A number of years ago, I read this helpful post by Mike Cosper, who in turn is building on the work of Harold Best. The framework they put forward has stuck with me as a useful tool to help evaluate what we are doing as Christians who make music.
“What type of music?” I hear you ask. “You mean music on Sundays at church? Or music I make as a Christian musician in the world?” Both are covered. And not just the making of music, but our whole engagement with music and the arts in general.
Cosper and Best’s framework for the arts can be a useful thing to have up your sleeve when working through issues of style, skill, context, and the general discipleship of our musical brothers and sisters.
The three broad categories they discuss (translated to music here) are:
- Music for the church
- Music from the church
- Music facing the church
Music for the church is the music we make in the context of the church gathering in order to serve God’s people.
Music from the church is the work of the Christian musical artist in the surrounding world, communicating truth through their musical labours.
Music facing the church is all the other music out there that we will want to engage with as Christians, including the music we consume.
The key tasks in each context, as far as I can see, are: serving (for the church), telling (from the church), and engaging (facing the church). You can explore these more by reading the original post.
Confusing the Contexts
I think this is a really useful framework to log somewhere for reference. It brings clarity and generates plenty of application. Many of the difficulties we face in stewarding God’s wonderful gift of music stem from a confusion of these contexts.
For example, when gathering to sing God’s praise as a church family, the main focus (musically) is serving the truth that is being sung by the particular family that is gathered. That isn’t to say we put no effort into artistic creativity but that this creativity is always a servant of the sung word.
Secondly, when it comes to helping our pro and semi-pro musicians and singers, it is tempting to think that the primary location for using their gifts should be the local church. After all, their skills would greatly enhance the quality or our music, won’t they? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. The difference often comes down to a clear understand of the context and purpose of their playing and singing in church. If they are willing to adopt that posture of a servant and adapt accordingly, it can be fruitful. If there is confusion between the focus of their day job and the focus of their church service, it can be unhelpful – both to them and the congregation.
Thirdly, as we consider the works of art and music around us in the world, our temptations range from one extreme (we should be cheerleaders for everything) to another (we shouldn’t go near any of it). In reality, the cultural contexts we live in have an influence on us, including our styles of music and church gatherings in general. Neither slavery to the surrounding culture nor unnecessary detachment from it are ultimately helpful. One risks the holiness of the church, the other risks portraying the church (and therefore the gospel) as irrelevant to human creativity and culture.
With the framework clear, where can we go to dig deeper into our different roles in these contexts?
Here at Music Ministry, we’re all about equipping the church to sing the word. We hope you find our conferences and resources useful in the category of music for the church. Do get in touch and let us know how we could serve you and your church better. On this subject of serving, Andrew Towner has written a much more in-depth article that is really worth reading (grab a hot drink first!)
As for the labours of Christians in the music industry, some of the team here are experienced in discipling those seeking to be faithful followers of Jesus in this area. Again, drop us a line if you’re looking for advice or help with this. I would also recommend checking out the work of Alastair Gordon and Morphe Arts, and the discussions James Cary and Barry Cooper have been having about this subject on their podcast. We’d love to know if you have other recommendations of faithful believers engaged in making music in this from the church category.
When it comes to music facing the church, let me point you to this excellent new book by Dan Strange, who encourages us to enter, explore, engage and evangelise the views we encounter in the music all around us, as well as the things that we we watch, read and play.
Music is a wonderful gift of God. We would do well to pay attention to the different contexts we encounter this gift so that we can serve, tell, and engage, to God’s glory.