Two former colleagues discuss the dynamics of ministering in concert.

What should be the relationship between a pastor and his minister of music? To answer this question, CT called on Warren W. Wiersbe and Richard D. Dinwiddie, who ministered together for seven years at Moody Church, Chicago.

DINWIDDIE: Senior pastors and ministers of music often ask how they can make their relationship more effective and their mutual ministries more successful. Drawing upon our years of ministry together, perhaps we can suggest some essential guidelines for a pastor and a minister of music concerning what each should know about the other and his ministry.

WIERSBE: The minister of music should know the pastor’s philosophy of ministry: Is the musician part of a team or merely an employee? He should also know about the pastor’s philosophy of music: What does the pastor expect from the music ministry?

The pastor should want some evidence that the musician is a maturing Christian called of God to this ministry, not just a musician who happens to be a Christian. One is a shepherd, the other only a hireling.

This is a real problem. The minister of music ought to be an expert in his field, yet interested in every area of the church and somewhat conversant with each program.

Many ministers of music tell me they have little, if any, quality time with the senior pastor. To have a truly unified ministry, they must work closely together. For instance, the minister of music should know well in advance the direction of the pastor’s messages, then thoroughly study each passage so he can plan music that will complement the pulpit ministry. The Holy Spirit doesn’t have to wait until the last minute to figure out what to do!

Work together, plan together, pray together—and stick together. Paul believed in a team ministry—preaching and singing the Word together. We also must minister to each other, the pastor learning something new about music, and the minister of music learning more about preaching and the doctrines of the Word.

A good church musician must be a responsible Bible student and a competent theologian. How often we hear people pray before a worship service, “Lord, bless the choir as it sings and the pastor as he ministers the Word.” The idea that music “prepares the heart for the message,” “sets the tone,” or that it is only “preliminaries” reveals a utilitarian philosophy that fails to realize that music itself should be a bona fide ministry of the Word.

Sometimes the pastor doesn’t minister the Word and the choir saves the day! But the minister of music needs to know the pastor’s philosophy of music: Is the minister of music only to entertain? Or will he permit him to enrich the congregation’s understanding of worship and the importance of music?

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You used the word “entertain.” Obviously, if we don’t enjoy what we hear we are not likely to listen to its message. But there is a critical distinction between entertainment and mere amusement. Some people think it doesn’t matter what we sing as long as we enjoy it. Yet, Colossians 3:15–17 makes it quite clear that the Word and praise must go together. A genuinely biblical philosophy of music demands theologically correct praise. God is a God of truth. A musician has no more right to sing a lie than a preacher has to preach one. The theology of some “Christian” songs today has little or no biblical support. It is no wonder so many ministers of music do not have the respect of their pastors. One reason pastors do not take music more seriously is that musicians do not take theology seriously enough.

If a congregation is growing in the Word it will grow in its expression of praise. A maturing child doesn’t use baby talk all his life. Likewise, a maturing church must grow in its expression of worship. People need a “new song” in order to express the new truths they learn and their new experiences in the Lord. Congregations that sing the same songs week after week are telling everybody, “We’re a stagnant church; we aren’t growing.”

But you know how difficult it is to get some churches to change. Bondage to tradition, no matter how glorious, can be fatal. There are those who would willingly see a program die rather than change.

This is another area in which these ministers need to work together. If the minister of music is only an employee, doing what he’s told, there is little opportunity for growth.

We’re talking about balance and variety within the context of biblical truth. As the pastor shares the Word, the minister of music helps the church sing the Word in worship and praise. This may mean teaching new songs …

… or even purchasing a new hymnal. Horrors!

What should a prospective minister of music do after he learns the senior pastor’s philosophy of leadership and of music?

He ought to listen to the man preach a few times and ask himself, “Can I sit under this kind of ministry and really grow?” He himself needs to be fed. He must be excited about sharing the Word in music because the preacher is excited about the Word.

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He also needs to determine if the pastor is mature enough to have learned the crucial biblical balance of love and truth. Either without the other is destructive of both people and programs. He also should know the structure of the music ministry. If there is a music committee, what does it do? Who determines the budget? Does the church call the minister of music, or is he “hired” by a committee? I definitely believe he ought to be called by the entire congregation, don’t you?

Absolutely. He is a minister to the whole church, not just a hired expert. He does not work for the music committee. As far as the committee is concerned, its members must agree on their philosophy and personally know something about music. Too often music committees are composed of tone-deaf people who have never read a good book on worship. If the church trustees knew as little about their field as do many music committee members the building would fall down.

The minister of music needs to know the pastor’s concepts concerning hymn selection. Is everything in the service to focus on one theme? Personally, I think such services week after week get boring, and do not meet the needs of all the people. Furthermore, there aren’t enough topics that lend themselves adequately to a mono-thematic structure on an ongoing weekly basis.

I think the music, the Scripture readings, and the message need to complement one another. This doesn’t mean everything is on the same theme. A mature pastoral team knows how to blend the ingredients. The people in the congregation are at various stages of spiritual growth and going through different experiences. We must be sensitive to the Spirit and to the needs of the church.

The pastors cannot afford to work in “splendid isolation” from their people or from one another.

When pastors are isolated from their people, their ministry becomes academic. The minister of music may not have time for general pastoral ministry, but he certainly ought to “pastor” his choir. If we keep in touch with our people, we can listen and learn. But we should not be oversensitive to criticism. Many Christians who never would think of criticizing a sermon will readily criticize the music. Everyone thinks he or she is an expert in music.

Even if they know nothing about it! Church music, I believe, must exhibit excellence, balance, and doctrinal truth. Broadening personal taste, even a little, requires love, time, wisdom, and courage. There often is some room for latitude here.

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A minister of music needs to beware lest he judge the members too severely. He should understand and love his people, pray for wisdom, and work with the senior minister in planning for spiritual growth. As Donald Hustad says, “The general who gets too far ahead of the troops often gets mistaken for the enemy.”

Although we do not “put on performances” just to appeal to the unsaved, an effective ministry of music can help the church in its evangelistic outreach. We proved that a consistent program of genuine quality attracts people who otherwise would not come to church.

Of course. This is especially true in larger metropolitan areas where the “culture crowd” goes from one concert to another. Donald Coggan [former archbishop of Canterbury] has said that the purpose of the church is not to entertain the goats but to feed the sheep. However, an excellent music ministry makes it easier for the sheep to witness to the goats.

We both have seen how lives can be changed through the witness of quality sacred music. I recall one woman who trusted Christ while listening to the Christmas concert.

The ministry of music is not only a witness in itself, but it helps break down barriers and gives us an opportunity to make other contacts with people. It is no secret that the great revivals and evangelistic movements in church history have been associated with music.

So then the preacher has the obligation to create an atmosphere in which the ministry of music can grow and be exciting. The minister of music must present such excellence and balance in music, based on the Word, that the preacher is free to proclaim the message.

And both must grow in their appreciation of each other. There must be openness, honesty, mutual ministry—“speaking the truth in love.”

Perhaps each of us could give a final word of counsel. I would say:

Be a minister first, a musician second. But because you serve the Master Artist, you, of all musicians, have the greatest responsibility to exhibit the greatest degree of excellence.

And mine is this ancient anonymous prayer:

From cowardice that shrinks from new truth,

From the laziness that is content with half-truths,

From the arrogance that thinks it knows all truth

O God of truth, deliver us!

Dr. Wiersbe is associate teacher of the “Back to the Bible” broadcast, Lincoln, Nebraska. Mr. Dinwiddie is music director and conductor of The Chicago Master Chorale.

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