The Worship Workshop


Articles to read and be blessed.

Musical Perfectionism - by Colin Owen

Musical perfection is something that is desired by most modern churches today. It has become a doctrine, that the musicians and singers should strive to attain perfection. After all, God deserves our best! Well, doesn't He? In truth, what God deserves is our obedience, coupled with our willingness to serve Him.

Whilst in the Lord's presence the other day I received the following revelation. I speak as a life long musician, who has been called by God to preach His Word.

We expect our musicians and singers to practice hard to achieve a high standard. Modern songs have a tendency to be difficult to 'perform'. Especially those from America, and more recently, those from Australia. As a church, we do tend to get on the musical band wagon, even if our musicians and singers do struggle with the rhythmical structure of the songs. And as for the congregation, well, what does it matter if they can't rise to the vocal gymnastics required to enter in to what is laughingly called 'worship'. After all, we must be seen to be modern, and up to date with the latest music, mustn't we?

What we have is a spiral effect. Better, more accomplished, musicians and singers, write 'better' more musically demanding songs for us to play and sing. The result is that the average man in the pew is progressively excluded from entering into the musical performance, hence, God is robbed of worship, because of the music. Does this sound like idolatry? We are placing a higher priority on the music than God, and calling it worship. We are breading perfection, and perfection must be satisfied. Highly skilled musicians are not content with simple worship songs, their ability must be used to the full, to avoid frustration. So, the more we demand their perfection, the more we dig a hole for ourselves, and the further we distance ourselves from God.

With this in mind, the Lord said to me, "how often do you walk into the church and see the preacher practicing?" What a wonderful sight that would be. But preachers don't need to practice, do they? Well, which is more important, the delivery of the Word, or the songs? So, why expect the musicians and singers to practice and perfect their delivery, and not the preacher. Do we expect the elders and deacons to practice to achieve perfection? How about the church secretary, or the church accountant? What about the chap who greets people at the door, or the Sunday school teachers? So, why do we place this burden on our musicians and singers? Why expect of them what we do not expect from any other members of the church?

Some will already be thinking, the Bible talks about being skilled, and true enough it does.

1Ch 15:22 Kenaniah the head Levite was in charge of the singing; that was his responsibility because he was skillful at it.

We naturally understand skill to mean ability, but not so scripture. The Hebrew word used in this verse is:

0995 Nyb biyn {bene}

a primitive root; TWOT - 239; v

AV - understand 62, understanding 32, consider 22, prudent 8, perceive 7,
regard 6, discern 3, instruct 3, misc. 27; 170

1) to discern, understand, consider
1a) (Qal)
1a1) to perceive, discern
1a2) to understand, know (with the mind)
1a3) to observe, mark, give heed to,distinguish, consider
1a4) to have discernment, insight, understanding
1b) (Niphal) to be discerning, intelligent, discreet, have understanding
1c) (Hiphil)
1c1) to understand
1c2) to cause to understand, give understanding, teach
1d) (Hithpolel) to show oneself discerning or attentive, consider diligently
1e) (Polel) to teach, instruct
2) (TWOT) prudent, regard

Not much to do with physical skill, but everything to do with mental and, dare I say, Spiritual ability. The verse doesn't tell us that Kenaniah was a good singer, it tells us that he had knowledge and understanding of it. The two can be quite different.

Another example of skill as knowledge:

1 Samuel 16:16, NKJ.
16 "Let our master now command your servants, [who are] before you, to seek out a man [who is] a skillful player on the harp; and it shall be that he will play it with his hand when the distressing spirit from God is upon you, and you shall be well."

This was David's entry into the King's court, he got the invite on the strength of his musical ability. The verse says he was a skillful player, the Hebrew word used is:

03045 edy yada` {yaw-dah'}

a primitive root; TWOT - 848; v
AV - know 645, known 105, knowledge 19, perceive 18, shew 17, tell 8,
wist 7, understand 7, certainly 7, acknowledge 6, acquaintance 6,
consider 6, declare 6, teach 5, misc 85; 947

1) to know
1a) (Qal)
1a1) to know
1a1a) to know, learn to know
1a1b) to perceive
1a1c) to perceive and see, find out and discern
1a1d) to discriminate, distinguish
1a1e) to know by experience
1a1f) to recognize, admit, acknowledge, confess
1a1g) to consider
1a2) to know, be acquainted with
1a3) to know (a person carnally)
1a4) to know how, be skillful in
1a5) to have knowledge, be wise
1b) (Niphal)
1b1) to be made known, be or become known, be revealed
1b2) to make oneself known
1b3) to be perceived
1b4) to be instructed
1c) (Piel) to cause to know
1d) (Poal) to cause to know
1e) (Pual)
1e1) to be known
1e2) known, one known, acquaintance (participle)
1f) (Hiphil) to make known, declare
1g) (Hophal) to be made known
1h) (Hithpael) to make oneself known, reveal oneself

Again we see the emphasis is on knowing or knowledge. David knew how to play, so does a grade one piano player. The degree of physical ability is not included in the Hebrew, we ascribe our own understanding to it. To me, someone who is skillful, is someone who can play better than me. Not too difficult really, except I play by the Spirit of God, not by physical ability. Oh that there were more who had the same testimony. You can't practice on behalf of someone else, and I can't practice on behalf of God's Spirit (not that He needs it!). When He plays, He uses my fingers. Through my weakness comes His strength, so why try to strengthen my weakness? In any case, it's not the music that's important, it's the Spirit working that counts. And He can do more with three notes than any mere human can do with a thousand.

On the theme of weakness, didn't Jesus choose skilled people for His disciples? Surely He hand picked them for their ability to speak to a sinful world, didn't He? Well, He did hand pick them, but not for their skill. Peter, and most of the others were simple everyday folk with no special skills. They weren't even that good at fishing! Peter was a bit of a loud mouth, and kept putting his foot in it, yet God chose him to be leader! Matthew was a tax collector and 'skilled' with money, yet Jesus gave the money bag to Judas! It's not our natural ability that counts, though God does sometimes use it as a basis for ministry, no, it's what God does through us that matters. And He will only use our weaknesses not our strengths, then He gets the glory, not us.

Who among the Old Testament heroes was qualified for the job? Was Moses, or Isaiah? How about Gideon? Do you get the principal here? God uses those who are not qualified in the natural to achieve His purposes, so why are we pressurizing our musicians and singers into physical perfectionism when God only wants their weaknesses?

Improving the flesh weakens the spirit, for the two are opposed to each other! So, what's it to be, spirit or flesh? It can't be both.

A musician or singer need only be adequate, fairly competent. This is enough for God. It may not be enough for the musical idolaters, and spiritless leaders out there, but it is enough for God. What else matters? We joke about three chord guitar players, but I've seen the presence of God fall whilst such were leading. Surely it's the heart, not the chords that are important.

I believe there is a case for church leadership to repent, and ask forgiveness for this unfair and ungodly burden that they have allowed to be placed on their musicians and singers. What about it guys?

I said at the beginning, that this perfectionist teaching has become a doctrine, if so, then it is a doctrine of demons. For anything that takes our focus off God is demonic. Especially when it has to do with worship.

Below are some extra references to skill. It's the same Hebrew word used of David's playing....

Ge 4:1 Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, and said, "I have acquired a man from the LORD."

Ge 4:17 And Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch. And he built a city, and called the name of the city after the name of his son--Enoch.

Ge 4:25 And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and named him Seth, "For God has appointed another seed for me instead of Abel, whom Cain killed."

Ge 9:24 So Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done to him.

Ge 38:26 So Judah acknowledged [them] and said, "She has been more righteous than I, because I did not give her to Shelah my son." And he never knew her again.

To all my fellow musicians and singers with love,