It must be said by someone and therefore I will say it. The essence of worship in Christian churches has never been music of any style, contemporary or otherwise. Rather, until very recently in the history of the church, the preaching of the Word of God and the people’s response to that Word have been central to the experience of worship. While music is very important in our worship experience, and a delight, it must not be the primary focus of Christian worship. Rather, when in use, it has always functioned as another means by which the Word of God is declared. It is no wonder then that some of the early authors of the great hymns of the church were pastors such as John Newton and John Wesley.
An example of such hymnody is Wesley’s “And Can It Be?” Therefore, I will say it, though some may consider it heresy. It is the preaching of the Word that is CENTRAL to worship. It is the preacher who is the “Worship Leader,” not “the Music Pastor.” This is why the apostle Paul so carefully defined the place that music has in worship in Ephesians 5:18b-21 and Colossians 3:16.
He wrote that those who lead the music are obligated to choose hymns and spiritual songs that present God’s Word to the people (“Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly”). Thus, “touchy-feely,” sentimental Christian radio “hit parade” compositions, not centered on the Word of God, should be avoided. When we sing in church, let us sing the Word of God!
Ned L. Mathews, professor emeritus of pastoral ministries, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary