“And now Mrs. Smith will favor us with her ministry of music.”
You don’t hear that phrase often anymore, at least not at the churches most of us frequent. But in an earlier time and place there was “special music,” often abbreviated as “the special,” which usually preceded the message, or if the soloist was given two slots, one early in the service and one just before the preacher.
Mrs. Smith would choose a piece from the selection of “sacred music” available, perhaps a song form an album by Steve Green, or Evie, or Sandi Patti, or if the church was Pentecostal, Janet Paschal. Or perhaps she would delve into a back catalogue of perennial solos from an earlier era.
Today’s worship musicians have a different role. They lead us into worship, they certainly have more profile, and they are involved in choosing a greater number of compositions. It’s a much greater responsibility, which means that in larger church environments, people doing this ministry are on paid staff.
But the worship is something we do ourselves. The worship leaders prompt us in directing our voices heavenward to God, or in proclamation of God’s deeds and attributes to each other. (To say “How great is our God” is horizontal; to say “How great are you, God” is vertical.) The songs minister to our spirits and we trust touch the heart of The Father, but we don’t receive ministry from them in the same sense that Mrs. Smith’s song would convey doctrine, or in the case of a really rich lyric, teach theology.
In a way, Mrs. Smith’s ‘ministry of music’ complemented the pastor’s ‘ministry of the word.’ For those of us who caught part of that era, the songs taught us Bible stories and Bible truths; gave a testimony of salvation, healing or deliverance; or described aspects of the Christian life.
Today’s worship songs extoll God’s virtues and character, but generally cover a smaller compass of available topics. If I got up on Sunday and struck a chord on the keyboard and began, “I was sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore;” my words might sound either too poetic or too egocentric.
The depth of feeling and emotion today is far greater, but the catalog of available expression seems a lot more limited.
In an ideal worship service environment, there would be room for both; though not necessarily the same material that Mrs. Smith would use.