Music Should Edify the Church

Featuring Bob Kauflin Posted on November 13, 2010

When someone insists that we should only use the best music to worship God, I scratch my head. Is the best music simple or complex? Written or spontaneous? Short or long? Do they mean the best aesthetically, pragmatically, emotionally, or historically? We usually already have in mind what we mean by “best,” and it often says more about our preferences than our theology.

As I understand it, the best music enables people to genuinely and consistently magnify the greatness of the Savior in their hearts, minds, and wills. That's a standard that will never change from culture to culture, generation to generation, church to church.

To flesh out this standard of excellence in your church, you'll probably have a musical center that effectively communicates to most people in thecongregation. The songs sung in churches in rural Idaho, downtown Manhattan, Nottingham, England, and Bharuch, India are going to sound different. They should.

When it comes to innovations, remember that Scripture doesn't mandate that we push the envelope, artistically speaking, on Sunday mornings. Artists will always be searching for new and fresh ways to express their gifts, but congregations must be able to hear the message without being distracted bythe medium. When we meet to worship God, we're not aiming to glorify creativity but the Creator.

And as a practical matter, edifying the church means using songs that everyone can sing. What's on my iPod isn't always the best place to start when I'm picking songs for congregational worship. I need to think through the musical level of the people I'm leading. I generally look for songs with melodies between a low A to a high D that are easy to learn and hard to forget. I also try to avoid complicated rhythms.

But churches can be taught to sing songs that are initially unfamiliar and even complex. I remember introducing Matt Redman's “Let Everything ThatHas Breath.” The verses have an unusual rhythm that can be difficult to pickup, especially for older folks. But the song has a number of strengths. It passionately declares God's worthiness to be praised. It combines an outward focus (“calling all the nations to your praise”) with an admonition to the church(“if they could see how much you're worth”). It also speaks to generations worshiping God together (“praise you when I'm young and when I'm old”).

So we taught it. Over time the church learned to sing it together, and sing it well.

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