Soli Deo Gloria

Constantly I’m reflecting on the big “WHY” of worship ministry.

Why we do what we do?

Sometimes we endure strife, contention, controversy and/or stress over various “issues” regarding worship and music.

The root cause of many mistaken assumptions and erroneous expectations regarding music ministry is misunderstanding the foundational role and purpose of music in worship.

There is a simple three word Latin phrase that has guided church musicians for centuries . It is more relevant today than ever as a standard to uphold.

Soli Deo Gloria

Soli Deo Gloria, translated as  “For the glory of God alone.”  

These words were penned by Johann Sebastian Bach, the musical genius composer of the 17th century Baraoque era, an icon in the classical music world, and predecessor to Mozart,  Beethoven, and Brahms. His works are among the most enduring, beloved and widely performed in the history of the world.

Bach had monster chops, landing his first church music gig at age 17. He was highly regarded as an organist. He composed music weekly for his church worship services and choirs.

But some in the church criticized his compositions as “too showy”. They even  thought it was sinful, “music should be simple so that it does not draw attention to itself or the performers. ”

Bach’s response:

“The main purpose of my music is to glorify God. Some people do this with music that is simple. I haven’t chosen to use a simple style, but my music comes from my heart as a humble offering to God. This honors God no matter what musical style I use.”

His motivation and intention was to for his music to point people to God.

This should be the minimum standard for our motivation as well – everything we do is for the purpose of pointing people to God.

Music is a powerful force. It can comfort us when we’re down and cheer us when we’re sad. Music can change our mood and even change the spiritual atmosphere. But the primary purpose of music in worship is not what it  does for us.

Similarly, there can be many motivations for participating in a music ministry. Maybe it’s for the joy of making music, or  the fellowship of  teammates. Perhaps it’s the affirmation of  hearing “well done”.

Or maybe you were just trying to do your small part to help fill a need at your church, you responded to the invitation that said “volunteers needed”.

These are good reasons to sing and play, but they are not to be our primary motivation.

Bach said it well:

 “Music’s only purpose should be the glory of God and the recreation of the human spirit.”

Bach understood the divine, vertical aspect of worship music. It is a gift to glorify God in heaven. We join the angels in singing “Glory to God in the highest”.

He also understood the human, horizontal aspect of music  – to lift up and edify our brothers and sisters here on earth.

Bach understood that music was not about “me.” Music was about blessing the Lord and blessing others.

Bach did not pursue fame. He chose the life of a simple church musician. When he died in 1750, his music was largely unknown and considered dated, out of style. It was not “rediscovered” until 80 years after his death and made popular by Felix Mendelssohn in 1829.

His legacy lives on, continuing to point people to God through the arts. 

I believe that if we take to heart this simple mantra, “Soli Deo Gloria – all for the glory of God alone”, we will see the same results of good fruit, enduring impact and transformation.

Over to you.

What is a “mantra”, a phrase that guides you?  Would Bach’s suffice for you? Please share in the comments!

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