Is Music All We Have?


Churches that won’t take the risks to provide a venue for creatives to express art beyond predictable musical expressions will lose them to places that will.  The sole emphasis on music as our primary worship offering may have actually hindered worship and perpetuated worship conflict in our congregations.

Music is an artistic expression given to us so that we might offer that gift to God in worship.  But is it the expression?  Considering additional artistic options could alleviate the pressure on music to serve as the primary driver of worship renewal and consequently diminish its solitary blame for worship conflict.

Clayton Schmit wrote, “In most traditions, music holds the central place as, to use Luther’s term, the ‘handmaid of the Gospel.’  Whether Christians sing hymns, settings of the psalms, spiritual songs, anthems, or praise choruses, music is the principle artistic form that shapes Christian worship.  But, many others are involved.  We gather in architectural structures, we enter rooms sunlit cobalt and ruby through stained-glass filtered light, we sit in well-fashioned furniture, we listen to literature of the Scriptures, we hear aesthetically crafted messages, we move in processions, and we view images of the symbols and historic figures associated with our faith.  When we gather for worship art is all around us, and even within us.”[1]

Just considering what is presently appropriate and acceptable is not enough.  Leaders must also be willing to educate, enlighten and encourage in order to expand that acceptability.  Robin M. Jensen reminds us that, “too often art is perceived as a kind of ‘extra’ offering, meant for those of us who can appreciate it or want to be involved, rather than something essential to the shaping of faith and religious experience.”[2]

Consider the following suggestions as places for your congregation to begin multiplying their understanding: drama, painting, sculpting, drawing, dance, mime, poetry, prose, monologues or dramatic readings, photography, film, technology, computer graphics, architecture, hair and make-up, sound, lighting, staging and props and many others.  Even though God’s creativity is limitless, we often constrict our list because of our culture and tradition…or perhaps our caution and laziness.

Harold Best stated it well; “It is the solemn obligation of every artistic leader to become the lead mentor, the lead shepherd, living a life in quest of the full richness of artistic action.  The art of our worship must thus point beyond itself.  It must freely and strongly say, ‘There is more, far more.’  Be hungry.  Be thirsty.  Be curious.  Be unsatisfied.  Go deep.  Engage your whole being.  Live in the first days of creation when nothing had precedent; when everything was a surprise; when shattering reality, not sameness, ruled the day; when bafflement and surprise danced the dance.  Go to the empty tomb and find out what resurrection means to the shriveled mind and the uncurious heart.  Go to Pentecost and learn of a new, ingathering strangeness, a purification of Babel and a highway to glory:  spiritual glory, societal glory, artistic glory.  Seek and find; knock and it will be opened.”[3]


[1] Schmit, Clayton J., “Art for Faith’s Sake,” in Theology, News, and Notes, Fall 2001.

[2] Jensen, Robin, M., The Substance of Things Seen: Art, Faith, and the Christian Community (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2004), 2.

[3] Best, Harold M., “Authentic Worship and Artistic Action,” an address to the Calvin Institute of Worship, 2005.



9 Responses to “Is Music All We Have?”

  • William Says:

    I stand in full agreement regarding this topic, and I thank the Lord God Almighty that at our place of worship we are not restricted to exercise any form of artistic expression that brings glory to God. Yes, sometimes there are a few surprises, but the fact that God can plant a seed for something of wonder to be created that brings Him the glory is beyond our understanding indeed! Many blessings everyone and enjoy what God has created.

  • Lucinda Says:

    I shout a might “Amen” to all these comments. I lead the music for our church’s Easter service, as I have for the last 5 or 6 years. We did extra rehearsal, we sang more traditional songs – everything was done “well”. But it fell flat! Something was missing. I was feeling like we didn’t have enough interaction with the congregation, and throughout Holy Week, I felt that we needed more creativity – a dramatic skit, banners, the whole congregation involved somehow in Palm Sunday, as the kids came in and waved their Palm Fronds, singing. All that’s been shared here has definitely struck a chord. Our whole staff was feeling the same thing, so we’re praying for God’s help in opening things up. Thanks for all the thoughts shared here.

  • John Mansfield Says:

    Hi David – thank you for your post. I think the question ‘Is Music all we have?’ is a very valid one not just for churches but also in other areas such as Christian radio stations. For example I produce spoken word CDs of Scriptures and reflections combining voice with music and also sounds from God’s creation (birdsong, ocean waves etc) Whilst some open Christian radio stations have embraced the tracks, others haven’t, basically because it is ‘spoken word not singing’. God can use many artistic efforts to deeply bless others so it is indeed a shame when different varieties of worship are not recognized.

  • Neil Says:

    “And I agree that we should spend as much time rehearsing the other artistic elements as we spend preparing our music”

    Unfortunately, so often neither is rehearsed enough, and it shows!

  • Don't Limit Yourself To Just Music | Worship Links Says:

    […] memories came back as I read David Manner’s post Is Music All We Have? at his blog Worship Evaluation. David writes: Churches that won’t take the risks to provide a […]

  • David Manner Says:

    Dennis, great addendum to this post and great personal illustration. I too have had similar experiences with student choirs. I wanted them all to sing until I realized that some of those students would rather carry a bass amp and risers than sing. Once I figured that out I realized that the service of toting equipment was just as much an an act of worship as singing was. Your response brings up a point that I hadn’t thought of previously. Is it possible that some of the worship conflict that congregations face in the present is a direct result of our singular musical focus with children and students in the past? If we could learn that now, not at the expense of music but in addition to the music maybe we won’t be facing the same issues in the future. I always appreciate your thoughts.

  • Dennis Allen Says:

    Whew! I want to stand up and shout “yes!” It is indeed fascinating how we have often summarized the artistic function of the church as singing. Well, I am not a singer…and I am not alone. As a Min. of Music for many years, it would’ve been very convenient if I had a great voice…but alas. I am a piano guy, and I know the Lord chose this gift for me. I have worked with singers all my life, but that’s not my personal artistic gift. In the past I have made the mistake of lumping everyone into the singer bag, and missed the unique gifts God gives. I have a sweet note which I keep with me from a teenager named Sara, a member of a past student choir I led. In that note, she thanked me for allowing her to use her gifts from the Lord on a mission trip. That was the particular summer when the light bulb came on for me….when I finally realized she was a dancer, not a singer. God, and Sara, were both fine with that. it was beautiful and worshipful to see her…and humbling for me. Our methods of worship communication would be so incredibly enhanced if we would add the visual…seeing, experiencing, etc. would enrich our worship. Pastors, also, would be amazed how much adding illustrations, object lessons, dramatic moments, etc. would beautifully compliment their spoken word. Do a study on effective methods of communication, and you’ll see that simply listening to someone talk is not as effective as adding other elements. Well…I’ll stop here, David…you definitely pushed my button with this topic. Thanks!

  • David Manner Says:

    Great response, Neil. Your illustration of placing those elements in slots is exactly right. If we had more of a holistic approach it might be that in a particular service we might not even have much if any music. And I agree that we should spend as much time rehearsing the other artistic elements as we spend preparing our music.

  • Neil Brown Says:

    We’ve had many of our artist-students create worship bulletin covers. Some amazing stuff!

    One of the major problems/challenges is how to do creative stuff in less than creatively-designed worship spaces. It can be done, but it requires thorough planning and practice.

    Which brings me to my major beef with a lot of what I see that’s passed off as “creative worship.” It is so often poorly done, or at best mediocre. And it’s more like it was “stuck into the worship format” rather than prayerfully and thoughtfully integrated into the whole.

    Creative worship does not do well with slots: music slots (3), announcement slot, scripture slot, prayer slot, this slot, that slot. Slots need to give way to a more holistic approach to worship planning, where the gifts you’ve mentioned above can flourish and lead to divine encounters.

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