We Need a New Name
By Andrew Goins
There are a plethora of names for someone who leads music at a church; worship leader, music minister, choirmaster, or director of music. I have never liked these titles. Each of these titles grate’s against me. Worship leader is imprecise and theologically faulty. Music minister is too small of a title because I am not JUST ministering to people with music; I am leading a congregation in singing the “new song” of the future New Creation that seeps into this present moment as we harken and herald heaven in the ebb and flow of melody, in the thick and thinness of tone textured with words, murmurs, and mumblings that spring out of the contracting lungs and praising tongues of old men who rehearse the “better days” to feel relevant, and young men bumbling and fumbling in work trying to justify their existence and prove that they matter by “making a name for themselves.” All of this worked out in the context of a congregation. To lead music at a church is a vocation that contains many nuances, and thus requires a nuanced and precise title.
The titles that I mentioned above are not only imprecise and too small, but they are not found anywhere in the Bible, except for Choirmaster. I contend that these titles are simply insufficient. I used to participate in a homeless ministry where I would walk around and talk to folks, listening to their stories, confessions, and professions. Many of these folks were Christians and memorized a conglomeration of bible verses, but there was one verse that I heard repeated the most, “You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” It was spouted off within the community as a felt fact. It was woven into a conversation without either conversationalist being able to quite articulate how it related to the previous sentence, but both conversationalists would moan and groan in agreement. I might ask “How long have you been in Asheville” and George might respond “I’ve been here long before you were born son, just like Jesus says ‘You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me,” and a chorus of amens and hallelujah’s, would rise up and ring out in congruence with the conversationalist. At first, I might stand there puzzled wondering what he meant and why it received a chorus of yes sirs and amens. Over time I learned this verse was completely in context and quoted quite properly anytime it was quoted. It was the context of the text of their lives. They found themselves in the story of the bible! “The poor, that is us!” they said. They felt it deeply and “treasured these things and pondered them” in their hearts. They identified themselves in history, and His-story which encapsulates their idiosyncratic stories at the individual and interior intersection of hurts and hopes, loves gone and loves forgone, begging and belonging, abandonment and absences, cultural judgment and disgust all wrapped up in the word “poor” where all of these competing experiences that shape who they are become exposed before a God who loves them and cares for them in their poorness.
Where are the worship leaders and music ministers in the story of the bible? I want us to read and say “The leaders of worship! Look! That is us!” If we are not in His-story, we are mere abstractions lacking rootedness and floating in airy aloofness that is a nice flourish for the twenty-first-century church, but nothing more than a supplementary, extraneous participant in the consumerist culture that craves noise and despises silence.
So where are we in His-story? Well, I am glad you asked.
Resurrection and New Creation are intimately wed together in Exodus 14 and 15 as God rescues and Miriam dances and dally before God singing the “New Song” that flows out of God’s action just as water flows downward; it is the nature of things. God commands the sons of Aaron, “When you go into battle…a blast on the trumpets. Then you will be remembered by the Lord your God and rescued from your enemies,” or “David would take up his lyre and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him.” We are the Miriams, sons of Aaron, and David who harken and herald heaven and even become heaven’s haven. A sacred space, a holy place where God dwells with His people.
Music plays a role in this. The music leader plays a role in this. We are in many places in the bible, but the one I contend to be most obvious is in the life of a particular man. His name is Asaph. What are we leaders of music called? Children of Asaph.
Andrew Goins is on staff for a campus ministry at Appalachian State University called Ratio Christi. He also works as a youth leader and worship leader at Arbor Dale Presbyterian Church in Banner Elk.
Andrew is committed to simply and thoroughly loving his wife Bethany, growing in his bible nerdiness, delighting in good books (theology, poetry, and select fiction), music, photography, creation, and in gathering people together for bible studies, a shared meal, or making music.
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