Destroying the Malachi Mindset

There is a mind-set that has unfortunately been pervasive regarding Music Ministry for a number of years.  It's similar to Nathanael’s remarks to Phillip when he said he had found the Messiah, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  Our culture, together with many musicians and artists have a similar disdain for the capacity of the Church to produce anything worthwhile, stating, “Can anything good come out of the Church?” 

The viewpoint is: if an artist wants true recognition and success, he or she must find it outside the realm of ministry or Church involvement.   Church ministry is not usually a consideration, and is even disdained by those who are serious about fulfilling their career pursuits and dreams. 

To make matters worse, many of those in Church ministry have accepted the premise that maybe they can’t ‘make it’ in the world, so they just settle for a non-competitive ministry position. 

All of this stems from the general conclusion that local church (or the Church at large) is irrelevant to current culture, even unnecessary.  It certainly is not viewed as a place where high artistic achievement can exist. 

There was a time in Israel’s history that people had a similar mind-set.  The people through whom God chose to carry His Name had come to a place of ambivalence and even neglect of His temple.  It was as if they had grown cold to their calling, nonchalant to the richness of their heritage.  The prophet Malachi wrote to the people of Israel: 

“ ‘A son honors his father, and a servant his master.  Then if I am a father, where is My honor?  And if I am a master, where is My respect?’ says the Lord of hosts to you, O priests who despise My name.  But you say, ‘How have we despised Your name?’  You are presenting defiled food upon My altar.  But you say, ‘How have we defiled You?’  In that you say, ‘The table of the Lord is to be despised.’  But when you present the blind for sacrifice, is it not evil?  And when you present the lame and sick, is it not evil?  Why not offer it to your governor?  Would he be pleased with you?  Or would he receive you kindly?”  says the Lord of hosts.  “But now will you not entreat God’s favor, that He may be gracious to us?  With such an offering on your part, will He receive any of you kindly?” says the Lord of hosts…You also say, ‘My, how tiresome it is!’  And you disdainfully sniff at it,” says the Lord of hosts, “and you bring what was taken by robbery, and what is lame or sick; so you bring the offering!  Should I receive that from your hand?” says the Lord.” (Mal. 1:6-9,13) 

The priests had grown weary in the administration of temple service, and the people were not bringing their best anymore.  They were giving God their ‘leftovers’.  The temple (which represented God’s presence in their midst) was being shunned for other ‘more important things’ in their lives. 

Today’s artistic community has become a place in which fame, finance and dissipation has supplanted discipline, sacrifice and a desire for integrity (even at the expense of obscurity).

The local church, to today’s artist, has come to represent the death of an otherwise successful career.  The path is an exact reversal of what today’s artist hopes to achieve. 

Our community, much like the Israelite’s in Malachi’s day, has willingly walked away from God’s presence, while still wanting to receive His blessing.

Even many of our priests (those called into the service of the local church) have longingly looked away from the altar of sacrifice, to the approval of pop culture and compromised integrity. 

What does integrity as a dedicated artist look like in today’s world?  What does pure dedication, holiness and honor look like for someone who is ‘sold out’ to God, having a passion for worshiping His Name and exclaiming His excellencies with whole-hearted commitment?  Is it even possible that the phrases: ‘dedicated Christian minister’ and ‘artistic excellence’ can be uttered in the same breath? 

King David, who established a pattern of whole-hearted worship in his reign in Israel, had become a distant memory to the Israelites in Malachi’s day.  His passion would have been distasteful to them.  Had David lived in their time, he may have even been persecuted or killed for his ‘extreme’ views.  (Interestingly, today’s media culture demonizes anyone who is ‘passionate’ in their religious convictions, calling them ‘radicals’ and ‘extremists’.)  

Here is just one of many accounts in David’s life revealing his whole-hearted passion for God’s presence: 

When the Ark of the Covenant had come to Araunah the Jebusite, David wanted to offer a burnt offering.  Araunah offered to give David everything necessary to do so, “Let my lord the king take and offer up what is good in his sight.  Look, the oxen for the burnt offering, the threshing sledges and the yokes of the oxen for the wood.  Everything, O king, Araunah gives to the king.”  But David’s response, “No, but I will surely buy it from you for a price, for I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God which cost me nothing.” (2 Sam. 24:22-24) 

David wanted to give God his very best.  Nothing less would be congruent with his heart of gratitude, respect and honor for all that God was in his life. 

At a time, historically, when numerous artists are struggling to be heard above the myriads of voices in the world, a time when community for the artist seems to be closing in with greater isolation and fewer opportunities, perhaps the long forgotten venue of the community of the local Church is prime for renewed artistic expression. 

Perhaps the hollowness of today’s secular ‘success’ will give way to a new generation of artists who are ‘sold out’ to a higher purpose of extreme spirituality, commitment, dedication and sacrifice, those who are willing to be motivated by the approval of God rather than the approval of man, willing to release the pursuit of fame for the motivation of pure craftsmanship in His Name rather than their own.

Perhaps the true prophetic role of the artist will return to those whom God can trust, vessels of honor through whom Almighty God will speak, artists who have become instruments in His hand, through whom He changes the course of human culture, yet are incapable of being changed by that culture.

Such artists are fearless among men, highly esteemed in secret places.


(for more, see The Three Uses of Music and the Arts)


What's a Music Minister?

When I first learned that my official title was 'Music Minister' I cringed.  I grew up poking fun at the lack of excellence in church hymns and the corny emotionalism found in certain denominational music.  Sure, some churches tried hard to be excellent, but they were, ultimately, a long way off.

But now I was leading people in Christian worship music and amazingly, in my own church community, I was the one holding the destiny of what I used to make fun of!

I guess, like the many media images of pastors that we see, portrayed as boring, impotent, and self-effacing, I likewise had a warped image of what I thought a music minister was supposed be.  I knew I had to replace that image in my mind quickly if I was going to have any success.

I was pleasantly surprised when I looked into my Classical music background.  I found that many of those we consider great composer/musicians had religious convictions and inspiration for their music.  Among them were Messiean, Beethoven, Mozart, and Mendelsohn, to name a few.  But the one who stood out to me as a potential role-model was J.S. Bach.

Here was a man that stood for moral and spiritual integrity, as well as artistic integrity.  He was not only inspired by Christianity in his work, but he lived it.  Here was someone who took Martin Luther's 'praise songs' and brought them to a much higher artistic level.  He was an innovator in musical tuning, keyboard technique and new instruments, as well as being the 'father' of Western art music.  I couldn't think of a better example to draw from, as I embarked upon my new journey into contemporary Christian music.

My second example and role model for being a 'music minister' came from the Bible: King David.  Before he reigned as king, he watched his father's sheep, out in the middle of nowhere.  He was unknown, unappreciated and yet he was content to worship God in the recording contracts, no concert tours...just himself, his harp and God Almighty.

I related to this picture of David, because in my high-school years, I was 2,000 miles away from home, living in the generally unoccupied home of my violin teacher, practicing between 5-8 hours a day.  Since I did my high school work by correspondence, I had no friends.  It was just me, my instrument and God. 

I learned in those days not to be afraid of being alone, not to be afraid of asking probing questions about life, why I'm here and what I'm doing.  I'm sure David did this too.

Out of David's relationship with God, he wrote songs that have echoed through the ages, drawing hearts into a greater focus of God Himself.  David, too, was an innovator of new methodologies of worship, new musical instruments, and ultimately, a new theology that made a way for the Messiah of the New Testament.  David saw things that others couldn't see, he led Israel into a success that others couldn't accomplish, and he became the channel through which God Himself would enter the world.

After seeing these two examples of 'music ministers', I was fueled with new enthusiasm.  I still don't like hearing the phrase 'music minister', but when I realized that I was in the same line as J.S. Bach and King David it sure made me feel a lot better! 

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