What are you capable of? How much more time do you have to spend in practice? Is someone available that has more time and would do a better job? What is your motivation for being in front of your church playing an instrument or singing? Are these fair questions?
“Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
Hebrews 10:19-25 (NIV)
My siblings in Christ, this is what we are doing on Sunday mornings during services. This is what we are doing anytime we come together in prayer, fellowship, study, or song. This is worship. When we join together in song on Sunday morning or any other time, we are entering the throne room of God through the blood of our Lord Jesus to spend time pouring our hearts out to the King of the universe. If we are going to insist on using music at our meetings, I would expect that the people or person leading the music take it more seriously than anything else they do during their week (unless the same person is speaking).
I have an unsettling number of memories of worship services that were clearly not taken seriously. Sometimes this has been demonstrated through an effort issue in which a better sound was possible but not attempted because it was “good enough for church” (being out of tune due to laziness during performance for example). Sometimes it has been a preparation issue that should have been avoided through more individual study and practice. Sometimes it has been because a person incapable of the task leads music because they were “led by the spirit” to do so. If the music during services is being taken as seriously as it should be taken, should we not see people’s most valiant efforts to sound as good as possible? Unfortunately, the issue of taking the music seriously is a surface issue, the possible causes of which are much more diabolical.
Being a highly trained musician, I know all too well the extreme temptation of thinking too much of myself after a performance that brings people to their feet in appreciation for what I just accomplished. While it’s fine to be pleased that I have pleased others, it is not fine to be pleased with myself for all the hard work I did to get that reaction (that is pride, the sin that made Satan who he is). I should be pleased only to the end that I brought pleasure to my audience. Leading worship with music requires humility in performance to be taken to a whole new level. When I do a recital, it’s half about me being really good at music and half about teaching people about God through music. Pleasing my audience for the sake of pleasing my audience is on my agenda. However, when someone leads worship with music their agenda should not be to please others, but to lead both their self and their congregation into passionate worship of our Creator. If someone is pleased with the leader, I hope it is because the leader played or sang so effortlessly, skillfully, and passionately that the layman saw Christ right through the leader and worshipped Christ without a second thought towards what the leader was doing. Therefore, every musical leader in a church should search themselves deeply and honestly in order to find their motivation behind leading worship. Regardless of what they find within themselves, humility has to be the top priority before leading music. If this one thing were handled more honestly, many issues related to taking musical worship seriously would be solved.
Take ability for an example. As a music teacher, I can confidently say that consistent practice for a notable length of time will always yield an increase in proficiency. If someone is not showing steady progress in their technique, then they’re clearly not taking the role of leading a congregation into the throne room of the Almighty through the blood of Christ seriously enough. If not practicing would not be acceptable in a recital hall, how much less in this context? If people are getting on the stage in church and not giving the sacrifice of praise they are capable of, what is this saying about their motivation for leading worship? As I hope you are beginning to see, the attitude required in order to lead musical worship takes care of these other problems.
Humility causes the right motivation. The right motivation causes leading music to be taken very seriously. Taking worship seriously causes refined technique. Therefore, just as good works are the natural result of faith (James 2:14-25), good technique is the natural result of humility.
So how good should the music be in church to be acceptable? Depending on the cultural context, the size of the church, the availability of skilled people, and the quality of the local teachers, the music should be the best in town. However, it should also be very different because of the reason behind the sound…