If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. -1 Corinthians 13:1 (NIV)
I’ve been thinking about this verse as it relates to worship music, both as a music leader and a congregation member. What it boils down to for me, in a musical context, is this:
Whatever I do, no matter how beautiful or excellent, if I do it without love I’m just making noise.
Love for what? Who? The first and most important answer is God (surprise!). Without a love for God and a desire to know Him more, our Sunday morning music really is just noise. This seems ridiculously obvious. Of course we need love of God as the motive for our praise! I mean, we’re singing about loving Him, right? But when I take a step back and examine my motives, what’s running through my mind and driving me at rehearsals, on Sunday morning, and during services is not always a love of God. It may be impatience, daily worries crowding out my thoughts, making me want to get through the songs as quickly as possible. It may be musicianship, wanting to nail a certain part in a song or show off my chops. It could be a sense of obligation or duty, or it could just be apathy, singing without seeing any real connection between the song and my daily life. Realizing this, I can see how empty and “clanging” my own worship can be if I’m not careful.
We also need love for the congregation. This is where it gets more difficult. Love of God is primary, yes, but it should always lead us to a greater love for others. It’s possible to start with a passion for God and want to praise Him in song, and then forget that as a worship leader we are serving the congregation, not ourselves. We are meant to be encouraging and facilitating the congregation in their worship, not inviting them to watch us and sing along if they can. What a congregation needs may not always be in line with our own artistic vision, but humility should allow us to serve with gladness regardless.
I do think, however, that a love of artistic beauty is also necessary. While it needs to be balanced with practicality and service to the congregation’s needs, as artists we should aspire to do the absolute best we can with what God has given us. God delights in creativity, and using the artistic gifts we’ve been given in as creative and passionate a way as we can glorifies Him.
With a driving love for God and desire to praise Him in song, a servant’s love for the congregation, and a love for the beauty and mystery of music, our worship can be truly powerful. Without love? Well…