Needs are everywhere. People are anxious for their jobs, their finances, and the state of the world around them. They worry about the safety of their children, long-time security of their employment, and their wayward children or ailing parents. We seem to have too little time to handle the ever-growing list of expectations that we either impose on ourselves or others hand to us.
While technology helps us to accomplish many tasks more efficiently, it also makes us continually available and connected to others, and we are left with little time to retreat and reflect. Commuting from bedroom communities in the suburbs for long distances means constant traffic negotiation and less time at home with our families. In short, we and the people to whom we minister in our churches have unprecedented needs — they need pastoral care in ways beyond what we sometimes believe we can offer.
Without pain, we have no need to offer healing. Without despair, the hope of the gospel is not ours to share. Music has the unique power to embody the hope, healing, and encouragement that are sometimes lacking in our world.
The church and the worship of God that we embrace has never been so badly needed – it is a gift that we are able to offer in abundance.
As discussed in my last post, music plays a powerful (almost addictive) role in the lives of many – particularly younger people. They are constantly connected to music, and it can both determine and reflect what people are feeling and thinking.
The immense power of music coupled with the fact that it will form the soundtrack for many people’s daily work offers immense possibility for the church. While some may tend to view music as passive, music has the power to change our moods, move us to action, teach us important lessons, shore up our tired souls, and give us courage to face another day.
Music as healing
Music has the ability to be a balm for our tired and troubled lives. Providing music in worship that acknowledges both the pain and loneliness that we experience while also offering the hope of wholeness in Christ is a part of our ministry responsibility.
The combination of melodic lines and soothing harmonic structures can wash over us and offer cleansing and new perspective. The sounds of music can seep into the cracked places in our hearts and replenish the emptiness that results from our parched lives.
Just as David sang to Saul in his fits of rage and depression, the words of comfort and truth of our songs can calm us when we are distressed and offer possible healing for our emotional and physical wounds. As leaders, we have likely experienced the healing effects of music, and we are graced to offer it to others.
Music as encouragement
Music can encourage us when we are down. It can offer us resolve to put one foot in front of the other. It can inspire our forward movement, and it can help to lift us out of the pit of despair.
When we are lonely, it can assure us of God’s presence and the presence of others. When strong melodies are paired with words that speak of God’s faithfulness and trustworthiness, these songs can offer perspective in times when seeing reality can be challenging.
Music as solidarity
When we are stressed, lonely, discouraged, and we feel like giving up, singing songs that we have heard others sing offers new-found hope. Joining in corporate worship and hearing the voices of those around us offer praise to an ever-faithful God assures us that others walk the path with us.
Even when we are unable to make a musical sound because the grief inside our hearts holds the tidal wave of emotion back from our throats, others can sing for us. They can sing the songs that we are unable to sing for a time, and they remind us of a coming day when we will again be able to sing with abandon. The mere presence of others singing around us is a living sign that we too will again sing the “songs of Zion in a strange land.”
When we are unable to believe on our own, the gathered community can sing for us. They can serve in a surrogate worship role until we are again on the way to recovery and can rediscover our own voices.
Similarly, when we sing songs from our rich Christian heritage – songs that Christ followers have sung for decades or centuries – we are reminded that no path we will ever walk is untraveled. We do not walk alone – for even Christ himself knew despair. All those who follow Christ will experience pain, and music offers us the assurance of our deeper connection to those who have gone before us and those who walk beside us in this day.
So what are we to do with this rich yet challenging time to minister through music and worship? How are we to serve faithfully in the “good time to be a music and worship leader?” Here are a few simple suggestions:
Sing songs that represent the entire Christian experience
In many of our churches we have a penchant for singing only songs of overt praise – mountaintop-like songs that can gloss over the pain that is ever present among us. Vary these upbeat and sunny-day songs with song that acknowledge that there is always pain around us and inside us – always closer than we want to admit. In addition to big hymns with a loud organ or robust songs with full band, sing songs that are soft and meditative and alter their accompaniment or sing them unaccompanied.
Sing songs from various historical time frames
While songs from today can speak to where we are in this time, songs from our rich heritage can assure us that our problems are not new and that others have also walked this road. Perhaps nothing can speak more loudly than the sheer persistence of God’s musical embodiment continually reaching out to us throughout time. Songs that engender both this biblical and historical reality can run deep inside us and comfort us.
Be open to sharing stories
Many songs for worship have meaningful stories that portray the circumstance around which they were written. Shared succinctly or in print, these stories can inspire us and add context to a song. Consider moving beyond the well-known hymn stories and be on the lookout for contemporary and updated stories.
Share music in a context
Rather than always singing songs in a set or uninterrupted by words and story, use scripture to add context to a song, use testimony to offer deeper and more profound meaning, use a story to make a song’s message connect. Also consider that different songs can function differently in different places in a worship gathering. Place songs carefully, and provide meaning for how they might be experienced in this particular service.
Encourage and embrace those who are writing songs that share pain
Not too many years ago, it was difficult to find songs within newer worship materials that dealt directly with pain and suffering; fortunately, many newer songs are now being written that address pain. As you encounter songwriters, lyricists, and tune writers, encourage their work in ministering to what is likely the majority of those who gather in our congregations – those in pain.
Acknowledge your own pain
Lastly, risk being vulnerable about your own pain. None of us are immune from the pain of our circumstances and lives. Find ways to share meaningfully your pain with others in order to be honestly seen as a fellow struggler. Often as people are coming into our church’s worship space on Sunday mornings, I imagine each of them pulling behind them large bags –- rejection, misunderstanding, lost opportunities, regrets, and more.
As I lead on Sunday morning, I could be fearful that we might fail to sing beyond all the baggage (mine and theirs) that vies to snuff out the prominent voice of the Christ who died that we might all be redeemed. Yet, we sing to a God who is able to accept all the pain and disappointment we can offer. We can rest secure in the knowledge that we are put in this time and place in history to lead the church in worship of a God who can be fully trusted.