Acceptable Sounds for Worship; Quality

January 17th, 2011

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…


Professional Musicians?

May 2nd, 2010

I want to make something very clear before I start:  Some people have recently confronted me with the fact that many people don’t believe that there is a God (or that he is not who he says he is).  A few people have even unfriended me on Facebook out of anger because I say what I know to be true (How’s that for religious tolerance?  I could understand leaving my website group, but wow…).  They think that my approach to reasoning through these discourses is flawed because I assume that everyone agrees that God exists. The thing is, if we are going to be held accountable for the things we did here on earth after we die, and if God did reveal his word to us which we are expected to obey, and he did make the atoning sacrifice so that our sins could be forgiven provided that we believe and behave in accordance with that belief, then that changes everything.  To not mention God in my arguments would be to say things that I don’t believe to be true.  If you want to say anything about how to live life at all, you have to choose whether you’re living for yourself, or living for the Creator.  I happen to know God, and I happen to talk to him every day through prayer and the study of his word.  I don’t simply think he exists; I know he does and I’m in very good company.  I will never post anything outside this context.  Moving on…

Not professional in the sense that one is trained and very good at what they do, but simply in that one makes most of their income from writing and playing music.  My new CD, Purpose, is hopefully coming this June (although it may end up being later since life keeps happening) and it has been causing me to reflect very deeply on the purpose God intended music to serve.  Each purpose that I’ve considered while writing the music for this project does not seem to require the existence of professional musicians.  While the project itself proves that a very high artistic level is pleasing, it is being done by students who will probably never make the majority of their income from performing or composing.  If I myself stay the course I am on, I will never be a professional composer but I will be a teacher.  For some time now I’ve been bitter about this and have had a desire to make a valiant attempt to work out a way for professional composers to actually exist to the extent that I could hope to become one.  But I’m beginning to see that the purpose of music can be fulfilled without people generating most of their income from it.

At this point we have to establish what purpose God originally intended music to fulfill.  My subjective explanation is that the all encompassing purpose of music is to communicate difficult concepts decisively and in a different way.  For example, I was told by many people that my abortion piece provoked tears.  This indicates to me that the music effectively communicated what I intended, which was to depict abortion for what it is.  Obviously, God has blessed that work with the ability to communicate its intended message very effectively.  To me this is a clear demonstration that music can teach us things that can be difficult to express in other ways.  That piece taught me personally just how awful and devastating abortion is, and yet I’ve perceived countless hours of very good presentations devoted to the subject.  Once I finished that recording and listened to it, I understood  the situation much more clearly than I ever had previously.  “Music is communication.”

In order for this purpose of effective teaching/communication to be fulfilled, musicians being paid is not at all a prerequisite.  Replace my proposed purpose with something else and you will most likely be able to reach the same conclusion.  Extensive knowledge and skill is a prerequisite, but myself and all of the people I call my peers are already fulfilling these purposes and none of us are making a living by making music.  Apparently music’s purpose is being fulfilled without any significant amount of money being paid.

I suppose I must now address how I justify undergraduate and graduate level studies while knowing that my education is relatively useless for generating a larger income.  As believers, since when has anything God led us to do been for the sake of our own selfish pleasure?  Since when has God called us to make an enormous commitment like college in order to indulge our desire for more wealth?  My education in music composition has not been for the sake of me generating an income, but rather to serve by effectively communicating truth that can’t be expressed in any other way.  I would not be able to write like I do had I not had the training that God clearly called me to endure.  Graduate study has been the only way for me to be prepared to serve the church in the way that God wants me to serve.

Don’t just give a gift, be a gift.

Send Caleb a message!

Blog Subscription