background music in church

this blog will be filed in the “church worker” category.

i’ve been thinking on this one for a while now.

it has been part of my life for years.  i’ve often wondered how to explain it.  i’m going to give it my best shot.

most churches that i go to want “background” music playing (usually on piano but sometimes on guitar) until the preacher starts his/her sermon.  no down time.  not a drop in the “momentum”.  after traveling a great deal and seeing many different versions of this i’ve developed a couple of different feelings towards this.

1-i love music.  i hear it in my head ALL OF THE TIME. i truly believe that certain notes and certain chords can bring forth all types of emotions.  i cry every time that i hear the 5 minor chord on keith urban’s song “raining on sunday”. it just moves me.

keep this in mind when you are playing, or when someone is playing background music behind you.  chords and notes can create tension, and resolve that go along with what the speaker is saying.

there was a keyboardist i remember that would always play this jazzy/gospel chord during very solemn and reflective times at the end of service– and that chord was always SO distracting.  most people didn’t realize what was distracting them, but it was that 15 voice chord!  that chord sent The Dove flying right out of the room!

as musicians we need to let the spirit lead us through these times.  treat it like a movie score.  every note counts.  every chord touches a certain emotion.  keep that in mind.

2-some pastors/preachers/evangelists rely too heavily on background music.  they seem to get scared in the silence.

i am aware that different denominations do things differently.  my home church in TN doesn’t rely on background music throughout the service.  this was a big adjustment for my ears.  to hear words without music behind them.  it isn’t right or wrong.  just different.  in a good way.  i needed to see that it wasn’t always necessary. (thank you Pastor Steve and Jonathon)

this has helped me to realize that some places may rely on it a little too much.

i’m looking for a balance.  not so much that it creates hype.  not so much that it brings on a “created” emotional moment.  but enough to create comfort for the pastor i’m helping and for the people out there looking for a God moment.

there ya go.


10 Responses to “background music in church”

  1. Frank Rue Says:

    Jacob –

    Good stuff. I have also found that music has played a significant role in churches—sometimes more significant than the very Gospel. Not that we should have a “formula” to avoid this, but that we really need to be evaluating and understanding how that music is affecting the mood of the room: is it manipulating emotions (bad) or evoking emotions (good)? Is it necessary? Does it even fit what the speaker is saying? Is it undergirding the Spirit in what He is doing with that moment, or is it trying forcing Him to do something that really isn’t what’s happening at that moment?

    I find that a lot of people will go to a big, moving concert (Hillsong United these days), and want to bring the emotional experience that they felt back to their church. Sometimes, that is exactly what God wants to do, and timing, mood, and even emotions work out to be right in line with His will. Other times, people try to “force” it, justifying it with, “Well, when *they* did it, it was really awesome and the Spirit moved!” Instead, what most worship folk need to grasp is the sense of balance to which you refer.

    I love that you advocate a conscious, lucid determination which includes the idea that music may not even be necessary at every moment. I, too, have seen the benefit of the lack of a soundtrack as well as the benefit of its presence, and I agree that neither is right or wrong—just different.

    Great stuff… There ya’ go. 🙂

  2. Eli Rodriguez Says:

    Thank you for this! I thought I was the only one who thinks and feels this way.

  3. Nathan K Says:

    I hear you Jake…and agree.

  4. Monte Young Says:

    good stuff and very well said.

  5. Wayne Hurst Says:

    I grew up in a Pentecostal musical background and being a keyboard guy, I am usually the go to guy for laying the emotional foundation for these times in a service. I’ve studied all the things that you are speaking of here and tried to be sensitive in setting the right tone for the moment. I remember years ago playing for a Christian rock/pop band. After every rehearsal these guys would sit on the floor in a circle and pray. They didn’t have music playing, they didn’t add the “preacher” tone to their voice. They just talked to God like they talked to me. It was uncomfortable for me in the beginning because it was very different for me. Now, I so much see the value in that approach. No hype, No drama, No begging, Just talking to God.

    What a great tool music is. I agree though that it over shadows more than it should in a lot of church settings. Good read Jacob.

  6. Daniel Gonzales Says:

    Digging this post bro.

  7. Steve Sensenig Says:

    So well said, Jake. I liked your use of the metaphor of movie soundtrack. I have often had the very same thought when I’ve been the one creating the “mood music” in a church.

    And a hearty AMEN on the value of silence. I remember getting called in to the office one time to be chided for suggesting silence. Silence is a part of music, not the opposite of it!

  8. Jereme Says:

    wow… this post is so “rich”…so much in it. same goes for the comments; great stuff!!!

    my 2 favorites:

    “tension & resolve” (so good Jake!!)

    “silence is a part of music” (I miss you Steve!!! 🙂 )

    I would add that music is literally a spiritual force in & of itself… it does just as much (maybe more) than the words that are being spoken; the difficult part is that this occurs in a realm that we cannot usually see, but only “sense”.

    scripture is full of references to this…one of the best known is I Samuel 16, when David plays for Saul to drive the evil spirit away.

    so a wrong note is not “just” a wrong note… and a good note is not just beautiful, it is literally creating something spiritual. and as Steve mentioned, NO NOTES, at the right moment, can do something powerful as well.

    I think in the end, it comes down to sensing where He is wanting to go, and following Him there through what we play. the Spirit is the real “worship leader”…we’re only playing what He tells us.

    and it’s always pretty easy to hear/feel the difference between something I played on my own, and something He told me to play. I live for those moments when I know I played it like He wanted…

    there is no better feeling in all the world, than when you can feel that connection happen between you & God, then you & your instrument, then the music & the people, then the people & God. it rocks!!!! 🙂

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