MUSIC MINISTRY – IT “AIN’T WHAT IT USE TO BE.” OR IS IT?
I am preparing to move my office. As most of you know the TBC has sold the Baptist Center at 5001 Maryland Way and will be moving. You know what this means….lots of stuff to go through. Lest it be thrown on the trash heap (not by me) Charlotte intercepted ten years worth of issues of The Church Musician, a periodical formerly published by the Baptist Sunday School Board (now Lifeway), which she promptly brought to my office and set in the floor. The oldest year represented by these bound volumes is 1958. Mind you I was five years in old in 1958. I could not help but thumb through the pages. The pictures were a bit humorous, and the music material nostalgic. Photos of women at church in their pillbox hats signing their kids up for children’s choir made me smile. I remember seeing my mom dressed exactly like that and there was never any doubt but that whatever was going on at church, especially choir, this “P.K” (preacher’s kid) would be participating. As I looked through the magazines, a voice within kept chiding, “Man! Have times changed!” The more I perused, though, the more I realized that many of the issues being addressed in this August 1958 magazine were issues we still contend with in present day. Don’t get me wrong, I recognize that references to the Church Music Record System, suggestions of concerted efforts through Training Union, and the idea of using music directors in Sunday School Department assemblies, are probably not commonplace vernacular for many of you reading this article.
Everyone knows the practice of Church Music Ministry has undergone voluminous changes over the last several decades. If you search the internet for images of what music in the church looks like nowadays you are quite likely to see guitars, drums, lights, microphones, and platform stages. On the other hand, images of church music from say the 1960’s or 1970’s would likely have been pictures of choirs in robes, pianos, organs, maybe some handbells, possibly other orchestral instruments, and would likely have included depictions of children and youth singing and playing music.
Much could be said about the changes that have taken place in the church’s practice of music-making in worship ministry… and perhaps you are thinking, and correctly so, that indeed much has been said, and not all of it has been constructive. Regardless of what any of us think about the state of Church Music now, or “way back when,” the fact of the matter is that in our day there are many different ways that our 3000 plus Tennessee Baptist churches practice music as ministry week in and week out. There is a very wide variance in the styles of music that are sung and played in church services. The style of music and the atmosphere of the worship environment determine much of what else takes place in music ministry to support the worship environment. In churches where a choir is a central part of Sunday worship, music ministry likely still includes the developmental groupings needed to sustain choral music. Preschool – Children’s, and Youth Choirs are likely included in the church’s weekly scheduling, at least for eight or nine months out of the year. Churches that use more rock-influenced music for worship likely depend on youth and children’s worship environments to set a pattern for upcoming worshipers. Musicians in these settings often get experience by being part of a student worship band. Though there are certainly exceptions, systems for training musicians in the more “contemporary” style settings generally are rooted in experiences of on-the-job training. Leaders work to provide and/or find opportunities for younger players and singers to perform. While more models of purposed musical and spiritual development are emerging, it would be far reaching to say these have crystalized into the kind of systemization of more “traditional” style music ministries. It makes sense, since that is the nature of “contemporary,” and maturation continues.
This whole blog could have been written about the discoveries within The Church Musician, August 1958 edition. Musical selections included choral hymn arrangements, a song for evangelistic emphasis, and service music. Articles by notables like W. Hines Sims, and Tommy Lane (both who served in Tennessee) reflect the organizational approach common to the industrial age. Interestingly, however, I found some writing to be apropos to our day, and the spirit behind ministry approach to be a much needed long lost friend in our day. Which choir leader would not still be interested in having choir members read “Ten Ways to Please Your Choir Director?” Who would not want their worship leading forces to be engaged in “Interpretive Singing,” an article interestingly written about a woman music ministry director in a “small-town-and-country” church. Or what about an issue near and dear to my heart in “So You Want Good Congregational Singing?”
Why do these article have issues in common with us today? At their core they deal with human nature – which, by the way, at its root is unchanged. They also presuppose that the music ministry leader has an innate desire to progress in effective ministry. While this is presumptive on its face, and a point of contention would be situated in the question, “What does it mean to have effective music ministry?” But I choose to find a common thread and continue to see that in all of you who lead, though in very different settings, in very different ways, and nowadays using a wide variety of completely different music. Our God is still the same! Lost people need the Gospel! The Church needs ongoing renewal! Whatever gifts and talents in our churches, they are for ministry to the glory of God! Let’s come together warmly and often to hold one another up, and band together in the marvelous ministry through music.