Home Worship Planning Music Resources Importance of Music in Worship

Importance of Music in Worship

(NOTE: This article was written by Hoyt Hickman, formerly the director of resource development for the Section on Worship of the Discipleship Ministries, for the first issue of Jubilate!, a newsletter for United Methodist musicians published by the Discipleship Ministries in the late 1980's and early 1990's. It is reprinted here in its entirety.)

If we want our churches to be alive, our worship must be alive. And if we want our worship to be alive, our music must be alive.

Most of us find that music reaches and expresses our deepest feelings far more powerfully than words alone. Few of us would want to worship in a church where there was no music. If we experience worship as boring, we probably have experienced something lacking in the music.

Think of the high points in your church year such as Christmas and Easter. Can you imagine them without music? In fact, music may well be the first thing that comes to mind when we recall these high moments.

Week in and week out, what makes you feel "at home" or "not at home" as you worship in your church or visit in a strange church? Chances are that the kind of music you hear and are asked to sing has a lot to do with your feelings.

Music is something we both hear and sing when we worship. This is related to the fact that worship is both call and response. The call of God reaches the depths of our hearts with special power through music, and our singing expresses with special power the deepest response of our hearts to God.

When we recognize the importance of music we do not detract from the centrality of Word and sacrament. On the contrary, music adds immeasurably to the power of Scripture and preaching, prayer and sacrament.

We not only hear the Bible read in our worship, we also hear it sung. In Handel’s Messiah a long succession of Bible verses becomes unforgettable. Most of the great anthems are settings of Scripture.

Think how weakened our preaching would be if it could not be preceded by a hymn of preparation and followed by a hymn of invitation or response. Worse yet, suppose the preacher had to preach without any kind of music before or afterward. For that matter, think of the preaching and witnessing done through gospel songs such as "Precious Lord" or "He Touched Me." Someone has said that singing the Doxology Sunday after Sunday has done more to teach faith in the Trinity than all our sermons on the doctrine of the Trinity.

Augustine tells us that when we sing, we pray twice. Rarely does a congregation pray so powerfully as when singing a great prayer hymn such as "Breathe on Me, Breath of God" or "Spirit of God, Descend upon My Heart." Prayer as praise almost demands to be sung: "Alleluia! Alleluia!" "Holy! Holy! Holy!"

The inherent power of the sacraments is brought out by music. How much a good baptism hymn adds to holy baptism! What a world of difference it makes when a congregation is receiving Holy Communion if they can be singing familiar and beloved hymns and songs and choruses all the while! How much more the responses in the ritual mean if they are sung by all the people in their "musical heart language" rather than simply read in unison or sung by a few brave souls in some strange and forbidding musical style!

The music makes a difference in how everything else in the service goes. When we all have been lifted to the heights through music, the pastor and others who lead worship are inspired to preach and lead with greater freedom and power. Those who worship in the pews find their hearts and minds opened to hear more clearly and receive more fully the good news that is the gospel.

Yes, and when we scatter into the weekday world, we do so with more God-given power if there is music echoing in our hearts and a tune on our lips.

All this tells us why the hymnal is, with the Bible, the basic book of worship for The United Methodist Church. It is a book we rightly cherish, a book for which we feel ownership, a book about which we have strong feelings.

When we revise our hymnal once in every generation, we experience a crisis; that is, a time both of danger and of opportunity. There is the danger that we will throw away or spoil the very heart language of our faith. There is also the opportunity to renew and empower that heart language.

Copyright ©1989, 2002 Discipleship Ministries, P.O. Box 340003, Nashville TN 37203-0003; telephone: 615-340-7073; worship web site: http://www.umcworship.org. This article may be reproduced for local church or education nonprofit use without charge or further permission required — provided that this copyright clause is included in its entirety on each copy.

Posted 3-2-02

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