What is the purpose of music in a worship service?

What is the purpose of music in a worship service?  Nearly 20 years ago, I read an article on this topic in Light and Life magazine, and it has stuck with me ever since.  I wish I could recall the author, but my memory isn’t that good. But what that author wrote has shaped my perspective on this topic ever since.

We need only look to Psalms 100 and 150 for encouragement as to why and a few methods for praising God.  We are to declare his greatness and glory with singing, blowing on things and banging on things and strumming on things to make a joyful noise.  All of us, all the earth.  But what are the roles of music in a worship service to accomplish the purpose laid out in Psalm 100?

There are three roles or postures as it pertains to music in a worship service:

Audience

Prompter

Performer

There are three entities in a worship service:

God

Congregation

Worship/tech/speaker

When the purpose goes bad, it’s when one of the entities takes on the wrong role.  God, being omniscient, can’t be wrong with His role, so we’ll give Him a pass.  By the way, God’s role is the audience.  It’s pretty clear in the Psalms above, that is what God’s role is.  That’s the perspective from which the remaining two entities should take their view of their roles and postures.

So this leaves the prompter and the performer roles if God is the audience.  Now, we can easily presume that the worship team/speaker are the performers, but that leaves the prompter role to the congregation.  But the purpose of a worship service is not to get the congregation to fill the role of a prompter.

No, if God is our collective audience, then the congregation have the role and responsibility of performer, and the worship team/speaker has the role of the prompter.

When ‘worship wars’ happen, one can ALWAYS categorize the issue as one of the two non-God entities taking on the wrong role and posture, very often taking on the role that’s reserved for God.  Things go bad whenever we do this, and we are all guilty of wanting to be God in some way; original sin and all that.  When the congregation thinks that they are the audience, it’s the root of the style fights, that the congregation is there to be served, when if the congregation would take on the role of performing an act of praise to God as their primary posture, the style issues begin to melt.

Or, when the worship team makes the mistake that it’s their role to perform, that’s when the extended guitar solos come out, the over-decorated singer-show-off display happens, the light show that rivals Las Vegas, etc.  No, the role of the worship/tech/speaker team is to prompt the congregation and participate in an act of praise to God, our audience.   The individual members of the congregation can also help to prompt each other, to encourage each other to place their focus on proclaiming God’s glory and goodness and greatness and graciousness.  It’s an exquisite privilege to be able to prompt as a worship team member, and to perform for God as a member of the congregation – it’s not something we get to do every day.  Next time you are in a worship service, hopefully soon – consider this privilege and look to your fellow congregants as one giant joyful noise making machine for God.

To summarize – for a healthy perspective on how collective, corporate worship can happen, remember these roles whether your role is on the worship/tech team or as a speaker, or as a member of the congregation:

Worship team and speaker prompts;

Congregation performs;

for God our audience.

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