We need more lyres in church. Sort of.
When I was 15 years old, I was both a baby Christian and novice guitarist. In spite of both those factors, I was allowed by the music director at our church to sit in with the praise team during practices. I eventually got to start playing on Sunday mornings even if it was just the most basic chord strumming. I remember a particular time when the pastor commented after a service that he noticed I had been able to play a chord progression I had, in my inexperience, been struggling to play. He probably never thought that his quick word of encouragement would inspire me to continue honing my guitar playing skills and using what I learned there to serve in multiple churches over the years. He could have said nothing, or he could have asked his wife (a.k.a. the music director) to not include me on the praise team until I was more skilled and mature.
Fast forward twenty years to when my family and I moved to Florida. During a conversation with the music director at the church there we ended up attending there, I was asked if I played any instruments. I replied, “Guitar, and some piano.” He asked, half jokingly, “So, bass guitar?” I clarified, “Guitar and piano.” He again replied, “Right. So, bass then? I’ve got one you can borrow.” They needed a bass more than any other instrument, so, I learned bass kicking and screaming, but I helped fill a need rather than insisting on doing what I thought I was equipped (and wanting) to do. Bass wasn’t my favorite instrument to play, though it has grown on me since then.
What’s the point of all this? Two things: First, we have both current and future need of musicians not just in my current church, but in other churches all over world … and for the foreseeable future. The second is to never underestimate the power of an encouraging word. There are a handful of moments I can point to in my life where someone spoke a word to encourage, rebuke or instruct me that had what may seem a disproportionally profound impact on my growth as a person and a Believer.
If you are a musician currently, even a novice, who isn’t using your abilities to serve the body of Christ, find the right person to talk to in your church and see how and when you can exercise your talents. Maybe you already know how to play an instrument or two, but there’s a need to learn another. Don’t be resistant like I was. Or, maybe you don’t know how to play even a kazoo, but want to play something someday. Again, find the right person and have a conversation. Maybe your church has a “loaner” guitar or cajon sitting in some closet behind the stage just waiting to be played, or, as in my experience, someone has a bass guitar rotting in a case at home that you can borrow. However it comes about, see how you can get started whether you’re five or 50 years old. It may be that you don’t actually play in a church service for five, 10 or even 20 years. Not to worry! You can be a blessing to a congregation or other gathering and honor the Lord with your talents when the time is right.
The thing is, we can train children’s ministry workers, greeters and coffee brewers in a matter of days or weeks, but not so with musicians (though, in no way am I diminishing the importance of any of those roles … especially the coffee). Because of my job, my family and I have moved many times in the past couple decades, and thus we have attended many churches. The one consistent theme amongst all of them (other than the Gospel, of course) was the need for musicians. Sadly, musicianship has been on the decline in America for years, and it’s no different in our churches.
“Why not just sing a cappella if we don’t have sufficient instrumentalists?” Well, I’m glad you asked.
Isaiah 38:20 says, “The Lord will save me, and we will play my music on stringed instruments,” and in 2 Chronicles 29:25 when the people of Judah were repenting of their failure to worship God as they should have been, it says, “And (Hezekiah) stationed the Levites in the house of the Lord with cymbals, harps, and lyres … for the commandment was from the Lord through His prophets.” If you do a simple word search for “instruments” in the Bible you’ll find there are plenty of other passages that also make it clear lutes, harps, lyres, cymbals, trumpets, etc. are an important part of our worship of the Lord. That’s why we as the Church need to encourage the right people who possess musical abilities currently to start playing today, and to cultivate musicians who will play months and years from now. Notice how I said “the right people.” Yes, being qualified to play in church takes more than just the ability to make good noises with an instrument. There are also character qualifications, particularly that they are a Believer (since, after all, unbelievers can’t lead in worshiping a Savior they don’t believe in); and no, wearing skinny jeans and flannel shirts is not a prerequisite.
So, on that note (see what I did there?), pray and ask if God might be prompting you to either contribute a talent you already have, or develop one you can contribute in the future. If you’re a parent and have a child who expresses interest in playing an instrument, consider how you might be able to cultivate that. Yes, purchasing instruments and paying for lessons will cost you something (though the online used instrument market and YouTube lessons are alive and well), it’s an investment in both your child and, if they use it to minister, the Kingdom of God.