Music in Worship
Music has been a part of worship from biblical times. Though music has taken many different forms through the centuries, from ancient chants through today's pop idioms, music has inspired and taught worshipers all through the ages. With all of this history behind us, what makes music still relevant today in a worship service?
Possibly the most mundane reason, though still relevant, is to provide a background level of pleasant “noise” to mask footsteps of people walking. You might hear the description “traveling music” used, as it masks the footsteps of people as they travel within the service. This is a very limited understanding of the function, however, as the music instills a mood for the action that is taking place. The music paves the way for the heart, preparing it for the next section of the service.
Although you might not initially realize it, music teaches people a lot of what they learn from the service. The words of a hymn ring through the mind much longer, the melody and pattern providing additional glue to make the topic and words stick.
One of the things I find most beautiful about music in the service, is the ability for it to highlight and bring out different topics in the readings for the day, or the church season. The topic or reading is brought to life with emotion poured into it by the musical setting. A deeper appreciation of the topic can be experienced when the heart feels the emotion expressed in music that the text conveys in words.
You could say that music is the heart of the service. Through music, everyone is invited to experience an emotion together. Everyone hears the notes being played, or a melody being sung, and the heart is transported to a new place. Music is also a way to involve the entire congregation as a participant in making the music. Hymn singing gives every individual a chance to raise their voice in praise.
So what kind of music is appropriate in a church service? While this could seem like a tricky question, the answer is quite simple. Music is appropriate for worship as long as it praises God. Equally important, the music should be performed to the best of the abilities of people who themselves are intent on offering praise to God. If either of these two elements are lacking, the question must be raised if the music is truly appropriate.
I have personally found that using a variety of styles of music in the worship setting provides for a healthy diet, much in the same way eating a variety of foods provides a balance of nutrients for the body. If one only experiences one idiom of music constantly, it can eventually become stale and bland, or at least way too familiar. In order to grow, it is reasonable that we should be challenged with new styles to see what they have to offer. I have many times offered my choirs gospel music as a departure from more classical styles. After the initial insecurity with a vastly different idiom is overcome, the energy transferred and new ideas found breathes new life into even old pieces previously explored. A balanced diet is truly healthy for the body and spirit.