Note: The author of this article, Pastor Zhu Guijin, is a teacher from the East China Theological Seminary and a member of the Shanghai Musicians Association.
I once studied at East China Theological Seminary when it was located in the north building of Mu'en Church in Shanghai, and there I met the senior pastor of Mu'en Church, Pastor Shi Qigui, who was a pioneer in the field of Christian music.
I remember that Pastor Shi once said, "A preacher who doesn't know music only counts half!" As I gained more experience in church ministry, I've found Pastor Shi's words to be increasingly profound.
In Sunday service, the congregation usually sings at least two or three hymns. I once heard a female pastor sing an octave lower when she was leading worship. While it sounded awkward and uncomfortable, it would also distract the congregation from the content of the hymns and even affect the quality of the service.
I had also seen several pastors who just stood quietly in front of the microphone while leading the worship. The reason could be they did not know how to sing the song, nor did they prepare for it. The whole service became dull and confusing just because the leading pastor did not know how to sing.
If the pastor can sing or is more skilled in music, he or she will be able to completely change the atmosphere of the service and lead the congregation to participate more fully in worship during the service.
In gospel-centered churches, sermons tend to be relatively long. As a result, believers can easily fall asleep during the sermon. Therefore, the pastor can try to include an appropriate song in the sermon; he can sing it himself or ask the choir or the congregation to sing it. Such an arrangement can not only make the sermon more lively, effective, and acceptable but also allow the believers to become more involved.
Music is an advanced language. When people cannot express their thoughts in words, they often resort to music. Therefore, if pastors know how to use music to express certain parts of the sermon, it will have surprising effects.
I had witnessed the officiating pastors in many communion services go horribly out of tune right after a brief prayer, even though they had sung the same hymn before the prayer with piano accompaniment. They would go up or down but could not hit the right pitch, causing the pianists to panic and ruining the beauty of the service.
In my opinion, while we cannot expect pastors to be skilled musicians, they should at least acquire a basic accuracy of pitch so that they will not be out of tune when they lead the congregation in singing.
Once I went to visit Mrs. Shi, Pastor Shi's wife, who had suffered a stroke for a long time and had great difficulty speaking and greeting people. But when I told her that I was going to sing the hymn "Lead, Kindly Light, Amid the Encircling Gloom" to her, she was immediately in high spirits and said, "It is the 262nd hymn." After that, we sang some hymns together, and Mrs. Shi was in a good mood and cheerful the entire time.
If pastors can sing hymns while visiting and comforting the sick, it will certainly be more effective than just using words. This is because Christian music (especially traditional hymns) contains teachings from the Bible as well as important messages such as Christology, Ecclesiology, and Eschatology. By singing these hymns, pastors will bring joy, comfort, and hope to the people they visit without even realizing it.
Since the church is open to the public, there will be many opportunities for the church to have exchanges with foreign visitors. If the communication consists only of talking, it can become dry and lifeless. But if it includes singing, it can help shorten the distance between the two parties because music is an international language. so even if you do not understand the lyrics, which are in another language, you will understand the sentiments conveyed by the melody.
Even in the internal communication between churches, in the communication between the church and social scientists, or in various social activities in which the church participates, the musical knowledge of pastors is indispensable.
Pastors will look stupid in front of foreign guests if they cannot answer even simple questions such as "What is a cantata," "What is a requiem," "What is a mass," or "Where did Bach and Handel come from?"
If a pastor has learned vocalization skills specifically, then such skills will help him reduce fatigue while preaching. Since no one likes to listen to a hoarse and breathy voice, knowing how to control your airflow and adjust your resonance while preaching will not only make your voice pleasant to the believers but will also help you reduce fatigue while preaching.
Preachers must hold the Bible in one hand and a hymnbook in the other—they should be people who understand the Scriptures and can sing, who are learned and artistic, and who have reason and sense as well as love and principles.
- Translated by Joyce Leung