Music as ministry



John W. Richmond, Ph.D., is professor and director of the School of Music at the University of Nebraska, Hixon-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts, Lincoln, Nebraska. He has been a guest at Salvation Army music camps over the years. Here he shares some reflections on the ministry of music.

Have you ever considered how pervasive music is in our corporate worship? It doesn’t matter what your church background, it’s simply impossible to find a religious tradition that doesn’t make rich use of music (and art and storytelling and, in the case of the Old Testament, dance!).

Have you ever wondered why this is so? Why is it nearly impossible to imagine worshiping, praising, petitioning, glorifying, and interceding without the aid of hymns, songs, and other forms of sacred music?

First, it seems obvious that, as Christians, God commands us in Scripture to sing and play instruments as a part of our worship. Most of us know that the Psalms are filled with admonitions to make music as an expression of praise and worship (see examples in Psalm 33:1-4; Psalm 57:7-9; Psalm 66:1-2; Psalm 81:1-2; Psalm 71:21-23; Psalm 100:1-2, and many others). Fewer of us may remember that many other verses likewise record the central functions of music in our spiritual journey.

Think of Paul’s observations concerning our “…teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Colossians 3:16-17). Perhaps we forget that after Jesus pledged that he would not drink of the fruit of the vine again until he drank it new in the Kingdom of God, that he and the disciples then sang a hymn before departing for the Mount of Olives (Mark 14:25-26). Throughout the Scriptures, we find good authority for the robust infusion of music into our worship experience.

Second, I think we are “wired” somehow to find meaning and purpose in our lives, including our spiritual lives, in musical ways. There now is good evidence emerging from cognitive science suggesting that “musical intelligence” is one of a very few discrete “intelligences” we have by which to interpret our lives and our world. We once thought that people were smart or not so smart. That is, we thought of intelligence as a unitary trait. No more. Howard Gardner (Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences) and his colleagues have identified several discrete and largely independent ways that humans “know” their world. Perhaps it is no
stretch, then, to think that God desires that we “know” him musically.

Finally, I think it is no accident that the first verse of Scripture reveals God’s creative nature. “In the beginning, God created…” (Genesis 1: 1). This is the very first truth he reveals about himself in Scripture. Might it be true that one of the best ways we can live “in his image” is to imitate his creative nature by engaging in creative ways of experiencing him?

Music as ministry—and opportunity—and an obligation!

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