You have likely spent a lot of time experiencing music in a church setting. Music is probably a large part of the conversation every week as you prepare for your services. And it is likely that you have had an argument or two about styles or the way that music should or should not be used in your church. Why all the fuss? Why does music seem to be such a point of division in many congregations? And most importantly, what can we do about it?

I know you want to have less division regarding music in your church, but to do that you have to dig down to its foundation.

Music is simply a tool. It is like a hammer that can be used to build or destroy. It is not intrinsically moral. It is not religious. The tool of music is not the sole property of the church. It is an art form that has been used for countless purposes.

Musical style is a tool as well. Styles are not intrinsically moral either (i.e. heavy metal music does not equal devil worship). The notes and sounds all come from voices, body parts, and instruments moving air molecules in concentrated patterns. Styles of music are vehicles of social empathy. They are ways that specific people find connection with one another. Perhaps this is why it unites us – it reminds us of what we have in common. It also points to why it often divides us – not because we disagree theologically, but because we don’t all share the same social contexts.

The Power of Music

The reason music is so effective as a tool is that it activates multiple areas of the brain. In fact, it reaches more deeply in the brain than almost anything else. Music lights up the emotional center of your brain called the limbic system where we also experience the highs that come from eating, sex, and drugs.

Can you see how this points us to the root of the problem? We are emotional beings and music pulls on those strings like almost nothing else does. It is so tightly tied to memories and our own social and spiritual formation that it has a powerful effect on us in positive and negative ways. We can hear a song and immediately be taken back to a moment in our past that deeply moves us with heartbreak, fills us with anger, makes us overjoyed, etc.

We are emotional beings and music pulls on those strings like almost nothing else does.

Let’s commit to seeking unity and embracing one another’s different experiences and preferences. There is plenty to learn if we will put music to work as a tool to bring unity and understanding instead of division.

3 Different Ways Music Can Be Used in Our Services

If the conversation around music is creating disunity in your team, take the conversation back to these three primary uses for music in the church.

1. To Express Your Heart to God

Great songs of worship help us to say what we want or need to say to God. Sometimes they put to words what we have felt but could not express before. Ephesians 5:19 encourages us to speak to each other in, “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart” (ESV). We should all desire to sing and make melody to God with our songs. If this is our heart, the style is a subjective element. How do I know? Because we don’t know what the original music of the Bible sounded like. We have no recordings. As a result, none of us sing the Psalms or worship in their original style. You have added your own or adopted that of another generation or culture. So stop arguing about style. It’s a distraction. Instead, do whatever you can to express your heart to God and give grace to those who desire to do it in a different way. Begin your discussions about music with this question, “How is music helping the unique people in our congregation express their hearts to God?”

2. To Encourage One Another

Encouragement begins with empathy. To truly encourage someone, you first seek to understand what they are experiencing and then attempt to speak appropriate words or take fitting action that can soothe and heal. Songs help us to do this in a way that allows everyone to participate in mutual encouragement. Throughout history, beginning with Paul and Silas, the persecuted church has sung together to remind themselves of the goodness and faithfulness of God. Ask yourselves this question, “How is the music in our services encouraging our congregation and giving them the opportunity to encourage one another?”

3. To Teach

Because music is so tightly tied to memory, songs are a powerful tool to help us remember truth.

Because music is so tightly tied to memory, songs are a powerful tool to help us remember truth.

Music should be used in the church, not just as a tool to move people with emotion, but to carry foundational truth deep into our brains and hearts. Let’s make sure the music we use serves this purpose as well by asking this question, “How effective is this music in teaching our people important truth?”

I hope this will help you have more effective conversations around how you use the tool of music in your services. I pray that God helps your whole staff navigate this with grace and humility. I do have one final note about this subject. I hope that you will not isolate music to one fifteen-minute section of your services. I encourage you to begin experimenting with it in different ways, especially throughout your transitions and even your messages. Also, don’t be afraid to use “non-Christian” music that is culturally relevant if it answers the three questions above for some if not all the people in our congregation.

In the end, I pray that you would make the most of this tool to bring people nearer to the Lord. Remember, it is not the tool that makes something sacred or holy, it is the worker made holy by God using it for good purposes that makes it effective for building God’s kingdom.