The Priority of Participation

The current generation of Christians, having been raised in a culture of television, radio, CDs and personal listening devices, has slipped into the habit of living life vicariously. We no longer gather around the piano for an informal sing-along, but just slide a CD or DVD into the player. Our “sophisticated” tastes have come to expect and be satisfied only with polished symphony orchestras, high-profile singing idols and technological bells and whistles. We are dissatisfied with our own often imperfect attempts to make music and want to be “ministered to,” if not by professionals, at least by the more competent and gifted in our congregation. . . .

Indeed, many great pieces of music were never intended to be sung by a group at all, but rather by soloists. Meditating on the words of a song performed by others can be a significant spiritual exercise, as much as reflecting on the words of a book written by a Christian author of acknowledged wisdom and insight. The value of listening to beautiful music itself, apart from the lyrics, should not be underestimated. We are created in the image of a creator God, as creative beings ourselves, and the exercise of our creative gifts can bring glory to God as well as edification and pleasure to others.

Performance of sacred music certainly has a valuable place in the worship service. Problems ensue, however, when performance dominates the music at the expense of participation. Morganthaler warns, “We are not producing worshippers in this country. Rather, we are producing a generation of spectators, religious onlookers lacking, in many cases, any memory of a true encounter with God” [Sally Morgenthaler, Worship Evangelism, 17].

–Mary L. Conway, “Worship Music: Maintaining Dynamic Tension,” McMaster Journal of Theology and Ministry 7 (2006): 145-46