Music for the Soul in the Church

Music, the greatest good that mortals know, and all of heaven we have below
John Addison

Anyone who has ever set foot in a church knows the integral and often featured role that music plays in worship. Some churches favor traditional hymns, an organ, and choral singing. Others opt for a more contemporary approach, having what is called worship that is presented by a leader fronting a band with guitars and drums. Some congregations utilize all of the elements mentioned above. Still others use no instruments at all believing that scripture permits singing only within the church walls.

Over the last twenty years or so musical styles have been a great source of division for many congregations. Many churches have “solved” this problem by having separate services so that people can attend the service with musical style that suits their taste. Some churches have split completely over the robes versus rock bands debate.

Clearly, when it comes to church, music matters. Personally, I love all styles of music. The most important thing to me in a worship service is that it be shared with heart and authenticity. (Excellence is also nice but I would never say that only professionals should share music in the church)

But I would suggest that when it comes to music, this is not even the conversation we should be having.

My problem with the lyrics of most church music is that they are almost exclusively vertical, sung to Jesus the Christ or to God the Father. (This is most especially true of contemporary Praise & Worship.) Other approaches are instructive as in…

All creatures of our God and King
Lift up your voice and with us sing

…descriptive…

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark
never failing

…and self reflective…

I once was lost but now am found / Was blind, but now, I see.

The last of these I find the most compelling as we can relate to John Newton’s vulnerability in sharing what God has done in his life.

The scriptures in the New Testament referred to as the great commandment come from Matthew 22:36–40 and Mark 12:28–34. In the gospel of Matthew Jesus is asked which is the greatest commandment in the law. Paraphrasing the Torah, he replies “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

What strikes me about his answer is that it is vertical AND horizontal.  

I believe that including more horizontally focused music in our services would result in people having a deeper and more meaningful worship experience. I also believe it would result in a more significant connection between those in attendance, making it easier to achieve the second part of the great commandment –- loving our neighbor.

Music for the Soul is God’s soul speaking to my soul. 
It’s not music written from us to God in worship, but music written from Him to us.
Suzanne Foster, LMFT

Music for the Soul’s songs are not worship songs as the phrase is most commonly understood. But they help create what I call a worship triangle. In the worship triangle God’s love is coming down to us, God’s love is being shared with our neighbor, and then that love is being returned to God. This idea is very present with the Music for the Soul team as we create our songs.

In songs like Every Single TearBinder of the Broken, and Whole in the Sight of God we hear about a God who loves us no matter what we are going through. In songs like You Are Not AloneChild of Mine, and Wounded Angel we hear from God the Father in the first person.  In We Forgive You we hear from Jesus in the first person. All of these songs represent God’s love coming down to us.

In songs like Keep BreathingAfter the Crowds are Gone, and More than a Survivor we hear that spirit of concern for and encouragement of the other, our neighbor,  people close to us who need someone to ‘hold the light ‘for them.

Finally, in songs like Stain Upon My HeartBeautiful Jesus, and Precious Lord Take My Hand we hear people crying out to God from the deepest part of their soul. While this might not seem like praise to some – again, not in the way it is commonly referred to – I believe it is. Let me explain.

I believe that what God most deeply desires from us is an authentic relationship. When we trust God with our truth, with the most vulnerable places in our lives we are honoring God. We are giving God the gift of our whole selves with nothing held back. Amy Grant recorded a song that captures what I mean beautifully:

Better than a church bell ringing,
Better than a choir singing out, singing out.
We pour out our miseries
God just hears a melody
Beautiful the mess we are
The honest cries of breaking hearts
Are better than a Hallelujah

(Chapin Hartford, Sarah Hart) © SONY/ATV MUSIC PUBLISHING LLC

When we pour out our hearts to God we are returning his love, entrusting our most painful secrets to our nurturing, caring Creator.

HELP FOR PASTORS

God has bypassed the mundane traditional educational circuit
and transplanted HIS gentle heart into the soul of this ministry
Dr. Doris Sanford

I really feel for pastors. They go to seminary to study the Bible, learn theology, and how to lead a congregation in walking daily with God. Certain denominations emphasize certain areas of religious life over others but by and large the point of a Christian church is to lead one to know and follow Jesus Christ.

Sin is not a word you hear a lot of in secular circles. But sin – the consequences of it, and the forgiveness from it – is a major theme for most denominations though some of them differ on what constitutes sin.

I won’t dive in to that debate here. However, what I will say is this. As we learn more about the brain and things like addiction, post traumatic stress, and the like, it gets a lot messier and harder for the church at large to always define sin in the kinds of black and white ways it used to.

And that is one of the reasons why I feel for pastors. They did not go to seminary to learn about eating disorders and body image issues. They did not go to seminary to learn about sexual abuse. They did not go to seminary to learn about substance abuse, or pornography addiction, or post-traumatic stress disorder. Yet in a congregation of any size all of these issues and a host of others not mentioned here have been experienced by those in the pews. In many cases, those issues are active and ongoing. Often there is a dual diagnosis at play where, for example, a person is abusing drugs because of a trauma in their past that has never been addressed. It is simply not fair to expect pastors to understand all of the complexities of mental health. It is also not helpful to label these behaviors sin and add a layer of guilt on top of someone’s pain.

Are there instances where a person knows right from wrong and is choosing to misbehave? Of course there are. That’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about the walking wounded who are carrying deep pain that needs to be acknowledged and addressed.

While clearly not intended to be a substitute for  counseling training Music for the Soul can help the pastor confronted by some of these types of issues to get a better handle on what a person is going through. Each of our full-length topical projects reflects more than a year of research and the input of Christian therapists and people who have recovered from the issue at hand. Spending time with these recordings may result in a pastor being better prepared to respond to a specific need and guide a person in the direction of appropriate help.

Rev. John Feldhacker of Edgehill United Methodist Church in Nashville, Tennessee puts it this way. “Without  experiencing first hand God’s transformational presence in Music for the Soul, it is difficult to understand the depth, and the effectiveness of this ministry. It is a ministry in the truest sense of the word. Music for the Soul channels God’s grace and models the nature of God’s love for people experiencing very real struggles and brokenness in today’s world. It takes taboo subjects and gracefully moves them into the center of pastoral conversations. In doing so it moves the church closer to the work that we should be doing by providing a holy platform to help people move from their brokenness to places of greater wholeness in their lives.”

When pastors first hear the name of our ministry they understandably make incorrect assumptions about us. Pastors of larger churches try to direct us to the worship team because that’s the lane music occupies in their congregational setting. Pastors of mainline churches without worship teams surmise we aren’t for them, again assuming that we are in the vertical, contemporary music lane. Often it is assumed that we are an artist-driven ministry. The exact opposite is true. At Music for the Soul we think of the listener as the artist. Every song is all about the listener and what God is doing in their lives.

At one point early on in the development of our ministry I had a vision in my mind of a person walking in to a pastor’s office and sharing about a problem they were going through. Instead of his having no idea what to say, I envisioned the pastor being able to turn around and pull a CD off of the shelf and say, “Listen to this.”

Incredibly, several years later, I had a pastor approach me at the American Association of Christian Counselors World Conference and act out the exact scenario I  described above. He said, “I keep a set of your CDs in my office. When someone comes in to my office dealing with one of these issues I turn around and pull one of the CDs off the shelf and tell them, ‘Listen to this.’ “

I was astounded! But I was so grateful to see that our work has been supportive of pastors who want to help people struggling with difficult issues. It is my hope that more and more pastors will see us as a resource that can help them address the needs of hurting people under their care.

A sermon won’t do it. A book won’t do it.
When you’re going down for the third time, it’s a song that rescues you.
Gloria Gaither

Naturally I would expect that most pastors might be a tad put off by Ms. Gaither’s statement. After all, this is quite a claim. However, I look at this way. Why choose between the two? A pastor can deliver a powerful sermon and pair it with a song, increasing the impact of both. There are a number of ways to do this.

A song can be used to set the tone and/or introduce a topic before the sermon begins. A story song can be used effectively in the body of a sermon to help illustrate a point or perhaps help to make a more emotional connection. A song can be used at the conclusion of a sermon to help drive home the main theme. People are much more likely to remember what they hear in a song. So later on, the song will help people remember the sermon message that was shared.

 

If I should ever die, God forbid, let this be my epitaph:
The only proof he needed for the existence of God was music
Kurt Vonnegut

I know there are some pastors who feel that their job is to save souls and that many of the things I’ve been talking about here are outside the bounds of their responsibility. But if evangelism is the focus, it is hard to not be given pause by the above quote.

Music has a way of arresting people’s attention and overcoming their defenses. The right music and lyric working together might possibly be just the thing that is needed to open up someone who has been resistant to the gospel message. It was the song Just as I Am that prompted me to give my heart to Jesus.  

If I were the best writer in the world I couldn’t do what music can do
Professor Wendy Farley, SFTS

The primary goal of Music for the Soul is not to evangelize. Rather we seek to offer hope and a pathway to healing to those who are wounded by sharing the love and compassion of Christ. That said Jesus Christ can use a song to forge a relationship with a person through words and music that speak deeply to his or her soul at the point of need.

I would suggest that pastors ought to seriously consider implementing songs in their services that would encourage the wounded within their congregation. If someone finds hope and the potential for healing and freedom from their pain within the context of a church service, it would seem to follow they would want to know more about the foundation upon which the church is built!

And let’s think for a moment about those who are in the pews who already have a relationship with God but still struggle with unresolved psychological and emotional issues. They need to know that God knows and understands what they are going through and loves them in the midst of their deepest pain. They need to be reminded that shame died on the cross and that there is nothing that can separate them from the love of God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:39)

Music is well said to be the speech of angels; in fact,
nothing among utterances allowed to man is felt to be so divine. It brings us near the infinite.
Thomas Carlyle

Every once in a while you come upon something on which there is no improving. The twenty-third psalm is a perfect example. This time honored scripture has been a comfort across the generations. It has been recited or in print at every funeral I’ve ever attended. For our recording of the psalm, Twenty Three, we wrote music that reflects the timelessness and emotional breadth of the sacred text.

Because we know that different settings and different worship styles require different approaches we have two very different versions. For more traditional, classical settings we have a fully orchestrated rendition with a male tenor vocal. For smaller or more contemporary settings we have a version performed on acoustic guitar with a female vocalist.

Even after over one hundred listens this piece still carries a profound impact for me. It speaks with enduring power and peace to the broad human condition in a way that seems applicable in all times and in all places.

Beautiful music is the art of the prophets that can calm the agitations of the soul;
it is one of the most magnificent presents God has given us.
Martin Luther

I said earlier that I feel for pastors. And I really do. They are overworked and under appreciated. They are expected to have all the answers since they are perceived to be spiritual authorities with a direct line to God. They are held to an unrealistic standard of behavior even though they are flesh and blood just like the rest of us. They are the first ones called when somebody goes to the hospital or when someone dies. They are the ones expected to implement the church agenda – and from what my pastor friends tell me their schedules allow for virtually nothing new to be added to the calendar.

I’m not a pastor, but I am in ministry, so I can relate a little bit. I refer to the job as being 25/8 – as in more than 24/7.  I’ve also found myself saying when weary, “Music for the Soul is music for everybody’s soul except mine.”

So I understand how the idea of exploring a catalog as vast as that of Music for the Soul might just seem like more homework, like something else they don’t have time to get to.

Music… in time of care and sorrow, will keep a fountain of joy alive in you.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

 

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