There are a thousand good and bad ways to use music in a church service. Here are just five hopefully good ideas which combine both Biblical truth with practical advice…
1. Use music to help the congregation engage both mind and heart with God
There is no stronger reason to sing in church than the Biblical command to ‘Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16)
It is a profound truth that as saved people, Christ lives in us and we live in him. And God uses our singing to actually help that happen. So when you sing in church – or lead singing in church – remember the great responsibility you have. You are taking part in God’s ministry of teaching his word to his people – to both their hearts and minds, and are part of the means by which we honour, praise and serve him in response to his grace.
2. Use music to show both our distinctiveness from society and relevance to our culture
Church music doesn’t, and shouldn’t, sound exactly the same as the music of the world. The content of our singing is the gospel of grace, the deep and profound truths of salvation and our response of prayer and praise. And the emotions that this should generate will far transcend the shallow attempts of popular music to express worldly love and passion.
However, we should be open to musical styles which are current and innovative. Colossians 3 does not prescribe the way we perform music in church. And as long as every other motive is right – we should look to use styles that are attractive to the outsider (and the insider!). To some that will be pop, for others a more anthemic style, and for other again something more traditional.
3. Use music in variety of styles – but done well
And following on from point 2 – think about how to avoid just playing the standard ‘middle-of-the-road’ pop that tends to predominate in contemporary Christian singing. There are a lot of really interesting genres of music you can incorporate into your church music. But better still I would go for the style that suits the actual skills you have available to use.
Perhaps you might need to think about how to play traditional songs with a contemporary edge. That way everyone gets to benefit from the great classics of Christian song writing.
But it goes without saying that whatever you styles you incorporate, it should be done well. Often you will get a better result trying simpler songs, in a simple style – rather than over-reaching with songs that are too hard for your church to sing or musicians to play.
4. Use singing to allow authentic emotional response to the preached word
Another great use of singing flows again from Colossians 3 – the emotional response to the Word dwelling in us richly. The particular emotion mentioned there is thankfulness. But there will also be a range of appropriate emotions that people should be feeling after any particular sermon – often thanks – but equally sorrow, joy, the desire to trust and obey (if that can be classed as an emotion!), etc. The post-sermon song is the one to really try and get right – as it is one time that we can corporately respond to God having spoken to us in his word. It helps take the seeds of application that are in our heads and plants them in our hearts. It goes without saying that you need to plan this well with the preacher so you are saying the same thing in both sermon and song.
5. Use music to create energy or vibe or feel
OK – this sounds a bit like I am suggesting using music to emotionally manipulate people. And that is true to the extent that any external stimulation affects how people feel. I am all for getting the lighting right, and keeping the church building clean because it makes church a place more comfortable for people to come along to be taught and to serve.
When it comes to music, each song we play will have its own emotional angle to try to communicate. Although I find that in general, churches struggle to create drive and energy in their music – and that applies to both slow and fast songs. There is much I could say on how to achieve drive, but in short – if you are the musician or band – try to anticipate, or play ahead of the beat – but without speeding up! And against what might seem the intuitive thing to do – try to remove all unnecessary rhythmic movement. On the piano, for example, just thump out the pulse without lots of arpeggios that will cause you to lag. This simple technique will instantly change something from sounding dreary to something with vibe.