Musician as theologian

If you ask most people who’s the theologian in a local congregation, they’re more likely than not going to point to the ordained clergy. But that’s just not the whole story according to an article by Mark Gorman posted in the Duke Divinity School Magazine.

Congregational musicians, because of their shared leadership of worship with the clergy, have a responsibility for practical daily theology of most worshiping groups. Making decisions about which hymns to choose, which anthems to pair to specific biblical texts can have as much impact in how those texts are understood by the congregation as anything the preacher says from the pulpit.

And that means that congregations will have to make sure that their musicians have the resources and training they need to accomplish that work.

“In most churches, the musicians are not world-class performers but volunteers or part-time workers, often overworked and underappreciated. In many cases, they are not even affiliated with the denomination of the church they are serving—or are not Christians at all. It would seem unreasonable or unrealistic to add ‘musical theologian’ to their duties, or to ask that before each service they consider how their musical decisions contribute to the theological formation of the congregation.

This line of thought misses the point. Musicians, whether or not they are aware of it, are shaping congregations theologically through their music. Congregations, even if they don’t explicitly know it, are formed theologically by the music of their worship services, just as they are formed by the sermon, the prayers, and the sacraments. Vibrant worship, therefore, requires that both church musicians and the congregations they serve become more sensitive to the theological work of music.

This might mean that a congregation, for example, would pay for its musicians to receive additional training in playing for worship services, or even in theology. While formal seminary study is one way to do this, many groups offer such training. The American Guild of Organists has regular continuing education opportunities. Hampton University offers a one-week workshop each summer for organists and choir directors, as does Westminster Choir College. Arcus also recommends denominational groups, like the Fellowship of United Methodists in Music and Worship Arts, which offer a broad variety of materials. “

Read the full article here.

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