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.

3 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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