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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.
Scott Aniol

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is Chair of the Worship Ministry Department 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.

13 Responses to This is why pastors should be educated in music and worship

  1. The 9Marks men miss the point of musical choice. Sure, the music should teach and admonish, but they leave out “to the Lord.” It’s sung to the Lord. If you miss that, you miss everything. Everything. It seems you need leadership, because they’ve got to find the sweet spot of people’s taste, knowing what will result in keeping the most people and losing the least. He admits that pragmatism is what is most important in making choices — at least he’s honest.

    One, don’t think about what God wants, because you’re thinking about what will “teach” and “admonish.” Two, choose a blend of pieces that will satisfy the most people, so that your church will keep more for pragmatic reasons. Three, music doesn’t mean anything, so whatever music you want will go. Four, you need a church leader for this, because if you leave it up to church vote, depending on how old your congregation is, you’ll lose a big chunk of people, who will go searching for their desired experience elsewhere.

    I drove by a theater in a different town recently that was being used by a “church.” They advertised themselves as a show that people could attend on Sunday. They would also be relevant, according to the sign.

    The article was sad. Very sad. And sick. I understand that wicked and sick are used as positive adjectives today, like wicked good and a sick jump shot, but in this case I mean them in the denotative way.

  2. Alan,

    But isn’t it also to the people, if only in part? Most people read the “speaking to one another in psalms,” etc in Eph 5 and Col 3 to refer to corporate worship. And David, in Psalm 63, speaks of seeing God in the sanctuary. Isn’t it directed primarily to God, but secondarily to the people?

  3. Hi, Alan. I’m with you on the necessity of God-centeredness and avoiding simply giving people what they want, etc.

    But I want to push back a little. Ultimately, worship is appropriate response of our hearts toward God. I want to stress that I said “appropriate” so you wont’ misunderstand what I say next.

    With that in mind, I do not believe that music is for God. God doesn’t listen to the music and somehow become impressed by that. Rather he receives the appropriate affections of our hearts.

    Music is for us. Must is what both shapes our hearts and gives us language for expression of our affections to the Lord. So in that respect, it is still utterly important that the right music is chosen that shapes us appropriately and gives us appropriate language for expression of our hearts. So here, too, I agree with you that musical choices should not be left to the whims of people.

    But that’s where I don’t think what Lawrence suggested was necessarily problematic, and as I said above, I see this a a reason that musical choices should have pastoral oversight, IF that pastor is trained and equipped to make those kinds of choices.

    Does that make sense?

  4. Scott,

    I’m surprised by what you wrote here. It doesn’t reflect what I read in the Bible, and it’s the first I’ve heard it from you. Is this in your book? No one is saying or has said that we play so that God would be impressed by our music. That little part reads like added for deniability. Who said that?

    Words are a language. Music is a language. God enjoys beauty. He wants them. He calls for them. They are offerings to Him, and they aren’t just spoken language, but musical language. I would have assumed you believe this.

    “(unto him)play skilfully with a loud noise.” Psalm 33:3.
    “upon the harp will I praise thee, O God my God.” Psalm 43:4
    “sing praise upon the harp unto our God” Psalm 147:7
    “praise him with the psaltery and harp.” Psalm 150:3

    On his music, Bach wrote “to the the glory of God,” not “music is for us.” All in heaven sing — Jeremiah 51:48, “Then the heaven and the earth, and all that is therein, shall sing for Babylon: for the spoilers shall come unto her from the north, saith the LORD.”

    I would be interested in one verse that teaches that the music was given to us by God to shape our affections. I would wonder if you could clear something up: “Does God listen to the music we sing and play to Him?”

    I believe you are reading way to much into your referred article. Those people do not believe or practice the regulative principle. Those people view music as amoral. The article reads like the church leader is a necessary referee to keep people together through the worship wars that plague the church.


    Men are taught and admonished as a byproduct. It never says sing to people. Sing among God’s people to God. It’s a very important distinction that seems to be missed by most of evangelicalism.

  5. Again, Alan, it’s ultimately for God’s glory of course, and that’s exactly the point. Music that shapes us in ways that enable us to glorify him with our affections can rightly be called God-glorifying music. Conversely, music that shapes us in debase ways does not glorify God. So I completely agree that we can praise God with music, for example, as you illustrated with many biblical passages.

    But I would still insist that God doesn’t “listen” to our music per se. Of course he does, but that’s not what determines our acceptability before him. And by acceptability, I mean in a Romans 12:1 sense, not in an eternal sense, of course.

    And yes, this is perfectly consistent with what I have written in my books. I make a big deal about the fact that the power of music is its ability to shape us and give voice to our affections, and this is why it is so critical that we choose appropriate music.

    I’ve also addressed this very thing elsewhere, such as here:

    As to other scriptural support, I agree with David. Colossians 3:16 both speaks of our singing to one another and (as with Ephesians 5:19) identifies the heart as that part of us that is taught through music. Then we “sing with our hearts to the Lord.”

    I understand your concern: you are afraid that a man-centered focus on music will necessarily mean that we need to appeal to man, poll people to see what kind of music they like, etc. I hope you’ve read enough of me to know that I don’t mean that at all!

    What I mean is that music is a teacher; it teaches our hearts. Since worship involves right response of our affections to truth about God, it is imperative that we use only music that shapes our hearts to respond rightly. All other music fails to bring glory to God because it shapes our hearts in ways that are inappropriate.

  6. Scott,

    I’m not sure I’m with you here. I might be, but not from what I think I’m reading. It really doesn’t matter if I’m with you, but whether I’m with God — but hopefully that would be a given with both of us.

    I don’t think we are like a radio station or mp3 player that God can tune in to, in order to have music to listen to. He likely can do much better than what we have to offer. The point though is that the music He does hear from us must be acceptable to Him. It must be holy, not conformed to the world, beautiful. He is listening to it. Why play skillfully if it doesn’t matter? He wants us to give Him better music. I think you could compare bad music to giving him a lame cow. Yes, that lacks in affection, but it’s also just unacceptable.

    Our affections and the shaping of them is important and I think one can argue truthfully that music relates to those, but the Bible doesn’t explicitly teach the latter. It does teach that we should offer God what He wants and we know what He wants and what He doesn’t want. We can’t praise Him with something contradictory to His nature.

    Your folks at 9Marks don’t think there is a music God wants to hear, that we can know at least — they think God could accept rap or grunge or hip hop or rock or heavy metal or country — so musical taste is shifted back to what people like. The article was about the leader having the skill or sensitivity to make sure that the choice works best for the congregation. What qualification of the pastor meets that job? I don’t think there is one — that is more in line with a business owner. “Teaching” and “admonishing” is a cop-out on this to say, “see, see, see, people’s taste is a part of the equation.” I don’t think you should bite.

    Look at Col 3:16 in the Greek. There isn’t a strong argument there for teaching and admonishing through music, which is why I say it is a byproduct at best. I don’t even think it is what Col 3:16 is teaching.

    A literal rendering is: “The word of the Christ, let it dwell in you richly in all wisdom: teaching and admonishing yourselves, [I believe a break should be read here] and in psalms, and in hymns, and in spiritual songs, in grace singing in the heart of you (plural) to the Lord.” First, you teach and admonish people with the Word that dwells in you richly. Second, you sing to God psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. If this was such a major teaching, then why would it be found only one time in the entire Bible? That should be suspect to all of us. It is likely not found in Colossians 3:16, and without it there, it would be found nowhere else. However, singing to God is found dozens and dozens of times. Exclusively, really. The other side proof texts here, I believe, like cults proof text certain verses to make their point.

  7. Scott,

    I decided to look at what Calvin’s comments were, because I thought that might be more authoritative to you, and it reads like my exegesis above:

    And you might respect John MacArthur, so you’ll see it is his exegesis too, here:

    I looked afterwards.

    So I decided to look at how John Piper dealt with it, and he did the same way:

    Because I thought you might think of it as authoritative as coming from him.

    I’m not saying you won’t find people saying that we use songs, hymns, and spiritual songs to teach admonish one another. I’m just saying that it’s lame to buttress so much on so little.

  8. In contrast to the links provided, you may want to read Bibliotheca Sacra 158 (July-September 2001): Vol. 158, No. 631; Pgs. 347-369, CHURCH MUSIC AND COLOSSIANS 3:16 David F. Detwiler; Associate Pastor, Branch Community Church, Harleysville, Pennsylvania.
    which argues on the basis of the grammar that the verse is united. When one understands the organic unity of The Spirit (as in Eph. 5:19) and the Word (Col. 3:16; see also Gen. 1:1-2; John 3:3-7/I Pet. 1:23; Eph. 6:17-18), this study makes much sense; especially when connected with such passages as I Chron. 25:1-7.

  9. Of course, there is one easy way to guarantee orthodoxy in the singing of praise, which is to employ the book of Psalms, exclusively, as has been done in ages past by the church, and is still practiced in branches of the church such as the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA). In the RPCNA, the elders, in their corporate capacity, approve the various psalters which are published by Crown and Covenant, the RPCNA’s publising arm. Therefore, it is not simply one elder or minister which makes the decisions, but the church corporate.

  10. Valid point, but while it would guarantee orthodoxy, it would not guarantee orthopathy since we do not have inspired tunes. Hence my reasoning for why the elder in charge of choosing the music (including the tunes and performance practice) needs musical training.

    Of course, to build off your reasoning, I also advocate depending on the Church catholic for helping us make decisions regarding the tunes we sing as well!

  11. Does being trained musically allow you to choose what is best vs. what is not as good? Or is the training necessary to differentiate between sinful and holy music? The one thing lacking in your responses and in your article above is what the training does for the music director. What is it that the training allows him to determine/analyze/see that the untrained eye cannot? Or what would a trained director of music do differently with the music itself that an untrained director can’t do?

    I’m an untrained director (surrounded by very trained musicians) and would love to have additional training. I have theological training, but not musical training. It almost seems like you are placing music on the same moral level as the theology in the lyrics and that starts throwing up red flags to me. What is it about the musical training that places it at a theological level of importance as opposed to the training simply helping us to better worship the Lord through song? Not sure if I got that across clearly!!

  12. BTW, I know there are advantages to being trained musically, and I would like to hear from someone that is trained so I can determine if the sacrifice that would need to be made is greater than the benefit of being trained.

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