Considering Music’s Functions in Worship

Do you ever contemplate music’s function in worship.  I don’t mean this song, or that song, but the bigger picture of how music works in worship.  If you have read these columns at all you know that I am one to encourage reflections on all aspects of worship to deepen understanding, and to discover valuable gems that may lay beneath the surface.  When I discover something I have not seen before, or look at something in a new way I like to call others’ attention to it, especially if I find it particularly enriching in my own experience.  Contemplating the function of music in worship holds potential to unearth some discoveries for you and me regarding worship’s mystery and its effect on life and faith.  It also seems critical that we do so from time to time as those who have responsibility for selecting, preparing, and leading music in the worship life of our congregations.

In her article on Music in Worship Kathryn Nichols notes the dichotomy between words and music that causes us to consider them separately when contemplating music’s role in worship.  Along that same line another author cautions that we sometimes assume that because we have considered words we assume we have considered the music as well.  It seems important to think about each of them separately as well as together.  Nichols continues to reflect that “music in combination with text sung to God’s glory becomes an event.” (Kathryn Nichols, “Church Music as Event” in The Complete Library of Christian Worship, Vol IV).  Thinking about this event is important as we leaders think through how song will be prepared, presented, and reflected upon in the flow of worship.  This is far more than providing for a satisfactory key relationship and segue that seems to “fit.”  Consider this; projected on the screen is a set of words.  Played by the instruments, music floats around the room addressing the ears of worshipers.  Married together for corporate expression both words and music take wings and become the expression of our corporate and individual response, confession, or praise to God.  We may sing our proclamation, or demonstrate outwardly what we sense internally, and this proclamation bears witness to His grace and our faith.

Nichols goes on to recognize that an aspect of repetitive singing is that we begin to believe what we sing.  The music of the church has been powerful to instruct our faith and worship.  Spiritual formation is an easily recognizable function of music.  It helps us discover, but it also helps us remember; not only in the moment of the singing event, but later when the tune continues to escort the lyric through our mind’s eye and into our conscience in times of need, or celebration.  We need to evaluate music not only by its “hook” that keeps it in our heads, but also by its suitability to carry a sense of the character of the words to which it is wed.

Singing binds us together and forms community.  This is a powerful reality that is far too easy to miss if we become enamored with our own performance, or preoccupied with the excellence of the music for its own sake.  In this action music can give us a vision of what it means to be one in Christ.  Music that fosters a bold unison in proclaiming Christ can drown out discord and aid in the rally of our hearts.

Music offers opportunity to serve one another through our singing, and even our listening, and reflection on the moment.  I have recently written in our state Baptist paper on the subject of intergenerational worship.  I’ll not repeat that information from the “Church Health Matters,” but will reiterate how important it is that we recognize our need to serve one another through our singing and music, which includes serving generations other than our own. (Phil 2:3)  What a privileged opportunity to be Christ-like in our singing!

Praise, Prayer, Proclamation, Story, Grace Gift, and Offering are all perhaps the most obvious functions of music in our gathered worship.  It is the careful responsibility of the worship music leaders to study the material to be slected


Explore posts in the same categories: Singing Worship, Uncategorized, Worship Reminders, Worship thoughts

2 Comments on “Considering Music’s Functions in Worship”

  1. Bob Hull Says:

    Thanks for the great article, Paul. I have thought about the sonic event of church music and it’s impact on “worship” itself. In other words, how does God use or not use the sounds we are making? How does He take our sound, plus the motives and intents of our hearts, combine it with the lives we have lived or failed to live and with our relationships to each other and then have impact for the kingdom? If our choir is not balanced and we have poor intonation, and yet our hearts are on fire for Christ, can God use us more than the perfect sounding choir who may be singing just to impress?
    What about people who won’t sing in church? They say their voice is not suitable for singing in public – even congregational singing. Will these truths we are singing find their way into the depths of their hearts just the same as those who sing? How will their voices ever improve if they don’t used them. Are they disobeying scriptural commands that say, “Sing!”?
    “Let those refuse to sing who never knew our God…”
    No reply needed, as I am just thinking on my keypad here.
    Have a great day and keep writing to help us think about what we are doing and why!

    • pclarkjr Says:


      I must reply. Your ponderings are precisely the kind of thoughts I love to have stirred in my own heart and help to stir up in other leaders. I will be bold enough to say I do think that refusing to sing is a disobedience to biblical mandate. As a leader I know I cannot coerce people to sing, nor should I stand in a kind of judgmental pose. I firmly believe, though, that as a pastoral worship leader it is right for me to bear some of the burden of their non-singing, which by the way IS a response in worship – it is a response of “no.” It breaks my heart to see people with arms folded displaying displeasure or disinterest while we sing the praise and proclamation of our God, yet I also recognize that I do not know what is happening in their heart and mind, and must continue to submit my own spirit to one of love for my brother or sister in Christ, while continuing to make my effort drawing the attention to Him. All of these things are part of the reason I am convinced music presents the mystery of interaction with the Holy Spirit in a unique way, and deserves our most careful attention as leaders who place revelation and response through song on the lips of our people. Bob, I commend you for your thoughtfulness and reflection on the mystery of worship with a love and concern for your people.

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