Who is worship actually for??

So the question was asked – as follows:

How do you balance professionalism in music in worship but still be inclusive?

Great question. Important question. Here is what one of the most highly-regarded gospel choral directors working in the Seventh-Day Adventist Church had to say about this:

I’m going to throw in another perspective. The ministry in the Old Testament temple – the Levite ministry – shows us the way; when it comes to the worship service, you need to use experienced people who know what they are doing. Other services/programmes can incorporate musicians who are developing, but worship is an offering being presented to God, so we need to make sure it’s a presentable offering – not an offering in the making.

In the temple, students and teachers alike performed their services, so it wasn’t just the ‘graduates’ but the ‘undergraduates’ – but as they were students, they were being trained in the system, and no doubt were given things to do according to where in the system they were. If it was playing a cymbal, or carrying the cymbal case, (I’m just guessing here, so please do not take this as authoritative) until such time as they graduated, I am sure there was some organised way of taking them through the system. The underlying point here is that they were chosen for a specific purpose, and had to qualify for that role.

Conclusion: have an organised way of incorporating appropriate musicians for worship. Musicians not suited should not be given a responsibility for the worship, but can be included in other areas of church music life which [does not specifically involve worship services].

[note: some may say ‘it’s all worship’, but that is not the case. Again, the Old Testament shows this most clearly, as it is talking about a theocratic system. Within Jewish life there were ceremonies, temple services, and festivals. The Levite role was concerned with a specific aspect; in that system ladies were not allowed to perform certain roles (that was then, not now!); it’s possibly for that reason why tambourines, normally played by women, were not typically found in the temple services; however on occasions of celebration, such as Miriam / Deborah, the ladies led out; and there is the basis of my point: there are many parts of our Christian experience as SDA’s : Sabbath School, AYS, evangelism, etc…, but when it comes to the worship service; that which is being offered to God as an offering – it requires those who are called for that purpose.]

The sanctuary was not set up like a church. Your Bible / SDA Commentary will have diagrams of the sanctuary, and you will note that it is not set up as seats facing one way, and those leading out facing the other. The choir did not face the people; the choir faced the altar! Why? It was about worship, not performance.

The current set up we have (please set me on the right track if I am mistaken – I do love learning!!) is based on the idea of ‘teaching’. You can see how the buildings are big, ornate, and where does the priest/vicar/preacher stand? Facing the congregation, and very often above the congregation – which suggested the congregation – the laity was lower than the priesthood, (maybe it was so they could be seen by shorter people, but we know enough about Christianity’s history to know that priests were [often] seen as ‘rulers’).

The New testament churches were house groups – very practical, people oriented.

We have an expression in our churches where we talk about ‘up there’ or ‘at the front’; strangely enough (I say this in jest) the pulpit is seen to be the ‘front of the church’, yet the ‘front entrance’ is the opposite end of the pulpit. Just a throwaway comment – don’t take it too seriously.

So we have this mentality of the worship service being those ‘up there, at the front’; we watch/listen to them pray; we watch them sing – we give our approval by soft amen, loud amen, very loud ” A – MEN!!’ or applause; sometimes on the rare occasion ‘standing ovation’; they sing a ‘special’ item (let me say it in proper church talk, they ‘render a special’). We introduce the preacher, and give his/her list of credentials, a short biog about them!

So it all becomes performance, and not worship. Hence, we then want to ‘give people a chance to perform’ to include them in the service, because we are very much ‘performance minded’. We may even say ‘didn’t she do well’ after the performance? And we call this worship to God.


I am not advocating a cold church where people don’t encourage; that’s not my point; my point is based on the original comment which said ‘music is worship’ and not just ‘music in church’. My encouragement to us all is that we encourage a move to worship which dispenses with introductions of items and human beings, congratulations of human beings, and is just God focused – all about lavishing God with praise, and not sharing it with any other human being.

Use the Sabbath School – which is a more workshop/creative programme; AYS, which again is more free;, and other programmes to help develop and encourage talent, and when people are ready to have this awesome, even life/death responsibility of leading people to worship God. (Life/Death statement may seem a bit extreme, but Israelites were led into worship …. of a golden calf!) A worship leader has a frightening responsibility!

At some point there will be a follow-up to that post, but for a number of regular and not-so-regular readers of this blog, there is some serious thinking to be done…

A recent devotional for a gospel choir

It is amazing when the Holy Spirit works in ways and at times you really don’t expect.

For those of us who lead choirs that comprise entirely of members with their own Christian faith, every rehearsal should be an opportunity to affirm individual and collective faith. Sometimes the ‘devotional bit’ is nothing more than a clich√©. On other occasions, it can be a way to really bring the members of the group onto the same page with regard to who they are and why they do what they do.

If you are a choral director and genuinely serious about mission, then devotional work is part of the story. Working in ministry alongside music means that there are always things to hand when it comes time to take a devotional with a choir or group. But on Sunday gone I did something different, and the effect of it tells me that I am supposed to spend that kind of time planning the devotional part of the rehearsal along with the musical and technical stuff! So as some of these choir members have asked me to email what we did with them, I realised that it could maybe help others – hence this blog post.

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Because I had eight people, I had eight ‘elements’ – but that is an arbitrary number. However, the intensity of discussion means that however many are in your choir, I’d not suggest you have more than eight.

The ‘elements’ in this instance are pieces of paper which were placed in a receptacle, from which the members picked one each. I conspicuously paired four quotations with four Bible passages, but the idea of mixing them up was to jut let the ideas float out and then pull the strands together.

The four quotations:

All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity; but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men [and women], for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible” (T.E. Lawrence).

If you can eat anything you want to, what’s the fun in eating anything you want to?” (Tom Hanks).

The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world that it leaves to its children” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer).

About the only thing which comes to us without effort is old age” (Gloria Pitzer).

The four Bible passages:

  • Deuteronomy 6:20-25
  • Proverbs 20:4 (multiple versions is an excellent idea)
  • 1 Corinthians 6:12-15
  • Joel 2:28

See if you can match them up yourself…

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You may wonder why this level of thought is necessary for the purposes of preparing to sing praises to and about God. Surely the musical stuff is more important? I mean, that’s what the listeners are actually going to hear, right?

I’d say that if that’s where you’re at, then you may never have experienced what it means to perform music with more than knowledge of the ‘right notes and rhythms.’ That is only the beginning. We then have to ask what the music actually means and that’s not a game for lightweights when it comes to the gospel message. If all we offer is the sound of the music – because that’s all we have – then that’s all we’ll get. But if we offer more than that – because we really actually thought about what we wanted to say and how the music was going to facilitate the process of saying it – then that is what the listeners will receive!

Amazing, isn’t it? We think that music performance is what we do, but too many of us never realise that music practice is like Christian faith in one big way:¬†who we (actually) are is what people see and remember most.