My journey as a musician began in no small part to entertain and impress my friends, but experience has taught me that there is far more to music than entertainment. I could tell stories of my surprise when people were miraculously healed, addictions and oppressions were broken, and atmospheres instantly changes without any sermon or prayer, but at the sound of music. These experiences formed in me a passion to understand God’s complete purpose for music and its role in the local church. I do not have all the answers, but if you share my passion I welcome you and your church to my study.
Music is more than entertainment. While music can be entertaining, it is also among the most extraordinary conveyors of thoughts and ideas. thereby bearing far greater significance. Music is a cultural architect. The social trends of culture are often a direct reflection of the music that fills its ears and hearts. I have come to believe that the influence of music is not a product of happenstance, but of God’s design. The human heart was made to respond to music, and be affected by it in conscious and subconscious ways. A fascinating point of study, the Bible explicitly portrays the mental, emotional, and spiritual influence of music, characteristics shared by nature (1 Ch. 16:32-33), humanity (Ps. 84:1-2), and the trinity (Heb. 2:12). Consideration can be made that music is fundamentally spiritual, and the human spirit fundamentally musical. Such considerations bear exciting implications that lend great clarity to many of the following Biblical references.
While the definitions held by a typical churchgoer are often guided by their personal preferences, I do believe there is an absolute metric for “good” music. Scripture does not pinpoint a specific genre, instrument, tempo, volume or any measurement of sound. The most accurate metric for music is the inspiration it reflects. The Lord of unsearchable glory is the ultimate inspiration (Ps 145:1-3). He alone determines the ultimate significance of all things (Col. 1:16-18). Among all of our modern worship conversations on sound, lighting, haze, and cultural relevance, how much of the conversation is being dedicated to maintaining relevance to God or His intention? The center of heaven’s music is not an emotion, idea, or sermon series, but a Person. If vibrancy in worship is what you seek, you need look no further than the church’s vision for the inexhaustible worth of Jesus. Such conclusions upend our discussions on unceasing worship from unattainable to a bitter limitation.
Contemporary musical excellence has produced a constant game of comparison, conforming to the standards of the world’s limited understanding. A great irony, music’s greatest potential has always been reserved for the church. The spiritual revelation granted exclusively by the Holy Spirit is equally applicable to music and equally accessible to every believer, not just your staffed worship pastor. Should the church awaken to this reality, the days will come when churches no longer chase the world’s sound but instead the world will chase the church’s power. If the weakness of God is stronger than the strength of man (1 Co. 1:25), then perhaps even the simplest song written in your children’s ministry can change the world. In this way every church is called to be a songwriting church, regardless of your talent or production level (Eph. 5:18-19, Col. 3:16). From a Biblical standpoint, songwriting has always been and will ever be essential to the function of the church.
For instance, music plays an integral role in the task of global evangelism. Isaiah 24:14-16 is just one example of a coming day when songs of worship will fill every corner and every island of the earth. Music was present at the origin of time (Job 38:7), and music perpetuates around the throne of God to this day (Re. 4:10, 5:8). Central to Israel’s history, the Tabernacle of David was equipped with thousands of musicians (1 Ch. 23:4-5) and hundreds of singers (1 Ch. 25:7), all dedicated full-time to unceasing worship and prayer.
King David’s unique understanding is displayed in his instruction to Israel’s thousands of musicians and singers not to play, but to prophesy (1 Ch. 25:1-3). To prophesy is not merely to recite, but to exercise creativity that is inspired by the Spirit of God (1 Co. 14:3, Re. 19:10, 1 Ch. 16:42). This ‘prophetic’ creativity, spiritual receptiveness and expressiveness through music, is beneficial to every church body, and essential to the advancement of the gospel around the world. Prophetic worship is arguably the most powerful cultural and spiritual force given to mankind, sending demons to flight (1 Sa. 16:23, Is. 30:32), transforming the atmosphere (2 Ch. 5:11-14), revealing hidden wisdom (Ps. 49:4), advancing the dominion of God (Ps. 149, Is. 42:10-14), activating spiritual gifts (2 Ki. 3:15), and carrying with it the same power that resurrected Christ from the dead (Ro. 8:11). As it did in the tabernacle of David, unceasing prophetic worship will fill the earth forever and ever (Am 9:11, Ac. 15:16). It is not hard to imagine the salvation of Israel following such a movement as they witness the mandate of unceasing worship to Yahweh fulfilled by followers of Jesus (Ro. 11:11).
Here are a few ways that developing prophetic worship dramatically impacts the culture of the local church.
1. It Makes God Our Audience
While most churches understand the value of ministering to people, every church must also have a healthy understanding of ministry that God designated for himself. God’s instruction for the Tabernacles of Moses (Nu. 3) and David (2 Ch. 19:11) were a ministry unto Him, a priestly ministry. The same is true of the New Testament church (Re. 5:10).
Making God our audience both relieves the pressure of pleasing man, but also corrects our metric of success. Formerly, skill would be acquired to impress our fellow man rather than to enable greater expression to God. If God is the source of music and determines its significance, then it is no surprise that God does not judge our music by its sound, but by its heart (Am. 5:23). The songs of a humble and contrite heart are of far greater significance to God than the era’s most talented artist (Is. 66:2, Ec. 2:26).
2. It Gives Permission to Creativity
Undoubtedly, there is always greater potential for creativity patiently awaiting an outlet to surface. The creativity of your congregation is to be celebrated and stewarded as a reflection of our Creator. Without an outlet, hundreds of songs are waiting to be written in your pews. The most powerful force of culture and revelation lies dormant in unwritten songs.
Many of today’s most influential churches and movements have an intentional connection to songwriting. All of them started somewhere, making a conscious decision to be a creative culture. That decision produced intentional outlets for creativity that have turned small groups into global movements. Activating the creativity of your congregation is like beginning to withdraw on an unlimited supply of inspiration. Not only will it strengthen the engagement of your church body, but it will also create an outlet for the creative callings sitting dormant in our pews.
3. It Develops A Flowing Heart
Unpracticed in many churches is the exercise of perceiving, interpreting and expressing the Spirit of God through music, or any other art. Beginning the journey of prophetic worship is like digging a well. In some seasons it may be dry, or overflowing in others. The practice of songwriting and prophetic worship, spontaneous or otherwise, is a spiritual exercise that primes the well of personal revelation.
When was the last time your vocalists were challenged to write a chorus from Sunday’s scripture? Or your drummer to play the rhythm of an idea? That may sound intimidating, but such practices exercise our creativity and develop our personal wells into a flowing heart that can perceive, interpret and express the songs of the Lord (1 Ch. 16:42).
4. It Influences the Deepest Level
Congregations will always remember the songs they sing more than the sermons we preach. Biologically, we were made that way. The human heart was made to respond to music and be influenced by it, for better or worse (1 Co. 10:21-22, Re. 18:21-23). Developing a culture of prophetic worship puts this divine design into action.
Imagine the impact of your congregation putting the revelatory truths of scripture to new songs and releasing them to your city. Songwriting is among the most powerful forces of culture because it accesses the deepest level of the human heart, even bypassing our intellectual understanding and planting seeds of truth that shape our thoughts for decades. In many cases, the songs written by a church may be their most recognizable impact because of the unique way they express the heart of God to the deepest places of the heart of man.
5. It Reflects Heaven
The prayer of Jesus for the earth to reflect heaven (Mt. 6:10) puts great attention on the heavenly scene. Heaven is the only location where God’s will is accomplished in the absolute absence of sin, without hindrance. Heaven’s complete conformity to God’s will places upon it the utmost significance.
It is there that we see the glorious depiction of unceasing worship in response to the unceasing revelation of God’s beauty (Re. 4:8). There are members in every church who are called to the occupational ministry of beholding the beauty of God and worshipping in response. Providing for the expression of this calling aligns us closer with the example of heaven and Scripture’s depiction of the church at the return of Jesus (Hag. 1-2). This is not a specialized ministry, but a core function of the local church to give expression to the priestly ministry of the body of Christ (2 Ch 29:11, Ne. 13:10-11).
This is Scripture’s depiction of the church at the return of Christ, when the movements of unceasing prayer (Lu. 18:7-8), worship (Mal. 1:11) and discipleship (Mt. 28:19) are combined into one common cause to satisfy the worth of Jesus. The synergy produced by that movement will propel the earth into eternal unity with heaven.
Considering how to begin, start small and simple. Do not be intimidated by comparison with mature songwriting movements. Seek the Lord for where to begin with your church, and start the conversation. Outside training is available. Ignite Worship is an equipping ministry with years of experience specializing in this kind of training based in Central Arkansas. Reach out to churches you wish to emulate and hear how they developed in their early days. Most importantly, don’t miss this opportunity to have a conversation among your church leadership.