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 (Manna 93: Time to Reflect: Our Faith)
Ministry: Holy Work Series: A Music Ministry After God's Will
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Tina Yang—Phoenix, Arizona USA 


What images come to mind when we think of music ministry: Choir presentations during evangelistic and spiritual convocations? Hymnal singing during services? Or sing-alongs during outreach services? While these are usually our first impressions of music ministry, God has a good, acceptable, and perfect will for this area of divine work. To lay down a foundation of basic knowledge of music ministry, let us consider some questions:

Question 1: When was the earliest instance of music worship recorded in the Bible?
Question 2: Who was the first person to praise God?
Question 3: Who initiated music ministry?

For Question 1, most of us would assume that the answer lies in the Book of Genesis. However, the first mention of music in Genesis refers not to music worship but to Jubal, a descendent of Cain, who chose to walk away from God’s presence. Jubal invented musical instruments only for his own purposes. After leaving the Garden of Eden, men showed their appreciation to God by offering sacrifices on altars, as demonstrated by Abel, Noah, and Abraham. However, we do not see any record of music worship in the Book of Genesis.

The very first instance of music worship is actually recorded in Job 38:

“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
Tell Me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements?
Surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
To what were its foundations fastened?
Or who laid its cornerstone,
When the morning stars sang together,
And all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Job 38:4–7)

Here we see clearly that when God created the heavens and the earth, the morning stars (the hosts of heaven) broke out in singing and shouting for His marvelous work. This first instance of music worship illustrates an important sequence of events:

1. God did an amazing work, in this case, creating the heavens and the earth.
2. The hosts of heaven witnessed the work of God.
3. This compelled them to sing and shout for God.  

This same sequence occurred in the first instance of praise by humankind, which brings us to Question 2: who was the first person to praise God?

As mentioned earlier, offering sacrifices on altars was the primary way for men to show appreciation to God. However, praising God is different from offering Him physical sacrifices. Praising God is not only a statement of appreciation but also a verbal expression of the whole person who wants to attribute glory to God in a beautiful and obvious way. So who was the first person to praise God in the Bible?

In the Book of Genesis, there are three examples of individuals exclaiming, “Blessed be the Lord.” In these instances, Noah, Melchizedek, and Abraham’s servant uttered “Blessed be the Lord,” to bless, to give thanks, and to attribute honor to God in response to His grace (Gen 9:26; 14:20; 24:26–27).

Leah is the first person in the Bible directly associated with the word “praise” (Gen 29:31–35). Leah was Jacob’s first wife, but her husband did not love her. God saw Leah’s sadness, so He granted her four sons in a row. We can see how Leah gradually came to understand God’s great love through the names she gave her four sons: Reuben (“See, a son,”) Simeon (“Heard,”) Levi (“Attached,”) and Judah (“Praise.”) By the fourth son, Leah finally realized how much God loved her by giving her four sons in a row, compelling her to name him Judah. Originally, this name meant “clapping the hands,” but the meaning was extended to mean “praise.” What a beautiful and obvious way to praise God! So every time Leah called Judah, she was praising God and reminding herself of His wonderful grace upon her. Therefore, genuine praise involves an understanding and appreciation of God’s work and blessing, compelling one to praise God from the bottom of the heart. 

Let us take a look at another example: the first song in the Bible, written by Moses and recorded in Exodus 15:1–18. We need to know the background to appreciate it fully. Moses sang this song right after witnessing the Egyptian army's complete destruction in the Red Sea. Have you ever wondered why Moses did not praise God when he first encountered Him at the burning bush? How about after the ten plagues? He did not verbalize any praise until this moment on the other side of the Red Sea. This is because, at that moment, Moses finally realized that the Egyptian army would never harm them again. They were finally free from Pharaoh; they would never be slaves again!  

At this historical moment, Moses understood God’s promise of salvation had come true and was overwhelmed by His great work and love. Therefore, he sang this song commemorating God’s redemption and almighty hand and confidently prophesied of eventually entering the promised land. Moses sang this song in great joy and gratitude. He wholeheartedly gave glory to this great God of Israel!

Let us emphasize again: genuine praise must come from experiencing the work of God, being touched by His grace, and then willingly giving praises and glory to God from the bottom of one’s heart. 

Question 3: who initiated music ministry? After understanding genuine praise, it is easier to answer this question. We may think it was King David because he played the harp skillfully and loved music. But when we read 2 Chronicles 29:25, we realize that God initiated music ministry! This verse specified that Hezekiah followed David’s plan for the music ministry, “for thus was the commandment of the LORD by His prophets” (emphasis added.) Not only were Gad and Nathan prophets, but David himself was one too (Acts 2:30). It was God’s good, acceptable, and perfect will to establish music ministry when the kingdom of Israel became prosperous during David’s time. With the support of Gad and Nathan, David established the music ministry in the hope of doing great service to God and His people.  


So what are the good, acceptable, and perfect purposes of music ministry? I have found at least three:

1. To receive and teach the word of God.
2. To uplift and transform the spirituality of God’s people.
3. To worship God in the beauty of holiness.

Now we will extend our perception of music ministry from the outward images of choir presentations and hymnal worship to the inner qualities of the worshippers. Jesus said, “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him” (Jn 4:23). To summarize,  the ultimate goal of music ministry is to ensure the spiritual growth of each believer, and for each believer to have a close and joyful relationship with God.

How do we know that these are the purposes of music ministry? We can answer this question by looking at King David’s service.  

  1. To Receive and Teach the Word of God

This first purpose of music ministry can be derived from studying the responsibilities of the Levites. When David set up the temple musicians, only the Levites could carry out the music ministry. Since Moses’ time, the Levites were responsible for teaching the law and executing judgment (Deut 17:8–9). In 1 Chronicles 25:1–8, the listed duties of the temple musicians include prophesying according to the king's order, giving thanks and praises to God, and being the king’s seers in the words of God. Interestingly, the word “prophesy” is translated into “sing” in Chinese versions of the Bible. By combining these duties, the Levite temple musicians would teach the people God’s word pleasantly through singing or with the accompaniment of musical instruments.

This is the good, acceptable, and perfect way of teaching the word of God. In ancient times, most people were illiterate, so only the Levites, who received training for their duties as teachers and judges, were able to read. When reading the laws aloud to the Israelites in public gatherings, the best way to project the word would be through chanting. The next effective way would be through singing. Through David’s organization of the temple ministry, the Levites had now also become musicians who wrote psalms and songs to help the Israelites remember God’s word.

Today, most people are educated and can read the Bible themselves, but do we use this ability well by reading the Bible every day? If we only hear the word of God from sermons and religious education (RE) classes, we will never grow spiritually strong. Furthermore, if we can memorize the word of God with the help of songs, then we can recall God’s word at any time to meditate on the living word. In this way, we will be greatly strengthened and empowered throughout our daily lives. This is the first and most obvious reason why God would like us to have a well-organized music ministry in the church.

  1. To Uplift and Transform the Spirituality of God’s People 

Even if we read the Bible daily, do we often experience the transforming power of the living word of God? This is the second purpose of music ministry. Indeed, the music ministry established by King David had a long-lasting impact on the people of Israel. The Israelites, who complained throughout their wilderness journey, started to chant and sing psalms. Even though the kingdom of Judah was destroyed, the exiles continued to read, chant, and sing the laws and psalms. Israel’s infamous reputation of constant complaining was replaced by a new quality of constant singing and praise.

The Book of Psalms is proof of their transformation. The psalms are frequently quoted in the New Testament: the Lord Jesus used them in His teaching (Lk 20:17, 42–43); the other authors referenced them to prove the prophecy of the Messiah and His work (Heb 1:5–13); Peter and Paul also quoted them when they started preaching (Acts 2:25–28, 34–35; 13:33–35). All these records indicate the Book of Psalms was well known and widely practiced among the Jews of that time. Even today, the Jews use the psalms in their daily devotions, with some reading the entire book weekly or monthly.[1]

The Book of Psalms is also a book beloved by many Christians for the comfort, encouragement, and hope therein. Christianity has a rich tradition of church music. These beautiful hymns and soothing psalms draw many souls to the faith.

However, one challenge in music ministry is the tendency to emphasize the music itself more than the truth in the lyrics. To resist this, church music has already been reformed at least two times. The first time was during the end of the sixth century when Pope Gregory unified and limited church music to chanting to eliminate secular elements in worship music. The second time was during the sixteenth century, when Martin Luther started the Protestant Reformation. The rise of the Protestant or Reformed Church again prompted an emphasis on the lyrics and the message, a reaction against the complicated polyphonic music (multiple melodies being sung simultaneously) of the time, which hindered the congregation from participating in worship and obscured the projection of lyrics.[2]  

Today, though we do not sing complicated music, believers may still indulge in the beauty of the music itself and forget to pay attention to the lyrics' message. In addition, some hymns may become so familiar that we are no longer cognizant of the lyrics and the truth they contain. Therefore, music ministry needs to be grounded in teaching the truth in the lyrics, upholding the message above the music. Music should always be the servant of God’s word. With this principle, Christians can experience the transforming power of the word through the music ministry.

  1. To Worship God in the Beauty of Holiness 

To illustrate the third purpose of music ministry, we will look at the phrase, “Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness,” which is used several times in the Old Testament (1 Chr 16:29; 2 Chr 20:21; Ps 29:2; 96:9). “Beauty” is usually translated in these verses as “attire” or “behavior” in Chinese versions of the Bible. I will put these alternative translations side by side for the remainder of this article so readers can contemplate the meaning. This phrase was first recorded in David’s psalm of thanksgiving, written to commemorate the smooth, peaceful, and joyful arrival of the ark of the covenant into Jerusalem (1 Chr 16:8–36, 29).

David brought the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem out of good intentions, but he did not initially realize the significance of the ark. The ark was where God talked to Moses during the wilderness years. Being in the ark's presence was to be in God’s presence. Before God descended and spoke to the Israelites on Mount Sinai, He instructed Moses to tell the people to sanctify themselves (Ex 19:10–11). Furthermore, the tabernacle and everything within it needed to be anointed with holy oil before being used in ministry. Aaron and his descendants, who became the high priests, also needed to be sanctified by the holy anointing oil before ministering in front of the ark—that is, in God’s presence (Ex 30:26–30). Without holiness, no one can see God (Heb 12:14). During his first attempt, David did not fully appreciate the sanctity of the ark and transported it his way. This resulted in a failed attempt and a tragic death (1 Chr 13).

For the second attempt (1 Chr 15), David finally realized that the ark needed to be carried by the Levites, the way God had instructed Moses. Therefore, he asked the Levites and priests to sanctify themselves. David also organized the Levites and priests in a certain order: three chief musicians led the procession, followed by Levites playing instruments, a choirmaster with a large Levite choir, four gatekeepers, seven trumpet players, and finally, David with the captains and the rest of the Israelites (1Chr 15:2–25).

These two processions were so different! The first one was a chaotic, large crowd with the noise of both music and commotion. The second was an orderly assembly, with Levites dressed in fine linen, playing and singing music harmoniously.

After the experience of the second procession, David understood how beautiful it is to obey the word of God and how merciful God is. In David’s psalm of thanksgiving, written after this procession (1 Chr 16:8–36), David understood that the word of God brings holiness (all the Levites sanctified themselves), order (an orderly assembly), harmony (different ensembles playing in an orderly fashion), beauty (all the Levites dressed in fine linen), and great joy (1 Chr 15:25). This is God’s good, acceptable, and perfect will that we can experience such a beautiful outcome when we obey His word! Therefore, David first wrote “worship in the beauty of holiness” in this psalm (1 Chr 16:29), acknowledging God’ mercy for enabling the second attempt to proceed smoothly and peacefully (1 Chr 15:26). God had overlooked the imperfections of the gathered Israelites, and granted them peace and joy. This inspired David to coin another of his oft-repeated phrases: “Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, and His mercy endures forever” (1 Chr 16:34).

God wants us to know how joyful it is to worship Him in the beauty (attire) of holiness. Worship should not be just a command but something Christians love and look forward to participating in. From the final seven psalms in the Book of Psalms, and the praises in the Book of Revelation, we know that worship in the beauty (attire) of holiness is the theme of our life in eternity: the praises of the great multitude (Rev 7:9–10; 19:1–3), of the 144,000 (Rev 14:1–5), and of those who overcome (Rev 15:2–4), all illustrate the joy of worshipping God in eternity. But while we are still on the earth, each Christian should have this heavenly experience to keep our faith strong in tribulation or temptation until we can worship God in eternal beauty and glory.  

Practical Principles of Music Ministry for True Jesus Church

Now that we understand the music ministry according to God’s will, we can derive some practical principles with the help of Paul’s instruction on music ministry:

Do not be drunk with wine, which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Eph 5:18–20, emphasis added)

Here Paul advises believers not to get drunk but to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Instead of wasting oneself or speaking filthy, foolish talk, or coarse jesting (Eph 5:4), Paul instructed believers on how to use their voice: they should speak and edify each other in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. They should glorify God by singing and making melody in one’s heart with thanksgiving for all things. Paul mentioned three different kinds of music and three aspects of communication, which we can translate into skills to engage in the music ministry fully. Let us see how we can put these three aspects into practice at both personal and church levels.


  1. Speaking

The first aspect Paul mentioned is speaking. We have a misconception that music ministry only consists of singing or playing musical instruments. Not only can we sing psalms and hymns, but we can also edify each other by communicating and sharing the meaning of the texts and lyrics. We may question how we can “speak” spiritual songs. One definition of the word “speaking” in the original language means to utter or emit a sound. So it is fine to use “speaking” or “uttering” to describe how we deliver spiritual songs.

Speaking is a unique gift that God gives to human beings. The rest of creation does not have speech or language like ours, yet it declares the glory of God (Ps 19:1–4). The ancient Greek philosophers observed and marveled at this display of the order and harmony in the universe, and called this amazing presentation “ the music of the spheres.”[3] If this inaudible expression of the heavens can declare the glory of God, how much more can we glorify Him when we speak of His word and His wonderful work! Therefore, by speaking to one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, we are practicing music ministry: by speaking to each other in psalms, we declare the word of God, and teach and admonish each other (Col 3:16); by speaking the lyrics of hymns, we share the grace of God, and encourage each other; by speaking spiritual songs in prayer, we receive comfort and joy from the Holy Spirit. We do not need music reading or singing skills to do these things. Just as Leah learned to praise God, all we need is a sincere heart to offer thanks and praises to God.

  1. Singing

Singing is the next aspect in Paul’s instruction. It is also the skill most commonly associated with music ministry. While singing is mainly addressed to God, believers and non-believers around us are edified by hearing the beautiful sacred music. David set a good example of how to use musical skills correctly. When he played for King Saul, it was not just through his musical skills, but, more importantly, through his reverent heart that he produced sacred music to cast away the evil spirit and refresh Saul (1 Sam 16:23).

From the remarks earlier in this article, we can summarize a few guidelines for using our musical skills for ministry:

  •  Pay attention to the truth in the lyrics instead of only indulging oneself in the beauty of the music.
  • Emphasize having and nurturing a reverent heart and attitude more than musical talent.
  • Simplicity in music is better than complicated music, so everyone can participate in praising God.
  • Focus on the holiness, order, harmony, beauty, and joy of music worship.
  1. Making Melody in One’s Heart

The third aspect Paul mentioned, making melody in one’s heart, is also the least emphasized skill. What is it like to make melody in one’s heart? While speaking and singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, we are using our body and mind to praise God; making melody in one’s heart means that our heart and soul are fully engaged in praising God. When we master this third skill, we praise and thank God with our whole being: body, heart, and soul. We embody not just the outward image of a presenter but the inner qualities of a true worshipper.

When a believer reaches this stage, he is at peace with himself, his brothers and sisters, and God. He is making melody in his heart out of peace and joy. There is a perceptible transformation. He has internalized the word of God and the sacred music, which are firmly rooted in him. He can make melody in his heart at every moment. How beautiful it is when all members can make melody in their hearts! It means that their hearts no longer harbor complaints, anger, or harmful words but only peace, joy, and grace. This is the ultimate result that Paul envisioned for music ministry, and another way to interpret the meaning of “in the beauty (attire) of holiness.” Let us strive to fulfill this third aspect of music ministry!


Generally speaking, we can see that our music ministry in most churches focuses mainly on the second aspect that Paul mentioned. Let us also take root in the first skill of speaking (edifying each other by speaking psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs), and strive to achieve the third skill of making melody in one’s heart (manifesting peace, joy, and grace). Below are some works the church can do to help everyone grow through the music ministry:

  1. Teach clear biblical statements regarding God’s will in music ministry, including the purposes and function of music ministry. Encourage believers to practice the three aspects Paul instructed.
  2. Allocate more time for worship with music. During services, we can give more time for hymnal leaders to guide the congregation's hearts by delving into the hymns’ messages and choosing hymns that align with the sermon topic. Dedicated hymnal worship services are also beneficial for members to practice speaking and singing to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.
  3. Design a training program for church musicians. Similar to the Religious Education Teachers Seminar (RETS), we can design a church musicians' training program at local, regional, and national levels to increase awareness of the music ministry according to God’s will, and equip workers with the skills to lead the music ministry.
  4. Produce more songs and hymns based on the complete truth. The True Jesus Church has the truth that many other denominations are unaware of. We can encourage members to write poems and praises based on the complete truth, from which songwriters can produce new songs and hymns. These songs and hymns will help the members remember and meditate on the truth at anytime. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we can produce sacred music that attracts and edifies people.
  5. Encourage believers to listen to sacred music and good music. Not only is there sacred music produced by our choirs, there is also good music, such as well-written classical music and traditional folk songs from around the world. These kinds of music are better than current pop music and other genres of secular music. When listening to folk songs, one only needs to be careful that they are not associated with pagan religious worship. After internalizing the sound of sacred music and good music, we can make melody in our hearts to praise God and illuminate harmony, peace, and joy in the church.


In conclusion, I hope this article is only the initial call to action for strengthening and expanding the music ministry in our church. I encourage and welcome feedback from all fellow music ministry workers, pastors, deacons, and elders. In the end time, music ministry plays a crucial role in serving the congregation in all areas of ministry. May God help us to learn His good, acceptable, and perfect will for the music ministry; edify each other through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs; be transformed, and worship the Lord in the beauty (attire) of holiness forevermore!

May all honor and glory be unto His name!


[1] “Which Psalms Should I Read Daily?” Chabad.org, accessed July 19, 2022, https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/764344/jewish/Which-Psalms-Should-I-Read-Daily.htm.

[2] Tim Dowley, Christian Music: A Global History (Oxford and Minneapolis: Lion Books, 2011), 88.

[3] Andrew Wilson-Dickson, The Story of Christian Music. (Oxford and Minneapolis: Lion Books, 2003), 40.

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Author: Tina Yang
Publisher: True Jesus Church
Date: 10/10/2022