Now that's interesting because I'm only referring to non-worship music. But how much more is this true for worship music, where it's actually all about the congregation connecting to the music. Worship music is arguably more about the experience than it is about the sound.
I've been to many gigs and concerts in my time, likewise I've been to many (more) church worship services, and I must admit, no matter how great the music and even the performance is in secular music, there is always an element of awkwardness in standing in the crowd. I'm not sure what to do with my hands, or how physically enthusiastic I can be during a particularly liked song. I can't always deeply connect with the music, and I very rarely can portray how deeply I am connecting with it.
In really good concerts, where the music is just so good and the artist so undeniably talented, I find myself so aware of this overwhelming sense of yearning for something more in the experience. I see some people lifting their hands and some people closing their eyes as the crowd raises their voice as one, all for a "feel good" moment of "love and good times"; and all that's within me desperately wants to run and grab people by both shoulders, look them in the eye and explain how incredibly close they are to experiencing the full power of this medium we call music and how God created it to glorify Him in such a beautifully expressive way that if they were to just experience congregational musical worship genuinely, I am fully sure they could not possibly doubt God's existence.
This then leads me to wish the church was the best at the arts, that critics would flock to churches to see where modern art is going; but more than that, I desperately wish that we ourselves, the Church, knew the difference between man-made art and holy worship.
The Holy Spirit
I believe the single most important element in worship music is the heart of the worshipper. Now, this is interesting because I'm talking specifically about musical worship, and worship is certainly not confined to an exclusively musical expression. In preaching, evangelism, or church building it would be obvious to say the most important element is the heart, because we so often see God move through apparently "un-gifted" people and we openly acknowledge God's power more than human ability (which, by the way, is still a form of God's power. Yep, He gave us those talents to use!).
But I find in the ministry of music, credit often goes to the musical prowess of the team or the tightness of the band for a particularly good worship night, but I would argue it is the same in music as it is in any other ministry: it is more God than us! And since God looks not at the outward appearance but at the heart, I reinstate the single most important element in worship music is the heart of the worshipper. That why it's called "worship music", and not "music worship" â worship first!
Now, I am most often a preacher of discipline and I think we often overlook practising our gifts because the nature of church music is so simple â it's made for the congregation to join in with so it's not often virtuosic as such. But I think balance must be maintained and the priority can never be lost that the very first thing for the worship leader to do of utmost importance is to prepare their heart.
How can we take the congregation somewhere spiritually that we have never been ourselves? Our revelations of worship experienced on stage must be matched by private devotion, otherwise our worship will plateau and we'll find ourselves asking in years' time how we lost what was once so vivid and tangible.
The "experience" is all up to the Spirit. And if worship music is more about the experience than it is about the sound, then maybe we should be spending more time developing our relationship with the Holy Spirit. Because as important as practising scales are, singing on pitch is not going to bring the Spirit. However, singing off pitch can often distract people and thus hinder the Spirit, so there is definitely importance in skill; but if we can't forget the order of priorities â first we must invest in the Spirit, then we must invest in the practical expression.
So then as much as we practice the sound, repeating muscle movements innumerably in order to perform pieces of music without fault, we should also practice the delivery of the experience of the music.
We should learn to know the sound of God's voice, learn the feel of His presence and the gentle nudging of His spirit. Know how to follow His lead and prophecy on your instrument or simply exalt His name with utterly humble adoration because of your own revelation of who He is.
We don't need more rock-stars, we need more prophets. We need people who are willing to live differently, to be a living sacrifice for our King and lead the next generation in a new sound of worship.
Daniel J. Mathew has finished his Bachelor of Music at Sydney's Wesley Institute and currently volunteers in Hillsong Creative, City Campus.
Daniel Mathew's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/daniel-mathew.html