Music That Worships, People That Worship, People That Worship Music, Music That Peoples Worship

James Teel

Music shall relate to the majority of worshipers on a comfortable culture level. . . .

The crucial question every worship leader must ask himself or herself is whether or not their cherished style of music is honestly fulfilling the worship needs of their congregation and enlivening the church body toward service.

Before you read on, I would invite you to consider the excessively long title I have chosen. It is not a product of indecision, but rather a short play on words that may cause you to think. What do the phrases mean to you?


This phrase sounds like a wonderful title for a treatise on uplifting music. It has a flaw, however: music is incapable of worship. To worship, according to Webster, is to show devotion or reverence for, to have intense love or admiration for someone or something (such as a deity). These emotions require a living being (for purposes of our discussion, let's say a human being).

It is true that a human being can write a piece of music as an act of worship. Another may sing or play the very same piece as an act of worship also. Someone else may be listening to this performance and worshipping as he hears the music, but clearly the music by itself is not the worship nor the worshiper. It is a vehicle which helps carry and contain the act of devotion. It must be started and directed by human hands and hearts.

Music is capable of inspiration, but inspiration is not worship.


Worship to God is human love, energized by His Spirit, responding to a revelation of Divine love. This revelation must be based on personal and relational knowledge. The intimacy of worship will vary with the intimacy of the relationship. It is more than a mere acknowledgment of divinity. Even the demons cry out the name of the Lord when in His presence. It is an actual offering of oneself as a sacrifice. It is pleasing to God, not appeasing.

The individual who is motivated by fear rather than forgiveness cannot understand. The one seeking to please God through meritorious action will think it a terrible waste of time. But the soul that opens to the grace of God will know how to worship and Whom to worship just as surely as the flowers know to face the sun.


I love it. I love to play it, to sing it. I love to hear it. I love to talk about it with others who love it. I subscribe to magazines about it. I've given up hundreds of hours of sleep to write it. I've forgotten to eat meals and, on occasion, to keep dates when I'm immersed in it. I've studied it and I've taught it and cannot imagine another with a greater admiration for its diversity, art and beauty ... but I am greatly disturbed when anything, even music, is left unsurrendered to the Spirit of God.

I have known of Individuals who ceased to minister with their considerable God-given talents just because someone else in the church wanted to worship in a different style or perhaps with a technique they considered too unpolished. I have seen those with a claim to enlightenment hold whole churches hostage to their personal taste while another with a cause to advance marches right over the top of the wounded in the name of what is "right." Can music, or anything for that matter, really be so important?

Is the worship service the proper forum for the advancement of the pure art of music? Some believe so and become quite agitated at the notion that music might be used" to influence and affect peoples' perceptions. People must be trained to recognize the best in art, they maintain, and understand it on the artistic level for which it was intended.

My reply is that I believe there is an education process that needs to go on in our worship services, but it is not music education. The classrooms and the concert halls provide those opportunities. Worship allows us to meet as brothers and sisters with shared basic needs and joys and to express them fully and freely on equal ground. The last thing we need is an artificial caste system imposed upon worshipers according to their cultural sophistication.

As to whether or not it is proper to use music for non-artistic purposes, I have to ask myself, "If the flesh and blood of God's own Son could be used (and even abused) in order to convey God's message of love and reclamation, how can any mere art form be too important not to be used for the same purpose?" The way some people speak of music you would think it was, as a friend of mine once described, "The fifth member of the Godhead, right next to Truth!"

Music is a medium. We didn't create it. It is one of God's many gifts, meant to be enjoyed, shared and, yes, used to enrich our lives. We probably don't do it very well by heaven's standards, but that's all right.

Someday, in that holy place, it may become the means we use to communicate with each other all the time. It doesn't hurt at all that we try to learn and practice, perfecting our skills. But let's not lose perspective. The God who remembers stooping down and running our ancestral clay through His fingers is not easily fooled by our attempts at self importance.


"Thou art holy, 0 Lord, 0 Thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel."

(Psalms 22:3)

God loves His creation. Every sparrow, flower and tree is known to Him. The heavenly angels gather around Him with praises. They adore Him and He them. His special joy, however, is that group of human beings on planet Earth who have chosen to accept His redemption and be led by His Spirit. As two or more of them gather in prayer, study or worship, He is with them personally. The elements in the worship service should serve to acknowledge His presence and allow the worshiper to enjoy Him.

Church music too often keeps God at a distance. He certainly is the awesome Jehovah God, the One who calls the highest heaven His home and refers to earth as His footstool. His majesty and power are justly reflected in mighty anthems of praise, hymns should be sung to his glory. He is also Abba Father, the understanding Daddy you can talk to when no one else cares or will listen.

There is a great need for authenticity and intimacy in worship. People are longing for the touch of Jesus now just as they were when He walked the Galilean hills. And just as the Pharisees tried to stop Him then, there are those today in leadership positions who try to enforce a "by the book" religion. They are afraid things might get out of control." Out of whose control?

In an effort to help worshipers express their joy and desire in a more immediate way, many churches have introduced music which is of a more contemporary or popular style. The idea is that by coming closer to a style of music that moves people emotionally in their everyday lives, you remove a cultural barrier and, hopefully, allow the participant to find a deeper, more personal meaning in the songs he is singing. Also you broaden the participation of the members by providing musical idioms which more people will be motivated to master ' and styles that feel more familiar.

As I have listened to discussions about quality control in the worship service, I realize there is an Old Testament model still in place in the minds of any - bring the finest you have, the very best, the "lamb without blemish" to offer before the throne. Nothing but the absolute BEST will do. I agree. That's why God chose Jesus!

We who live on this side of Calvary can see only one acceptable sacrifice, the ever-living Lamb of God. Anything else that we bring into our worship services has merit only if it lifts Him up and helps us to internalize Him through His Spirit. "Christ in you, the hope of glory" is the saving mystery revealed according to Paul, and even the most culturally refined presentation of the fine arts (uplifting and inspiring though it may be) is far from a complete "sacrifice" if it fails to show integration and response from the congregation or if it serves to keep God at a distance.

In the Old Testament times worship was conducted by those who were specially chosen and trained to act as priests and to offer up sacrifices of praise and repentance on behalf of the common man. They were the arbiters of the quality of your burnt offerings as well as the administrators of your act of worship. This system, though often abused, was ordained by God to teach aspects of both Christ's priesthood and His coming sacrifice.

When Jesus came in the flesh to offer Himself as the fulfillment of this system, some interesting things happened. First, He officially took His rightful place as our High Priest, and second, He declared those who will accept Him to be a holy nation and a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2). The redeeming sacrifice had been offered "once and for all" and the responsibility for the administration of the believer's daily worship now lies with the believer himself (or herself).

What we often miss in all this is the fact that there still exists an appropriate sacrifice which God's priesthood of believers is called upon to make. In Romans 12:1 Paul makes a clear statement, "Therefore I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God - this is your spiritual act of worship."

Giving worship to God on Sabbath morning in an active and authentic manner (yes, even a lively manner) is our New Testament sacrificial service. In Hebrews 13:15 we read "Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise - the fruit of lips that confess His name."

From all of this I deduce that no one can do this for you. Individual participation is a critical part of any meaningful worship service. This may be why Ellen White so often encouraged the worship leaders of her day to let the singing be done by the congregation as much as possible and not by a few people only. The same principle could apply to prayer and the reading of scripture as well. Widespread participation in the offering is a noble tradition we already encourage!


Ten Commandments for Choosing Worship Music

James Teel

Having discussed at length the theology-and philosophy of the issue, let me get down to some practical points. Here are my Ten Commandments for Choosing Worship Music.


Music shall provide a focus on God - His character, His works and His presence.

Worship should be God's time. He should be the theme of our song. As far as possible I like to use songs which address God directly and personally to underscore the sense of His presence. Hymns about God are fine, but hymns to God are even better. Music about our human experiences should always point to God's good works in our lives and to victory through Him alone.


Music shall strengthen the personal relationship between the believer and Christ.

Knowing God is more critical than knowing about Him. Music can create many opportunities for a worshiper to release things that are obstructing the connection between him and his Savior. Also new revelations of His goodness may come through, increasing the believer's appreciation and faith.


Music shall allow for both the receiving of and the expression of the Holy Spirit.

Songs that appeal for a decision, songs that petition God for the gift of His Spirit, and songs that allow a response of conviction from the worshiper all have their place in the service.


Music shall be purposeful.

Know what you want to accomplish or convey with every piece of music and words. Determine the flow of your programming as well. Where do you want to start and where do you want to end? What experiences do you hope the worshiper will find in between? Don't include something just out of loyalty to tradition. Is it needed? If so, could it be done in a better or fresher way? Don't use music as filler!


Music shall be balanced in heart and mind.

Paul says to pray and sing with the spirit and with the understanding. Too much heart can become emotionalism, too much head, intellectualism. Give me a reason to believe and an opportunity to celebrate my belief.


Music shall first encourage participation, then meditation and lastly observation.

We have already discussed this. Worship is not a spectator sport!


Music shall relate to the majority of worshipers on a comfortable culture level.

It is critical to spend time getting into the heads of your church membership. I'm convinced that a large segment of the baby boomers and busters will find renewed vitality in their worship services when contemporary Praise and Worship music is included, but it is not necessarily for everyone. I can conceive of meaningful worship happening through a large variety of musical styles. The crucial question every worship leader must ask himself or herself is whether or not their cherished style of music is honestly fulfilling the worship needs of their congregation and enlivening the church body toward service. Is it meeting the other criteria listed in I through VI?


Music shall have quality in its construction without complexity in its structure.

This is a bit more subjective in nature. I'm sure that you can think of several examples of well-written songs which are also quite simple. I think of Amazing Grace as an example. These songs often become classic favorites of congregations from generation to generation. Their simplicity allows for a variety of styles of arrangement to fit your congregation's interests. Most important, a simpler song invites participation fom a larger portion of your church. The level of acceptable complexity, of course, will vary from church to church.


Music shall rely more on fresh expressions of God's Word and less on trite cliches.

When I look for a new song to include in the service, I am always delighted to find one with lyrics from Scripture or paraphrased. If the song is one of experience, I want to make sure that the testimony sounds up to date and not a throw back to an older time. Our message is an old one, but it shouldn't sound that way.


Music shall tie into the theme of the worship service as closely as possible.

Work with the Pastor in creating a total worship package where each part reinforces and complements the other. Songs and hymns that instruct or inform are strong tools to use to spotlight the sermon theme, but be sure that they do not replace your important worship songs. Nothing is more important than the time your congregation spends worshiping their God and Savior.


Jim Teel holds a degree in religion from Southern College and a Master of Music degree in composition from the University of Arizona. He has served as a secondary teacher, an arranger and a pianist for The Voice of Prophecy and 7he Heralds Ministries, and a Minister of MusiclWorship Pastor for two churches in Southern California. He was Pastor for Worship and Youth Ministries at the Marietta Adventist Church near Atlanta, Georgia when this article was published.

This Article was printed in the Autumn 1995 issue of Notes, a publication of the International Adventist Musicians Association.