Pastor Joe, our worship leader, asked me some time ago if I could prepare a lesson on worship for the worship team. So after some delay, here we go.
In the Temple of Jerusalem the devotions and worship of the people of Israel were led by the priests and the Levites. While the analogy is imperfect, we today have a similar arrangement with pastors and evangelists leading the ministry of the word, and worship leaders, choir directors, and worship teams guiding the “praise.”
I will deviate here for clarification purposes. As I have already noted the analogy is imperfect. While in the Catholic, Orthodox, and “high” Protestant churches, there still is a distinct sacramental role in which “priest-craft” is mandated, most evangelical churches, and those based on the fundamentals of the scriptures hold to a “priesthood of all believers.” It is in this sense that those proclaiming the Word, and those focusing others on praise are all fulfilling the “priestly role” of being a bridge between the divine and the world.
That said, the role of those leading the music, devotional readings, and other outward expressions of faith (dance, drama, and even the decoration and craft of the meeting house) are “Levites” in their duties.
Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus, that the believers should “speak[ing] to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord (Ephesians 5:19).”
Speaking in Psalms is an interesting starting place. A psalm simply put is a prayer set to music. The term itself is drawn from a Greek root “to pluck.” The book which bears that name in Hebrew is Tehillim “praises,” [but contains hymns and songs as well]. One of these (number 100) encapsulates this meaning wonderfully, “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands. Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing (verses 1 and 2).”
This 100th Psalm leads us to hymns. These are odes or songs in praise of God. Originally a Greco-Roman concept in praise of the gods of Olympus or the Capitol, its meaning is still clear – “Singing the glory of the Divine.” While psalms bear a connotation of praying accompanied by “the twanging of a harp” and thus possibly a solo presentation as well as a communal one, Hymns (and chorales) are intended to be communal.
Spiritual songs are as they suggest musical expressions which uplift the congregation either as individuals or a body. These may reflect on our Christian walk, on our relationship to the family and to God, or to scriptures. Many of these scriptural ones are powerful. Two of my favourites which illustrate their application are I John 4: 7-8 and Sister Janet Mead’s rendering of the Lord’s Prayer.
But much can also be learned in reflection of the final phrase of the Ephesian passage, “make music (melody) from your heart to the Lord.” This musicality whether skilled or raw is an act of the heart. It should never become mere performance!
So, whether congregational reciting of psalms (via Psalters, or more modern renderings), hymns and “songs of praise,” or reflective spiritual reflections – the praises of a church are an uplifting expression of faith. Those who lead and guide these efforts are every bit as much “ministers” (servants) of the flock as are the pastors, teachers, and evangelists.
King David saw this and applied the skills of the Levites to further the worship of God, In 1 Chronicles 25 we see,
“King David and the leaders of the Levites chose the following Levite clans to lead the worship services: Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun. They were to proclaim God’s messages, accompanied by the music of harps and cymbals. This is the list of persons chosen to lead the worship, with the type of service that each group performed: . . .The six sons of Jeduthun: Gedaliah, Zeri, Jeshaiah, Shimei, Hashabiah, and Mattithiah. Under the direction of their father they proclaimed God’s message, accompanied by the music of harps, and sang praise and thanks to the Lord. The fourteen sons of Heman: Bukkiah, Mattaniah, Uzziel, Shebuel, Jerimoth, Hananiah, Hanani, Eliathah, Giddalti, Romamti Ezer, Joshbekashah, Mallothi, Hothir, and Mahazioth. God gave to Heman, the king’s prophet, these fourteen sons and also three daughters, as he had promised, in order to give power to Heman. All of his sons played cymbals and harps under their father’s direction, to accompany the Temple worship. And Asaph, Jeduthun, and Heman were under orders from the king. All these twenty-four men were experts; and their fellow Levites were trained musicians. There were 288 men in all. To determine the assignment of duties they all drew lots, whether they were young or old, experts or beginners (verses 1 – 8).
These leaders of worship were also “workers worthy of their hire,” as 1 Chronicles 9: 33 notes, “Those who were musicians, heads of Levite families, stayed in the rooms of the temple and were exempt from other duties because they were responsible for the work day and night.” I was talking to a brother recently who seemed surprised that worship leaders could do it as “a job.” Yet, here we have in the scriptures a sound precedent. Even if unpaid (or merely as an expression of their own devotion) these guides to our praises are worthy of our thanks, and recognition.
The body has many parts (1 Corinithians 12), and each has its role and importance. For those who are called to be leaders in praise, whether in music, word, or dance, do so making the “melody in your heart.” For those of us who follow, let us share in their melody, and together live and praise in harmony.