What common errors do churches make when thinking about music?
- They hire musical professionals instead of training elders. Churches sometimes hire a “minister of music” who is musically gifted but unqualified for spiritual leadership in the church. This individual then runs the church’s public services. There are two problems with this setup. First, a church should focus on developing men to be elders who can oversee the affairs of the church, not on hiring specialists who can do one task but are not qualified to lead the church more broadly. A certain amount of specialization may be inevitable as churches increase in size, but this should not come at the expense of a man’s spiritual qualifications. Second, the elders of the church have the responsibility to oversee all of the public services, including the music, because it is all part of the church’s teaching ministry. To give a non-elder unilateral authority over the music is to usurp the authority of the elders.
- They aim at a tiny subset of people. Many churches determine their music based on who they want to reach. They’ll play punk rock if they want to reach punk rockers, artsy jazz if they want to reach sophisticated urbanites, light contemporary music if they want to reach baby boomers, and hymns with organs if they want to reach the older crowd. The problem is, the church is meant to be full of different kinds of people—young and old, rich and poor, sophisticated and simple, and people from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. If we tailor our music to a specific group of people, we alienate everyone else.
- They use triumphalistic music. Some Christian music makes the Christian life sound like a continual emotional high, which hops from one joyful cloud to another. Such music lies about the Christian life. We live in a cursed, fallen world. We battle with sin. We face discouragement, suffering, grief, and loss. Yes, in all those things we are more than conquerors, but the music we sing every Sunday should reflect the breadth of Christian experience rather than giving the false impression that Christians are always happy.
- They use music to manipulate emotions. Somewhere there’s a line between using music to help a congregation’s emotions conform to the truths of a song text and using music to artificially inflate or overhype a congregation’s emotions. Finding that line for any given setting requires prudence. What’s appropriate in a concert hall or rock concert, for instance, may not be appropriate in a church gathering. Also, finding that line might differ from one culture to another. Yet no matter the setting, church leaders should be leery of promoting self-deception among the sheep. They should avoid shepherding the sheep into exaggerated emotional experiences that fool them into thinking they have attained some level of intimacy with God which does not characterize their moral and spiritual lives throughout the week.