Recently my friend Peyton Gurley read my article There Is No Such Thing As A Music Minister. Apparently it didn’t set too well with my friend, because he wrote a review of it on his own blog. Even before I saw Peyton’s response I had been studying this issue in greater depth, and had come to a more nuanced view. When I saw that my friend was upset by the post, I knew that I had to write an article clarifying my position. I texted Peyton and explained where I was coming from, and we ended in agreement and on good terms. Nevertheless, my friend’s response proves that my article needs some clarification, and I will endeavor to provide some in this post.

Before responding directly to my friend’s post, let me clarify something that came up during our discussion on this topic. The title of my initial post—There’s No Such Thing As A Music Minister—was intentionally shocking. I was not trying to be outright rude: I was overstating my case for rhetorical effect, as I stated in the first paragraph of my original article. I’m not apologizing, but I do realize that this writing tone does not appeal to everyone, especially if they are not familiar with the problem that I was addressing.

As I see it, in Christianity in general—and especially in Pentecostal and Charismatic circles—worship music gets over-emphasized. Many times I have seen “music ministers” attempting to use music to accomplish jobs which are are biblically reserved for preaching (evangelizing the lost and “blessing the saints” to give two examples). When I discussed this with Peyton, we actually agreed that this was a problem in many churches. Since the general trend seems to be pulling hard in one direction, I purposely pulled twice as hard in the other direction, with the hopes that my hyperbole would get people thinking differently and restore balance to what I see as a lop-sided issue.

I don’t think music is bad—it is biblical, powerful, and necessary. But I also don’t think that music and proclaiming the word of God are interchangeable. Biblically speaking, evangelizing is NEVER the job of worship music. We don’t bring people to the cross by singing to them: “it pleased God by the foolishness of PREACHING [not the elegance of singing] to save them that believe” (1 Corinthians 1:21). We cannot use music to do what God designed preaching to do, and we elevate the office of musician to the level of pastor at our own peril. With this in mind, let me address (what I see as) the key area of disagreement/confusion between myself and my friend Peyton. In his response, my friend said

The first thing I want to make clear is this: Ministry is service. To be a minister is to be a servant. The pastor of a church is a servant to the people of the church. The children’s minister is a servant to the children. Servanthood is the first and foremost characteristic of a minister. In all the above definitions, service is the common denominator. If you wash the toilets at church, YOU are a minister. If you turn on the lights and mow the lawn, you are a minister. So, by default, music is a ministry. I am not sure about your church, but at my church, not one musician is paid. We all do it out of service to the Lord and to our church. The posts that are referred to in this post go on to say that apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teachers are the only true ministers (Ephesians 4). (Emphasis added)

For my friend Peyton, ministry = serving and serving = ministry. To him, they are the same. To prove his point, my friend discussed the Greek word διακονια, which means “ministry, service, waiting on a table (as in serving food).” This is where the friction comes in. In my original post I said that music is not a ministry and musicians are not ministers. I stand by this statement, but let me explain what I mean.

In the Greek New Testament, there are two different words for ministry/minister. The first is διακονια/διακονος; I discussed this word-group at length in another post on this same topic. We get our English word “deacon” from this family of Greek words. When we study this word-family, we see that preaching-style activities (teaching, evangelizing, prophesying, etc.) are the only activities described with this word. Other than that, the word is used to describe serving food/waiting tables—which is a picture of what happens during preaching. The minister feeds the congregation with the bread of God’s word.

From an English perspective, “ministry” and “serving” are very close synonyms, but the Greek word διακονια has a specific meaning in the New Testament. As I said before, διακονια is only used to describe preaching-type ministry—never music. Music is not a διακονια-ministry, and musicians are not διακονος-ministers. They simply aren’t. God has designed preaching to be a unique type of ministry, and it is fundamentally different and distinct from worship music.

But διακονια/διακονος is not the only term in the NT for ministry/ministering. The NT also uses the word-group λειτουργια/λειτουργος. We get our English word “liturgy” from this family of Greek words; this is the term that the Greek Old Testament (LXX) uses to describe what the priests did in the temple. In this sense I admit that musicians are ministers: they are necessary for the liturgical functions of the church. The Old Testament church needed priests to help them offer sacrifices at the temple, and New Testament church needs people who will sing and play instruments and make melody to the Lord. In this sense, I agree that musicians are “ministers”—because they serve the church by helping the saints of God worship.

In my friend’s post, he categorizes all ministry under the same heading: preachers, singers, and lawn mowers alike. As Peyton put it, “We pray, we lead, we exhort, we talk, we sing, we praise, we worship, we serve, so who decided that those things aren’t ministry? You can quote scriptures and divide them up until you can’t find anything true, but that doesn’t mean that you are right.” I am not trying to unnecessarily divide up the scriptures, but I am pressing us to make a biblical distinction. Singers/musicians are important—they serve the church and are liturgically necessary for our worship services. But God has designed those activities to function differently than preaching-ministry, the type of ministry God specifically outlined in Ephesians 4:11-13ff.

We put ourselves in grave danger when we confuse diaconate ministry (preaching/teaching the word of God TO the saints) with liturgical ministry (worshiping the God of the word WITH the saints). I have seen entire churches slip into apostasy because their “music ministry” took center-stage. I fear that music is the Trojan Horse of Pentecost. Preaching is not something that we relegate to secondary importance; worship is what saved people do, but preaching is what God has chosen to save people (1 Corinthians 1:18-21).

I love dancing and singing to the Lord. Like my friend Peyton, I play a musical instrument and sing practically every song-service at my church. But if we can shout and dance and get all emotionally excited during the song service, but we are bored to death during the preaching of the word, our priorities are out of wack and we need to repent. Music helps us worship God, but preaching helps us become better worshippers.

Preaching is diaconate ministry, and music is liturgical ministry—but Peyton rightly points out one area where this distinction does get a little messy. In Colossians 3:16 Paul wrote

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.”

I love music that teaches a doctrinal lesson. Some of my favorite hymns—“It’s All In Him,” “Jesus the Son of God,” “Baptized Into The Body”—are “teaching and admonishing” songs. Verses like Colossians 3:16 really do make me rethink my statements, “If you are a musician or singer, do not try to perfect the saints, build up the body, or minister. It isn’t your job. Your job is to praise the Lord by singing/playing, and that is all.” Musicians and singers CAN be a help to the preacher by selecting music that is word-focused and word-filled. Music like this helps the congregation remember God’s word long after they have forgotten the preacher’s sermon title.

When I said that musicians shouldn’t try to perfect the saints, build up the body, or minister, I was speaking specifically about WORSHIP music. Our worship might encourage others, but it isn’t supposed to minister to others in the way that preaching does. Our worship is about blessing God, not the person beside us. A preacher ministers FOR God TO the people—a musician ministers TO God WITH the people. That is the distinction I was getting at.

But really, Colossians 3:16 is the exception that proves the rule. Music sometimes can teach and admonish, but biblically speaking that role is usually reserved for preaching. Colossians 3:16 teaches a spirit of cooperation between liturgical ministry (singing) and diaconate ministry (preaching); and really and truly, that was what I was after in my original post There’s No Such Thing As A Music Minister. Music is important, but it must cooperate—not compete—with preaching.

I hope that this post has provided some clarity to my intentions and my earlier statements. Music IS a ministry in the sense that it is part of our service to God; but music is NOT a ministry in the sense that expounding the word is usually the role of preaching.

8 thoughts on “Music Ministry?—A Clarification

  1. Good post, but even if there aren’t different word groups for preaching/teaching and singing, the Scriptures clearly declare the primacy of preaching to other forms of “ministry.”

    1 Corinthians 12
    28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues.

    An elder may be a minister or an older man. Though the same word is applied to both men, its function is very different. And older man is not an “elder” in a pastoral sense just like an “elder” in a pastoral sense is not necessarily an older man. And though music is certainly a “helping” ministry, it is much lower in priority to a preaching ministry, for as you state, God chooses to save us by preaching, not by music. So even if we have identical word groups, it does not follow that music leaders are “ministers” in any relevant sense to the Apostolic preaching ministry.

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    1. Excellent points! I had not really considered 1 Corinthians 12 in reference to this discussion. You are right that the different word groups would not be necessary for my point to hold true, but the fact that the Bible does use these different word groups is telling.

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  2. I have rather enjoyed your thoughts so far on this topic and I mostly agree. I was asking the lord to speak to me on this area for my local assembly and 3 things happened.

    Firstly, I remember my band leader stressing to us “Play skillfully, but whenever you play at church, imagine yourself playing alone before the Lord in Heaven’s Throne Room, don’t focus on the crowd – aim to let your worship be pleasing to God.”

    Secondly, he also used to say “when Satan wants to enter the church, the first place he usually tries to do this is via the choir/band/music department”.

    Over the years these statements have been true. But I was having trouble trying to resolve your writings with what my band leader had taught. Until last night on the radio..

    Thirdly, I heard a radio message from Luke 19:28-40 (Jesus entering Jerusalem on a Donkey). Pastor Michael Youssef said Satan was always trying to get us to commit his original sin of pride. He asked the question- “While the people were waving their palm branches and cheering Hosanna for Jesus’ entry; did the Donkey think all that praise was for him?

    I hope it’s not reaching too far into the scriptural context, but sometimes I fear that as musicians/singers etc. we get caught up in the praise, adoration and worship. We forget that like the donkey, all we need to do is usher Jesus’ presence into the temple so that the people can worship him for themselves and hear the Word.

    Hope I made sense.

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  3. I am not sure this is the best way to tackle the problem. Organising the distribution of food is a διακονία (Acts 6:1), and this is not a ministry of the word. So is financial giving (2 Corinthians 8: 4). What is the διακονία of Romans 12.7? We don’t know for sure. What about Phoebe, who was a διάκονος? Hebrews 6:10, Philemon 13, etc.

    The problem, as I see it, as that our church services have an Old Testament form. In the New Testament we have prayer first of all (1 Timothy 2.1); we have the prophetic ministry of 1 Corinthians 14; we have singing to the Lord in Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:19, where it is also singing to one another; there seems to be zero reference to the use of instruments in the New Testament church. From memory, Wesley didn’t allow instruments in the church, and neither did Spurgeon. They seemed to do OK without them. Personally I find that a capella is usually more anointed.

    There are no worship leaders in the New Testament church. There is no platform, and there is no sound amplification. What we have is a disaster. There is barely no congregational ministry of prayer and prophecy any more in most churches. The gifts of the Spirit are dying out in the charismatic churches. Few now, for example in the Assemblies of God here in the UK – it may be different in OP – have even heard tongues with interpretation.

    So let us gather together again in our homes and small chapels etc and worship the Lord with glad hearts and allow the Spirit to move as He wills in tongues, prophecy, interpretation, and prayer.

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    1. Andrew,
      Many wise words here. A few points of response.

      Firstly, I’m certain my treatment here is not the only way to organize the Biblical data, or to negotiate the role of worship in the church. But my general point still stands: music is never described with διακονία or its cognates, whereas other functions of the church—especially preaching—repeatedly are. Thus “music ministry” is a different thing, with different purposes and deserving different emphases, from the preaching of the word. One cannot replace the other.

      Secondly, while I certainly enjoy a cappella singing, I do not think there is anything in the NT which mandates it, or which forbids the use of instruments. As I’m sure you know, ψάλλω and its cognates at least allow for the use of instruments, if not actually implying their necessity (comp. BDAG versus Thayer, Abbott-Smith, and Liddell-Scott-Jones). And while I certainly enjoy the insights of Westley and Spurgeon, Scripture must be our basis for conducting worship. Since instrumental music was not explicitly done away with by the NT, there is no reason why it ought not be retained.

      Thirdly, it is not the case that the early church makes no reference to instrumental music. It was permitted and encouraged by many ECFs. See my friend Jason Weatherly’s link http://theweatherlyreport.blogspot.com/2012/05/instrumental-music-in-church-history.html?m=1

      Fourthly, I agree that much of modern “worship culture,” if I can use that term, is disastrous and misplaced. We need to get back to congregational singing (with or without music) and congregational praying, until the Lord moves on the congregation with the gifts of the Spirit.

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      1. Thanks for your correction re the early church writers. I didn’t know that.

        Your: ‘Since instrumental music was not explicitly done away with by the NT, there is no reason why it ought not be retained.’

        It’s a new covenant. Everything has changed. We are a new creation. Let the New Testament be our guide for church practice. The Old Testament provides types and shadows.

        I agree that instruments are not banned. In fact, I am even learning to play the keyboards a little, with a view to it being an aid to singing. But I rather feel it’s at a low level, like the early booster stages of a rocket, that can be let go of as we go higher in the Spirit by the grace of God.

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      2. Andrew,
        You’re welcome. Jason is really great with that sort of thing.

        I understand that view, and partly agree. But I think this gets down to a fundamental difference in our methods of interpretation.

        Correct me if I am wrong, but for you, it seems that everything from the OT not retained in the NT was done away. For me, everything not done away with from the OT is retained in the NT.

        As I see it, some things are trans-testamental. Murder is wrong in both testaments. Prayer is right in both. For me, instrumental music falls into this category—since Paul told us to play “psalms,” which is to say, “a sacred song sung to musical accompaniment” (so A-S for ψαλμός; cf. ψάλλω).

        But I agree. If we get hung up with the instrumental worship, we will miss the deep move of the Spirit which we were trying to facilitate with the music in the first place.

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      3. The flesh of man is the same in Old and New Testaments, and we still have sin dwelling in it (Romans 7). The new birth is unique to the New. So the question is not simple, and I think primarily we have to look at the New Testament scripture to find out what is retained. Some of the Ten Commandments, for example, are specifically retained. The law of Moses as a whole is retained as a schoolmaster to teach us right from wrong and to reveal our need for a Saviour.

        Broadly I see a change from the earthly to the heavenly. Israel’s inheritance is on earth, ours in heaven. Their tabernacle was on earth, ours is in heaven. Secondly, I see a change from a mediating priesthood to every believer having access to God directly through our one Mediator the Lord Jesus Christ. Thirdly, I see new forms of utterance with the baptism of the Holy Spirit, with tongues and prophecy broadly available to all believers.

        The next question would be: what is the New Testament assembly carried through *from*? If the tabernacle of Moses, then no instruments. If David’s tabernacle (1 Chronicles 16:5), and Solomon’s temple (1 Chronicles 25) and as restored by Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 29:25), then instruments.

        Or indeed, should the rough altars of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob be the type, with their simplicity, and direct encounters with God (Genesis 12:7, 26:24-25, 35:7)? No instruments there.

        And even if, say, David’s tabernacle is the type, then what would be the antitype? If from earthly to heavenly, then are physical instruments perhaps more earthly than the tongues of men and of angels?

        So then I am thrown upon the New Testament descriptions of the assembly of the saints, and I see the Lord’s supper (with its meal), intercession, prophecy and interpretation, teaching and fellowship. Do we need more?

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