By Mike Harland
I don’t remember the first time this thought crossed my mind, but somewhere along the way, I realized something significant about leading music in a church that changed the way I thought about my work.
This realization still impacts me.
We are not called to make music—we are called to make disciples.
If my life was all about creating music, I’d be perfectly happy for artistry and musicianship to shape my goals. My days would be filled with music and the making of it.
My relationships would all be dedicated to the pursuit of some artistic accomplishment. And on a human level, honestly, I’d love it—music is just that special to me. And therein lies the danger for church musicians.
The making of music can be a very meaningful and rich pursuit with or without anyone else.
It can completely consume the artist to the point that meaningful relationships outside of the music world can be difficult to cultivate. Ever try to have a conversation with a guitar player while he’s playing?
In the church setting, musicians can easily become isolated from others in the church.
They rehearse when no one else is around and often operate independently of other staff. They hang out together, and even speak, to some degree, their own language.
In larger facilities, the musician’s office is often located near the rehearsal space, away from the pastor and other ministers. After all, the only thing a musician is doing is listening to music, right?
At the same time, some pastors only think of music as the part of the service that happens before they preach.
I’ve actually had pastors say to me things like, “Just give me 30 minutes to preach. Beyond that, there’s not really anything else I need you to do.”
Somewhere a little further down the road, another thought came to me: Music in and of itself is not a message to proclaim—it is a language to carry the gospel.
Healthy worship cultures understand the role music has in discipleship and orchestrate their ministry to fulfill that mission.
In these ministries, every decision regarding worship—from song choice to stage décor—is affected by the realization that music is a strategic part of the mission.
The person shepherding this ministry has the great opportunity to frame the narrative around that mission and away from tedious subjects like the balance of hymns and worship songs, or praise teams versus choirs.
Ministries that focus on the right things have fewer conflicts over the specific choice of music approaches and more celebrations for the outcomes of the ministry.
Leaders are wise to identify just what they are aiming for as they execute their strategy.
If they are aiming at music balance—whether through multiple services of varying styles or a blended approach in the same service—they may or may not be contributing to the overall mission of the church, even if they’re hitting the target they’ve set for themselves.
Concentric Circles of Discipleship
So how does that work and what does that look like in a healthy worship ministry? It works in four concentric circles.
The first and smallest circle for worship leaders represents self and those closest to us.
We make disciples through worship first by being a worshipping disciple ourselves through Bible study, private and corporate worship, and leadership in the home with our families.
Then, we pour our best energy into engaging in worship with those closest to us.
The second and somewhat bigger circle represents the people we serve with in worship ministry— members of the choir, band, orchestra, technical staff, or worship team.
In this community of people connected through ministry purpose, we do more than prepare songs and services—we engage hearts in message and theology. We pray, we sing, and we worship together.
I often tell choirs or teams I lead that God does a work in us before he does a work through us. If we are not a worshipping community, we will not lead our churches well in worship.
A third circle represents the entire congregation of our church.
We engage them during the corporate times of worship—we sing, pray, give, testify, and respond, all to build up and encourage one another and to encounter our King and Lord, Jesus himself, to hear all he wants to say to us.
A fourth and largest circle is outside the walls of our churches. It represents the lost, the unreached people of the community and world.
Worship ministries engage those people by inspiring and equipping a community of worshippers who love Jesus deeply and take the gospel that they sing to the world where they live.
Our worship should always inspire us to tell the story of Jesus.
All four circles are essential to a vibrant worship ministry that makes disciples. A true disciple-making worship ministry focuses on all of them. An unhealthy imbalance results when a ministry stops short of all of them.
But just how does music help make disciples? Are we only talking about worship experiences?
No. And this is why it matters so much that we do these four circles well.
The correlation between how people think and what they sing is astounding to examine. In medical and scientific communities, much has been learned about the links between music, memory, attitude, and emotion.
Unique in God’s creation, people are wired to create melody and rhythm and link them to thought and reason. And when those come together, something amazing happens to the souls of mankind. We are moved to action and stirred to response.
Filmmakers know this. That’s why they put music scores in movies. Even in the age of silent pictures, someone would play a piano in the theater.
Educators know this. That’s why we learned the alphabet by singing a song. Parents know this. That’s why we use songs to teach simple skills to our young children.
And church leaders should know this too. The songs our people sing become the prayers our people will pray in their moments of deepest crisis.
The expression of worship from the heart of God’s people turns into songs of worship sung in the congregation, in the waiting room of a hospital, and yes, even at the bedside of a soldier going home to be with the Lord.
Many if not most people will forget the points of our sermons, but almost all will remember the songs we sing. It can be argued that much of what our people know and believe about God will come from what we sing in church.
And notice I said sing and not hear. Only hearing these songs fails to produce the same effects as singing them. Because this is true, what we sing and how we sing in church matters a great deal to all of us.
God gave us the gift of music. And with it, we can inform and inspire. We can take truths about God that transform hearts and lock those truths into our souls by singing them back and forth over each other.
Together, we can praise our God with songs of devotion and adoration from the deepest places of ourselves—heart, soul, mind. That’s what worship is and what Jesus called for from all of us in Matthew 22:37.
Can worship be part of discipleship? The answer is a resounding yes! It is an essential part of the growth and development of healthy disciples.