The Role of Music in Worship
There is a fine line between enjoying worship and enjoying music. I think it is helpful to have a good understanding of the role of music in worship in order to personally avoid this pitfall. We tend to look at music as a means to provoke emotional and spiritual experiences. Playing a certain song, style, or arrangement of music can stimulate specific emotions to listeners.
Minor chords express a more somber tone; major chords express a more hopeful and joyful tone; consonance brings peace, and dissonance brings tension; resolution brings a sense of completeness, where sustained unresolved tones bring expectation. Fast tempos and loud dynamics bring energy, strength, and power; slow tempos and soft dynamics set an atmosphere for tranquility and reflection. Changes in dynamics can be used to build anticipation, strengthen a lyrical motif, or even keep a repeating stanza interesting.
The point I’m trying to make is that we respond to all sorts of musical queues with different emotional, soulful, responses; an emotional response does not necessarily mean a worshipful response. Moreover, we respond emotionally to all sorts of situations, good and bad, religious and secular. I confess that I can get incredibly pumped up and excited for a FSU National Championship Football game, even more than singing worship songs on Sunday morning. (Yeah, I’m not perfect yet either.)
But worship is more than emotionally responding in song and declaration to a well performing band or choir. Our worship first and foremost begins in our intimacy, our closeness, with Christ. Music and art are merely vehicles that we use to express our responses to Christ. Worship is a response to a revelation of God: His goodness, His love, His mercy, His majesty, His faithfulness, His strength, His provision, His holiness. When we encounter God through revelation, which can simply be understanding who He is in a new and profound way, we respond in worship.
Furthermore, worship should be sacramental in nature. I’m not suggesting that our worship is a sacrament; that category we leave only for the real presence of Christ experienced in baptism and communion. But we can still view things “sacrament-ally”, and worship truly is an outward and physical expression of an inward and spiritual intimacy with Christ.
Emotions in worship should be in response to what the Holy Spirit is doing inside, whether that be rejoicing, lamenting, submission, reverence, awe, wonder, or any number of expressions. We should get goosebumps in worship from the Holy Spirit’s presence, anointing, peace, conviction, and movement, not from the “good part” of a song’s climax.
Worship is not using music as a tool to provoke emotional experiences and responses out of people. The role of music in worship is ultimately a means of expressing our internal intimacy, revelation, and relationship with God. This is one reason that I’m continually leaning toward more simplified forms of music in worship, focusing on the repetition of deep truths. It helps me to get myself out of the way, the music out of the way, and invite the Holy Spirit to move.
About the Author
Kevin Cook is a 4th year student at Asbury Theological Seminary and an Aspirant for Ordination in the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA). After graduating, Kevin hopes to plant a contemporary three-streams Anglican Church. He and his wife Nicole attend Wilmore Anglican Church in Kentucky.
Kevin holds a Bachelor of Arts in Music and a Master of Business Administration from Florida State University. Kevin enjoys playing music and leading worship, reading fiction and spiritual classics, drinking coffee, and spending time with family and friends.
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