Integrity: The Pastoral Artist
I Pastor with Music
Exploring the Role of the Pastoral Artist
(Author’s Note: This essay was first written several years ago when I was serving as a Worship Pastor in a local church. I will attempt to edit it to reflect contemporary practice. As such large music ministries have borne the brunt of the impact of the pandemic, the time has come for them to reemerge from the shadows and take their place on the platform. Unlike professional looking singers and instrumentalists, the people of the choir and orchestra represent the congregation–the people of the church! As such, they are your very best worship leaders. Their worship is real, disciplined, freely offered, and possesses a validity available nowhere else. It is time for their creative leaders to see the value of their ministry and find ways to restore it. The current generation of artists are dependent on this and we have little hope of a future without it. Stephen Phifer)
What Is Really Going On?
On the surface they look like music groups—choirs, orchestras, worship teams, worship bands, ensembles, youth choirs, children’s choirs. Likewise, at first glance what you saw on the church platform last Easter or last Christmas looked like a pageant, or a concert, or maybe a musical play, a stunning presentation of the Gospel of Christ to the world. Also, the congregation in worship looks to be only a group of people singing. These observations are true, of course, but they do not express the whole truth.
The whole truth is this: these groups and projects are really discipleship ministries.
As a life-long staff pastor in music, let me testify that I pastored with music! What does it mean to “pastor”? The word is derived from the role of the shepherd. “Do you love Me? Feed My sheep,” Jesus said when he restored Peter. The shepherd loves and cares for the sheep, leading them to green pastures and still waters, protecting them from predators, healing their injuries, and providing the proper balance of rest and activity. The application of these shepherding skills to those of the local pastor is obvious.
But how did I do that with music? When your church’s worship team and band, or choir and orchestra, leads worship and presents music on Sunday morning what you see is just the surface of what is really there.
Choirs and Orchestras offer intense fellowship to their members. The same is true of worship teams and bands, ensembles and youth choirs. I call it the “yoke-fellow” relationship, a bond born in common labor and achievement. Over the years I have seen disciplined singers and players make strong personal connections in the church. It works for me as well. My very best friendships have come from those brothers and sisters who have shared the yoke of ministry with me. Our mutual need for each other is not a co-dependency based on injury or pain but a vital inter-dependency that springs from complimentary strengths. This intense, spiritual bonding is an essential part of discipleship.
Another aspect of discipleship is personal growth. In properly run music ministries, people grow musically and spiritually. Rehearsals feature much more than singing and playing. Corporate worship, Bible studies, prayer requests and prayer, and testimonies are all regular parts of the rehearsal process. The music itself helps us grow as Christians. This is not pop music—this is the Kingdom of God set to musical language. Great Christian music, whether designed for congregational worship or for presentational witness, is a work of the Holy Spirit designed to edify the church. For the singers, the act of memorizing these powerful songs demands discipline. For the instrumentalists, learning their parts also requires discipline. Often the most powerful moments of ministry are in the rehearsal room! Later, when they sing and play the music on the platform, they enter into a faith-agreement with the Holy Spirit and the congregation receives ministry. The result?—the singers and players grow in the Lord.
The Christian Year
When the great Christian seasons of the year roll around, the world looks to the church for expressions of Christian truth. While we work hard to make our Christmas and Easter presentations exciting and meaningful, no serious Music/Worship Pastor thinks of this ministry as entertainment. This is Christian art. What is the difference?
- Entertainment has as its chief goal the pleasure of the audience.
- Art has as its chief goal the presentation of truth and beauty to inform, challenge, and inspire the audience.
This type of expression involves rigorous discipline from the singers, players, actors, technicians, and helpers of all types. It isn’t easy and it isn’t show biz. It is ministry, demanding ministry. For more than 40 years I have closely observed the effect of this upon the people who do the work season after season. What is that effect? When properly administered, the result is personal growth. I loved to write and produce musical plays to tell the Jesus Story at Christmas and Easter. As the script-writer, I packed layer upon layer of truth into our productions for this purpose: that those who must spend weeks, months and even years with my script would always be ministered to by the production! As a shepherd, I fed my sheep with the productions not just the audiences who came to see them.
That brings me to the whole congregation.
History has proven that the people of God learn much of their theology from the music of public worship. This was my opportunity as a Pastor to disciple the whole congregation. I packed the Word of God into each worship set I planned. I drew from the best of traditional songs and the best of contemporary songs but the main thing to me was the truth of the song. I knew the songs were teaching believers about the things of God. This should not be haphazard but deliberate, not random but carefully Spirit-led. As a worship-leading pastor I wanted to arm our people with weapons of their warfare—the truths of God. Over the years testimonies abound of how the songs we sang came to mind at crucial times to bring worshipers through in victory. Public worship is discipleship.
The next time you come to the House of God and see the singers and players on the platform, realize that there is so much more going on than just music. These people are growing in their walk with God. When you stand together with your brothers and sisters to worship God, remember that the songs are more than just songs. They are works of the Holy Spirit designed to impact your life for the Lord and to arm you for a victorious warfare. As you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs you are being filled with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5: 18,19) and the Word of God dwells in you richly (Colossians 3:16).
Singers and players, be faithful to the ministry of music! Your leader is one who must give an account (Hebrews 13:17). The Holy Spirit will help you grow in the Lord. Worshipers, drink deep from the Truth and Spirit of great worship music both contemporary and traditional. Your worship leader is also one who must also give an account. Sing the ancient songs of Zion and the new song of the Lord. Let God do a new work in your life!
© 2016 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved (revised March of 2021)