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Worship Music – Motivational or Manipulative?

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I have been a musician for the past thirty-six years of my life. Twenty-four of those years have been spent playing some type of “Christian” music, either for worship services, concerts, or youth camps. In those twenty years I have experienced some of the changes in how music is used within the Christian context. However, within the past few years the use of music in our Christian worship services has probably stirred my thoughts more than any other topic. Why? Because music has the ability to move people’s hearts as nothing else does.

Persuasive Power

The power of music has been used to move the hearts and minds of men in many ways throughout history. In Ancient Greece, music was used in cultic rituals to arouse a heightened consciousness in order for participants to become receptive to the gods.[1] Music was also used on the battlefield to rouse the troops and set a rhythm. Music has been used to express our feelings as we sing, dance, or play an instrument to express our moods. Many labor and civil rights movements have been driven by music as theme songs were sung in unity for their causes[2]. Music is used to create an atmosphere of joy, sadness, excitement, rebellion, energy, comedy, anger, and even worship?   Music has always been used by humanity to set a mood or drive a heart. This is my concern with our worship music today. All of the examples cited above, although taken from various cultures and times in history, can be traced to one common component within humanity, the heart, or more plainly, emotion.

A Responsible Use of Music in Worship

All of the applications for music mentioned above are for the purpose of moving the hearts of men to some type of action. Whether to stir the heart for battle, for protest, to take part in a debased cultic orgy, or to bring heartfelt praise and worship to God, music has been used as a primary source of motivation. So, how can today’s worship leader use this powerful means of communication responsibly?  What are the dangers of misusing music in our worship services?  I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences.

[1] Quasten, Music and Worship in Pagan and Christian Antiquity, 34-36

[2] Pete Seeger recorded the lyrics of Chaplin’s Solidarity Forever to the tune of The Battle Hymn of the Republic. Also Peter, Paul, and Mary’s We Shall Overcome during the civil rights movements in the 60s.