What Is the Real Cost of the Worship Arts?
How do we assess the cost of public worship?
The most obvious accounting would be of the cost of the instruments, the sound equipment, the royalties for the use of copyrighted songs and tracks, and in some cases the fees paid to the worship leader(s) and team members. The absolute necessity of effective public worship justifies these expenditures of this there is no doubt. Each modern worship team is not only supporting the worship of the local congregation, these singers, players, technicians are also supporting the contemporary worship music industry. We must not think that this is something new. There has always been worship music industry. Once it was the province of music publishers who produced hymnals, choir/orchestra arrangements and recordings, songbooks and other helpful materials designed to assist the local music makers in each church. In recent decades, digital services have largely displaced the producers of printed music and professionally recorded helps.
Singers, Players, Gifts from God!
There is another cost to the weekly production of congregational music: the time, talent, and sincere ministry of the singers and players themselves. The giftedness, passion, skill, and dedication of these people should be considered an asset of the church. As a career minister of music of more than 50 years of leadership experience, I have always thought in these terms. I have carefully planned weekly rehearsals so the the hours given by the artists I led counted the most. My singers and players were giving their time to the Lord and it was my job to make the most of these assets with careful planning and efficient rehearsal methods. It was only right. How could I say I loved the artists the Lord had given me and do any less?
My years of study as a musician and my prayerful planning led me to many practices and methods to make the most of the precious gift of the hours my people trusted to me. This was not only for weekly rehearsals but also for the seasonal calendar. I found ways to keep the music ministry going week in and week out and never wear the singers, players, and technicians out.
Downsizing the Worship Arts
In the past few decades, many congregations have gone in a different direction from the choir/orchestra led worship ministry. I am not here to plead for a return to the “thrilling days of yesteryear” as the prologue to the Lone Ranger TV show pronounced each week. My purpose is to point out a hidden cost to this severe reduction of the arts of public worship.
That cost is the cost in human lives. For my half-century of dealing with serious musicians in the church and in the school I have observed a host of serious people doing serious work for serious reasons. Most of this public and private musicianship has been done for highly personal reasons. Since the majority of the singers and players I have led have been Christians, I must say that they have been serving God with their music. Yes, there are personal rewards and a deep joy can be found in making music and some people make their music for selfish reasons but most do not. There is a gift inside of them, a gift from God. Like other gifts of grace, these brothers and sisters have discovered that to be faithful to this gift is most rewarding. Their music is not only beautiful and is most beneficial to those who hear it. When this is done in the service of the Lord Jesus, its value is multiplied many times over. The scriptural image of this is the Alabaster Jar, Mary of Bethany’s precious gift to Jesus of a container of expensive ointment which she broke and poured on Him as a gift of love. Judas and the other disciples were angered by this precisely because they knew the market value of her offering–a year’s wages for a working man. Jesus rebuked the men and commended Mary. When the music of God’s musicians reaches a marketable level of excellence it is an asset to the church.
The Hidden Cost
So what is the hidden cost when the church turns away from large-group forms as in choir and orchestra music? The sad tally is figured in churches filled with band and orchestra players who have been called of God to make His music and who have given their lives to learn how to make music at the “alabaster jar” level who now have no place to minister. It is computed by the number of choir-singers whose voices may not be ready for the solo microphone but who know how to blend with other well-trained voices to produce a wonderful choral sound. These costly and valuable assets are routinely wasted where once they had found use and beauty in the House of God.
What Does the Bible Say?
Why this dismantling? Is it because the Bible does not call for these ensembles? Certainly not. The high moments of community life recorded in the Bible, such as the dedication of Solomon’s Temple, record the pleasure of the Almighty when “the trumpets and singers became as one, lifting the voice with the instruments of music,” His glory filled the house! (2 Chron. 5:11-14) The Book of Revelation describes the heavenly Zion as a place of high sounding praise the sound of which we cannot imagine but the words of which we can contemplate: “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty!” (Rev. 4:6-11)
Today many, with no Scriptural justification at all, have thrown this grand music into the waste bin. Why? Because the choir and orchestra is not a common part of the pop music scene. Really? Music education remains a powerful force in contemporary American culture, turning out skilled singers and players every year in nearly every town in our land! Shouldn’t we, as the Lord’s representative on earth, pattern our music making on heaven rather than on a pleasure-driven pop culture? Shouldn’t the revealed preferences of God be our preferences as well?
Reflect for a moment on a moment in the life of the Prophet Isaiah. When his hero-king failed God, Isaiah went to the temple. There he was granted a glimpse into the Heavenly Zion. We he saw the Lord high and lifted up and heard the music of heaven that shook the doorposts of the place, Isaiah’s life was changed and he found his true calling. This should be the experience of 21st century worshipers as well! (Isa 6:1-9) When we model our worship music on the sounds of heaven, like Isaiah, we will be changed for to do so is to contemplate the glory of the Lord. Change is the promise! (2 Cor 3:17-18) The Testimony of Isaiah can be ours–we can behold the Lord, high and lifted up, and be changed! The cost of such art is steep and our churches are filled with those who have paid that cost. Would it not be wise to re-engaged choir-singers and band/orchestra players in the ministry of worship?
Not only is it wise, not only is it biblical, it is prudent. The prophecy of Joel and the Day-of-Pentecost sermon of Peter, demands an intergenerational approach to public ministry–“old men,” and “young men” led by dreams and visions. Men and women prophesying with voices from the Grand Staff–voices in the treble and bass clefs–worshiping God in the power of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:14-18) The Lord is worthy of the complete range of the human voices He created!
And what’s more, Psalm 150 calls for every family of instruments in the worship of God. This is “the glory due His name” demanded by saints and angels in Psalm 29:1,2.
Psalm 150 NKJV
Praise the Lord! Praise God in His sanctuary;
Praise Him in His mighty firmament! Praise Him for His mighty acts;
Praise Him according to His excellent greatness!
Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet; (BRASS)
Praise Him with the lute and harp! (RHYTHM)
Praise Him with the timbrel and dance; (PERCUSSION)
Praise Him with stringed instruments and flutes! (STRINGS &WOODWINDS)
Praise Him with loud cymbals; (MORE PERCUSSION!)
Praise Him with clashing cymbals! Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord!
“The Glory due His Name” requires the full spectrum of the musical human heart!
King Jehoshaphat’s Musical Army
This is the sound of Jehoshaphat’s warfare choir. It is the sound of victory still today. When surrounded by enemies, the King called for singers and instrumentalists to lead his army. They rallied to his call singing, “Praise the Lord, For His mercy endures forever.” The enemy was routed and the nation was saved. (2 Chron 20:20-23) Today our musical, spiritual warriors stand idle for we no longer call them to the battle.
Hear the Word! Call the Warriors!
We must shake off the well-intentioned but sadly misguided influence of pop culture and make the music of heaven not the temporary tunes of the moment our standard. It is time to take a new inventory of the assets of the assembly. It is time to take the talent of the church out of the waste bin and put it to use in the work of the Lord. We must treasure these assets. these gifts from God, these people!
In January of 2023 I came across a lament I wrote when a church I was serving decided to dismiss their choir and orchestra. You will find it here: https://stevephifer.com/today-i-feel-pain-i-have-never-felt-before/
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