Instrumental Music Vocations & Christianity

INTEGRATING INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC VOCATIONS
INTO THE CHRISTIAN FAITH
(1993)

The question of integrating instrumental music into one’s Christian faith is an honorable one.  Christians are called to “…do all things to the glory of God.” (I Corinthians 10:31)   The question can be explored and partially answered within the context of three vocational arenas.  The first arena is the “Christian-Musician” – the director or player who performs sacred music for primarily Christian audiences.  The second arena is the “Musician-Christian” – the director or player who performs in the secular marketplace while maintaining a personal commitment to Christ.  The third arena is that of “Composer-Arranger” – writers of music used by Christian Musicians.

THE CHRISTIAN-MUSICIAN

(The director or player who performs sacred music for Christian audiences)

Recent church history reveals a paucity of instrumental music in the American Church and its educational institutions.  Instrumental music in both the Church and the Christian college/seminary has been relegated, in large part, to the keyboard instruments – a far cry from the lengthy and diverse list of instruments found in Psalm 150.  Nationally, the number of  known Christian instrumental artists is frightfully small.  Further, the quality of their playing is often mediocre, indicating that either the artists have not spent enough time practicing, or the well-trained musicians are unwilling to play music to which people can relate.  Has Christian instrumental music died, or merely fallen asleep?  If it is sleeping, what is the “kiss” that will awaken its value to the American Church?

Thankfully, instrumental music is experiencing a resurgence in the American Church, attested to by the numerous church orchestras which have sprouted up around the country.  Handbells have also grown in popularity as they are employed, not only in worship services, but also as an excellent way to teach music fundamentals to children.  Further, contemporary services have spawned the utilization of rhythm sections and non-orchestral instruments in both accompaniment and featured roles.

The formation of instrumental ensembles has mobilized heretofore neglected members of the Body of Christ, not only engineering the individual’s assimilation, but also creating an opportunity for their service.  The increasing utilization of instrumental music has revealed some of the mystique of God which was masked by the Church’s attempt to be relevant.  Order, beauty, and creativity all point to God and remind us that there are certain things which mere words cannot approach.  The utility role which instrumental music serves when under girding singing or
accompanying the choir adds both life and energy to a worship service.  These developments have expanded both the directing and playing opportunities for Christian-Musicians.

Christian directors and players must reciprocate by providing the Church with meaningful and relevant instrumental music if there is to be a growing appreciation and valuing of its use.  The training and utilization of the young instrumentalist is essential to the longevity of Christian instrumental music.  Instrumental directors at the Christian college/seminary level must form new and relevant ensembles.  Further, they must be both informed and involved with the musical development at the local church level.  They must expand their curriculum to include contemporary Christian music and modern worship styles if they are to provide appropriate training for the next generation of church-music leadership.

There is a philosophy that encourages the Church to “recapture the arts.”  While a full discussion of this philosophy would not be appropriate in this context, the topic does raise a question that is worth mentioning.  In the attempt to “recapture the arts,” can one also attempt to “capture” some artists?  Is it possible or appropriate to use the instrumental ensemble as a point of entry for the non-believing musician, or  perhaps even to take up the slack in a failing school music program by opening a junior conservatory?  Is this an acceptable method of evangelism?

One ideology says that Christian worship is intended so that the believer may minister to the Lord.  Inherent in this thought is that the non-believer is unable to participate on this level.  A second point of view is that the Church should do anything short of sin to win people to the Kingdom of God.  This view would accept the participation of people no matter what their position in the process of belief.  There are sound arguments on each side of this issue, and while both have been presented in an oversimplified manner, neither should be ignored.  “What would Christ do?” is always the appropriate question to ask.  Each Body of believers must answer the question for themselves while at the same time resolving not to judge others who decide differently.

THE MUSICIAN-CHRISTIAN
(The director or player who performs in the secular marketplace while maintaining a personal commitment to Christ)

Excellence must be the trademark of the Musician-Christian who performs or directs in the secular market; anything less will reflect not only upon the person’s ability, but also upon their “philosophy” of life.  In this arena, one’s excellence can provide exposure to one’s Faith.  The Bible states: “Do you see a man skilled in his work?  He will serve before kings; he will not serve before obscure men.” (Proverbs 22:29)  A person’s skill can produce a “hearing” of the Gospel which would be impossible for a less accomplished person.  This is why celebrities and sports figures are used so effectively in advertising; they are so good at what they do that the public will believe what they say about a product.

The integration of one’s Faith does not change the pursuit of excellence, but rather, the motivation for excellence.  The redemptive work of Christ so changes a person that they are willing to toil and strive toward refinement in hopes of bearing witness to what Christ has done.  Conversely, the obsessive pursuit of a music career should not be cloaked in a religious rationale, nor should compulsive behavior be tolerated as a means of “bringing glory to the Lord.”  Ultimately, He does not want our music, but our hearts!  “The sacrifice which is acceptable to God is a broken spirit.” (Psalms 51:17)

This spirit should lead one to consider which tack to use in exposing the love of Christ to one’s circle of influence.  A more assertive approach would be a verbal Christian witness in the course of musical activities, or involvement in leading or sponsoring Bible studies, etc.  A second approach, which has been termed “Life-style evangelism,” is less assertive but no less effective.  Lifestyle evangelism means to make room in one’s life for others who do not know the Savior and to live life so well as to invite their questions about Him.  Individual personality will, no doubt, play a part in which avenue of witness is chosen.  Personality, however, does not supersede the command to purposefully influence others for Christ.  Jesus said “Whoever disowns me before men, I will disown before my Father.” (Matthew 10:33)  To witness is not a choice, but rather a responsibility of all who identify themselves as Christian.  The only question is what kind of witness.

The absorbing nature of music demands further comment.  There is a living tension that must be managed if a Musician-Christian is to have a balanced life.  It is a tension between good things – things that are right.  On the one hand, it is essential that one be so committed to Christ that he can say with Job, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.” (Job 13:15)  On the other hand, if God has put the “burn” for music into a person’s soul, it is essential that they pursue it with all their heart.  This author lives with this tension. While consumed with making the performance of music match the music in his head, he is also completely committed to obeying and serving Christ.

THE COMPOSER-ARRANGER
(Writers of the music used by Christian-Musicians)

The symphony in the capital city of this author’s home state recently went bankrupt – too much debt and too little revenue.  The artists blame the board of directors, who in turn blames the musician’s union.  The real problem is that not enough people were attending the symphony.  The fact is that there are numerous people who do not have an appreciation of classical music.  Their tastes, too, must be considered in the attempt to integrate instrumental music into the Christian Faith, because they are either part of the Church or part of the mission field.

The Composer-Arranger is simultaneously the least visible and the most capable of engineering change in the field of instrumental music.  He/She is rarely seen on stage, and yet is very much in control of many of the elements of performance.  These elements include musical style, ensemble size, instrumentation, and level of difficulty.  The role of the Composer-Arranger provides the potential to create an entirely new genre of music, rather than to perpetuate the decline of instrumental music currently taking place in the United States.

This decline refers to an observational assessment of the state of the instrumentalist.  Primary and secondary instrumental music programs are malnourished in many parts of the country.  The symphonic band has been relegated to the football field; the dance band is reserved mainly for New Year’s Eve; the symphony halls are often half-filled; recording studios utilize a fraction of the musicians used in the past.

The question must be asked; “What do people from any given congregation listen to on their car radio while driving home from church?”  The Composer-Arranger must answer the question, and develop relevant new musical styles and ensembles without forfeiting musical integrity.  A renewed emphasis on solo and small ensemble writing, both for the Church and for the Christian college/seminary,  is in order.  The creation of stylistic hybrids, the mixing of electronic and acoustic, the integration of classical elements with improvisational techniques, and the inclusion of Jazz and contemporary styles are all possible directions.

SUMMARY

Christian-Musicians must present instrumental music as both meaningful and integral to the Body of Christ.  They should develop opportunities, materials, and ministries from which the next generation of musicians will benefit.  The Church and her educational institutions should work together in the development of a curriculum which is both pragmatic and contemporary.  Change is eminent, frightening, and necessary if we are to communicate a never-changing Christ to an ever-changing world.

Musician-Christians have the responsibility to pursue Christ in an excellent manner (through fellowship, Bible study, personal and corporate worship, and personal evangelism).  In addition, each has the obligation to pursue musical excellence in a Christ-like manner (with discipline and creativity).  All have a circle of influence, and with it comes the responsibility to love those within that circle for Christ’s sake.

The Composer-Arranger resembles the image of God when he is creating; reflects the wisdom of God when he considers what to perpetuate; and represents the Spirit of God when he challenges the status quo.  The development of relevant new musical styles and ensembles is imperative.

For all Christians in the field of music, the bottom line is not a prestigious position, a high-paying gig, or notoriety.  The saying goes: “The music business has done more to Christians than Christians have done to the music business.”  What God deserves from us is obedience.  What our associates need from us is love and compassion.  What the world wants from us is a decent example of Christianity.

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