into him at some of the local jams. As far as having an instrument, pray about it and ask around town if any of the stores that teach music have something used that they might donate. If you truly have a call God will provide you with the tools to get the job done, he’s faithful like that.