What Is Your Philosophy of Worship and Music?

Anyone who has interviewed for a church music position knows some questions are almost guaranteed to be asked: “How do you motivate volunteers? What style of music is your favorite? What does the ideal relationship between clergy and church musician look like? How do you feel about choir robes?” Tough questions, but not too difficult to answer. There is that one dreaded question, though, which is seemingly impossible to answer: “What is your philosophy of worship and music?” Whether you have been asked this question directly or not, you do have a philosophy that manifests itself in how you practice church music. Spending some time developing—even writing out—your own philosophy of worship and music is a valuable exercise that can have a direct, positive impact on your music ministry. Try this on your own, or together as a worship/music committee.

Here is a two-step approach I have used to develop my philosophy of worship and music. First, I answer the fundamental question, “What is worship?” One of my favorite biblical passages is Exodus 15:1-21, which describes the Israelites’ impromptu worship after crossing the Red Sea. We read first the Song of Moses, and then we read the Song of Miriam, who quotes her brother’s song. From this passage, five foundational principles of worship emerge:

  1. Worship is focused on (or directed toward) God; it is not focused on us.
  2. Worship is communal. In worship, women and men, children and adults, recount the shared salvation experience of God’s people.
  3. Worship is participatory; it is not simply a performance of one or a few.
  4. Worship is language-based and culturally intelligible.
  5. Worship is didactic. Worshipers of all ages are both instructed and edified by worshiping God.

Each point could be fleshed out further, and more could be drawn from this passage, of course. But, this five-part description of worship helps to lay the groundwork for my second step. Now I answer the more practical question, “How do you choose music for worship services?” Here is my ten-part approach to this issue (in no particular order!):

  1. All texts sung in worship should reflect the theology of the local church. (Denominational hymnals—and their supplemental resources—are an invaluable help in this regard.)
  2. Music used in worship should be rooted in the historic Church’s vast repertoire of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, springing forth into new expressions from the present day.
  3. Musical selections should fit the season of the liturgical year and should relate to the scripture readings, sermon theme, and other elements of the worship service.
  4. Each musical selection should be well-suited to its position in the worship service (prelude, opening hymn, offertory, closing song, etc.).
  5. Music used in worship should be culturally intelligible.
  6. Musical selections should be within the performing capabilities of those performing them. (However, there is always room for growth!)
  7. Music used in worship should foster participation by the assembly—familiarity, performance style, key/range, tempo, and dynamic threshold are critical factors to consider when preparing corporate worship music.
  8. The entirety of music used in a worship service should, ideally, exhibit both variety (of key, tempo, mood, instrumentation, etc.) and continuity (nothing should seem jarring or out of place).
  9. In all musical selections, text and music should be well-suited for each other. (Metrical indexes can help church musicians find more suitable tunes when necessary.)
  10. Not all music need be language-based. Instrumental music free of any textual association can be an effective means of grace to God’s people.

What would you add from your own philosophy of worship and music? Share your comments below!

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Tim Shaw

Timothy Shaw studied theology and music as an undergraduate and graduate student, and he has enjoyed a multi-faceted career as composer, college professor, music engraver, and church musician. He has presented workshops, academic papers, hymn festivals, and reading sessions at numerous conferences, churches, and universities throughout the United States. His publishers include Augsburg Fortress, Beckenhorst, Choristers Guild, Concordia, Hope, Kjos, MorningStar, and Shawnee.

Comments

  1. Music lyrics, style, tempo should promote attitudes of worship consistent with our relationship to God and what He has done for us. Appropriate attitudes according to scripture are: thankfulness, joy, and reverence. Unfortunately, some songs are chosen because they become popular on Christian radio but they don’t fit these principals.

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