PoW: The Heart of the Layperson (or the power of the gospel in music)

This is Part 4 of this series, sorry about it’s length, enjoy!

C.S. Lewis writes in Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, “I think our business as laymen is to take what we are given and make the best of it. And I think we should find this a great deal easier if what we were given was always and everywhere the same.”[1] Now, I believe there is truth and myth in this statement. Firstly, I believe as a layperson in the church one must make due with what that church has to offer. If we are to believe God is sovereign and we have submitted our will to His as believers, then we are exactly where God wishes us to be. This means whether one is in a church of thirty with a piano, or a solo guitarist and a singer, one sings joyfully; or if one happens to be in a church of hundreds even thousands and the church has multiple worship bands and venues, one sing joyfully in that.

The myth in the statement, though, is that worship should be the same everywhere. The quote goes on to criticize the priests and pastors who change their style based on fad, but standing alone the quote would drive people to be uniform in worship from church to church and person to person. Every person is unique as a creation of God. This means that each person will worship authentically in a differing way from the person next to him.  “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”[2] A worship leader cannot demand that everyone worship the way he wants him or her too. He can guide them, but he must allow them to “worship in spirit and truth.”

The worship leader may be, in a way, a descendant of the Levitical musicians and singers of old. However, the entire Church is a part of the priesthood,[3] meaning that we also must allow our congregation to minister to each other and to lead each other in worship. “The strong contribution of the gospel singer is the person to person – often layperson to layperson – witness of Christian experience. The biblical prototype of this kind of subjective song is found in the opening of Psalm 40 . . . [italics added]”[4] When a song has meaning to a layperson, or even better many laypeople, it will speak more to the heart of those gathered. “It should be apparent that this type of text has important meaning to singer and listener. It is a ballad, a narrative of the human experience . . .”[5]

The worship song carries great power. As noted above art (in this case music) has the ability to lift us with it into heaven. We should know that music has a powerful impact on the hearts and minds of those present. “I believe that music is one of the most powerful agents for good or evil” D.L.  Moody.[6] This statement should bring great encouragement to the worship leader and also cause him to be cautious about how he uses his music and the power it gives him to impact lives. He can use that power to demean or bully others to worship his way, or to see worship or the gospel the way he does. He can also, and should instead, use that power to communicate the freedom Christ brings and to convey the entire gospel message.

Recently, I was listening to a podcast by a worship leader named Rich Kirkpatrick. In this cast he was talking with some other worship leaders about how they gauge peoples involvement in worship. At one point, a participant in the discussion stated his belief that sometimes those that seem the most disinterested, those not singing, or standing in the back may actually be the most engaged or impacted. Rich followed this up with a story about a man in his church. Rich describes this man as a Linebacker and says that he believed that the Linebacker hated him. The reason being, he was always in the back row, standing taller than those around him, cross-armed and stoic—almost angry—during the times of worship. One day he ran into the Linebacker at the gym. The Linebacker confronted Rich and said, “Rich, your music brought me to God. I cannot thank you enough.”  He went on, “I can’t even do anything at church but stand there during the worship music. If I were to sing, I would end up crying and losing it.”[7]

Again, the issue of the layperson and the power of the music comes down to the heart condition. We cannot see the heart from the exterior. Sometimes, how one reacts, whether laughter, crying or stoicism gives a glimpse into the heart, but a worship leader can never truly know that if the music played on Sunday changed the life of the person who never smiles, sings or moves during the worship service.

[1] C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer (n.p.: Mariner Books, 2002), 4.

[2] John 4:23-24

[3] But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. – 2 Peter 2:9

[4] Donald P. Hustad, Jubilate 2 Church Music in the Evangelical Tradition (Carol Stream, Ill.: Hope Publishing Company, 1993), 238.

[5] Ibid. p239

[6] Bernard R. DeRemer , Moody Bible Institute: A Pictorial History, 30.

[7] Rich Kirkpatrick, “Episode,” Worship Mythbusters, http://worshipmythbusters.com/2011/02/18/episode-3-five-bad-ideas-that-can-make-worship-services-fake/ (accessed February 21, 2011).



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