Thoughts on worship, congregational song
and the life of the church.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Philosophy of Music Ministry

How often as worship leaders do we put into words precisely what we believe about worship, how we feel music functions in the worshipping church, and why we do what we do? Below is my attempt to articulate the nature of my vocation as a minister of music, written for one of my classes at Perkins School of Theology.

My passion for music and church leadership can be traced back to a recurring role as a ukelele-playing shepherd in the Christmas play at Beaches Presbyterian Church in Toronto, Canada. While my ukulele career never blossomed, I have continued to expand my practice of music ministry through choral pedagogy, liturgy planning, leadership at international conferences, and leading elementary, youth and adult ensembles. My approach to worship is informed by a love for both drama and music, and my performance experience both as an actor and a musician (including choral and solo singing and piano performance). My interest in musical leadership is deeply tied to my interest in the inherent drama of worship. As a member of the Network of Biblical Storytellers, I make use of any opportunity to tell scriptural stories by heart and to encourage others to do likewise, both as a spiritual discipline and as a way of embodying the stories of our faith, in the incarnational spirit of the Word made flesh in the gospel of John.

My approach to music ministry is collaborative. I believe that worship is strengthened when many people, spanning diverse ages and backgrounds, lead worship together. Christ's Church is a body made up of many parts, and it is the unique talents and strengths of many individual members coming together in concert that make us whole. In sharing the leadership of worship amongst many members of that body, we recall the original spirit of the word "liturgy" – "the work of the people."

My approach to music ministry is invitational. I believe that a community is strengthened by singing together. Congregational singing is a means for the Church to express its faith, to give corporate praise to God, and to call the Holy Spirit to work in its midst. Singing is a means to celebrate joy in the community, to cry out in anger over injustice, to pray for healing from anger or hurt, to build one another up, and to strengthen each other to go into the world in faith. By singing together in worship, using a range of musical forms integrated in the liturgy, worshippers enter more fully into prayer and praise, and in doing so deepen the worship life of the Church.

My approach to music ministry is cross-cultural. We are blessed to be one part of a Church body that is present in almost all parts of the world. Our particular Christian expression is one facet of a wide breadth of global Christian praise which manifests itself in song, poetry, liturgy, literature, drama, dance, drumming, and reverent silence. We are inheritors of the Church which was established at Pentecost, on a day when people from all corners of the world spoke in their own language, and all understood. By singing the songs of Christians from South America, Africa, Asia and beyond, we enter into their particular expression of praise. This in turn can enable us to push at our own boundaries a little, to live into the theology of the wider global church, and to expand our understanding of God's vision for us as followers of Jesus into "the whole inhabited earth."

My approach to music ministry is playful. From its earliest days the Christian Church has been innately aware of the drama inherent in worship. There is a certain heightened aspect to our worship which I believe only comes when we enter into praise with body, mind, and spirit. Children teach us this lesson when they so easily move their bodies to music or play make-believe. As Children of God, we are called to enter fully into the "holy play" of worship. This can take many forms, from reverently intoning the Lord's Prayer to joyfully clapping our hands as we sing a Caribbean Psalm setting. Like the many faces of Christianity, worship has many faces, and in entering into worship in a spirit of play we have the opportunity to both deepen and broaden our expressions of praise.

As amusing as it is to picture me in the Christmas pageant (tea towel on head, ukelele in hand), I now realize that this experience was a deeply important part of my childhood expression as a Christian, and my participation in the life of the church. There was room for my quirky gifts in the Christmas play, and in this way, there was room for me at the Table. I grew up with a sense that I was a vital contributor to our church community, and so as both my abilities and my understanding of my gifts grew, I was eager to give them back to the congregation that helped to raise me. Now, I remember how formative those experiences were for my faith when I work with children and youth.

It is my belief that this philosophy of music ministry is one which can enable a congregation to own its unique piety and style of worship, while at the same time reaching across boundaries of time and place to embrace the experience of the wider church; to sing into an abundant life offered to us by a boundless Creator.

1 comment:

  1. thank you for reminding me of so many spiritual truths. I am a children's choir director in Texarkana Texas, and you have given me motivation for the day