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This is why pastors should be educated in music and worship

hymn-singing9Marks published that “some elder should exercise oversight over picking the music and all the other details of the worship service.”

I agree with Lawrence for all the reasons he listed; there is simply too much at stake in choosing music for corporate worship. The songs we sing are more than simply good truth set to music we enjoy; they are–text, tune, and performance–tools and teach and shape our minds, our wills, and our affections. Something that significant requires pastoral oversight. I’m thankful that many pastors are once again recognizing their critical role in leading their churches in this matter, a role pastors used to value but gave up long ago.

I don’t think that elder necessarily has to be the primary preaching pastor, nor do I think that “oversight” necessarily means he micromanages the choices and chooses every song sung, although there are often many reasons this would be the case.

But there is one very important implication of this philosophy: pastors–or at least the pastor who has such oversight–must be educated in music and worship.

We can easily recognize why such an elder must be theologically astute: he is making decisions in song choices concerning what kind of doctrine is taught to the minds of the congregation. So many theological problems have been perpetuated in churches because musicians with no theological education were making all the song choices.

But we must also recognize the significance of the musical vehicle used to carry that doctrine, namely, the music. Just as the lyrics teach and shape the mind and will, so the music (tune and performance) teach and shape the heart. Lawrence hints at this when he talks about music being “culture shaping.” He’s right: the music itself shapes the culture of the congregation and either supports or prevents the biblical goals of the service.

This is why someone who appropriately has so much oversight over such a powerful tool must have an understanding of how that tool works. If pastors are going to recover their role as those primarily responsible for the musical choices, pastors need education in music and worship.

Unfortunately, for years this kind of education hasn’t been a part of the curriculum of most seminarys training men to be pastors. Martin Luther said he would not ordain a man who didn’t know music, yet today we have many pastors making pronouncements about what kind of music should be sung in churches who honestly don’t know what they are talking about. What’s worse, even so-called “worship leaders” are no longer expected to have education in music. I heard recently of a popular “worship leader” and song writer who can’t even read music!

I applaud the pastors who are reclaiming their rightful role as worship planner. Ideally, churches will seek out elders who are educated musicians (Luther had his Walther, Gerhardt his Cruger, and Calvin his Burgois), but of course this is not always possible. If it is not, and this good trend continues, I hope these pastors realize the importance of having a good education in music and worship. Kevin Bauder wrote an excellent article here fully explaining why this is so important.

If you are a pastor, you are recognizing your responsibility in this area, yet you are woefully inadequate when it comes to music, then here are some things you can do:

  1. If your church is able, seek out an elder who is educated in both theology and music who can oversee the musical choices in your church.
  2. Bring in theologically competent musicians to spend a short time with you, helping you think through the issues involved in choosing good hymnody, and even consider having them teach a seminar to your people as well. I am often invited to churches to do this very kind of thing.
  3. Pursue additional education in music and worship. The seminary where I teach, for example, offers a distance degree in worship and music specifically targeted for pastors who want additional education in these matters.

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is director of doctoral worship studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.