Book: The Church Music Handbook

N. Lee Orr. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1991.144 pages.

Most people who are involved in church leadership and worship are keenly aware of the shift in North American society from "churched culture" to "unchurched culture." While it is easy and perhaps all too common, to spend time lamenting the changing role of the church, N. Lee Orr in The Church Music Handbook encourages church musicians to move ahead, considering the calling of the church musician to use music as a means to minister to God's people in an "unchurched culture."

The author begins his discussion by demonstrating how that shift has happened and why it demands a refocusing of traditional thought regarding the role of the church musician. He points out that since 1960, three critical things have shifted: church membership is no longer a value in our society, people do not generally seek membership on their own, and our society generally functions as if church were irrelevant.

One of the fundamental outgrowths of this shift, says Orr, is that the focus for the church and the church musician must be on "people, not product" (p. 27). Through its music ministry a church has a unique opportunity to involve members and to offer a caring, supportive community that can help people learn how to live with meaning and authenticity.

Creating such a supportive community will often involve the need to redefine excellence, a task that can be difficult for musicians. Orr says we must "quit worrying about our artistic success and strive for faithfulness . . . stop lecturing about challenge and commitment and start fostering compassion and community" (pp. 27-28). One of the best ways to do that, says Orr, is through variety. Different musical styles and mediums need to be a part of our available repertoire, and we need to redefine how music and ministry intersect.

Given that fact, it is increasingly important that musicians and pastors develop a working partnership. What Orr refers to as "autocracy both in the pulpit and on the organ bench" (p. 43) is too common today. The entrance of ego into an unfolding liturgical drama serves only to overshadow the basic reason for gathering to worship. Both musician and pastor have then neglected the fundamental nature of their calling. We who fill these roles need to look honestly at our own egos and surround ourselves with a few people who will give us the gift of honesty about such matters.

Orr offers several good ways of addressing and improving these relationships. He suggests basic avenues of communication that, if attended to, will enhance the partnership of worship leaders. It becomes evident at this point that the effective church musician must be not only an excellent musician, but also a skilled communicator who values relationships.

That fact is reflected in Orr's job descriptions for church musicians. The church that hopes to provide a music ministry must attract someone who is eager to invest him- or herself in the life of the congregation beyond the choir rehearsal. This has obvious financial implications, and evokes questions of career as well as calling.

Orr's practical suggestions for finding a person to fill this role are good. I appreciate his inclusion of the need for the church musician to be theologically trained as well as musically adept. Such training enables church musicians to understand their role as people called by God and to move beyond concerns of product, perfection, and performance.

Included in this book are several sample copies of worship planning sheets, contracts, job descriptions, evaluations, and salary guides that provide a good starting place for churches looking for a church musician.

In an "unchurched culture," the church has a vitally important role to play. Orr calls us to cease lamenting the shift and to get on with the work of ministry. For church musicians, this means some significant mental and practical adjustments. This volume can challenge us, as worship planners and leaders, to make those adjustments and be faithful to the calling of God in our lives.

Amy Van Gunst is an ordained minister in the Reformed Church in America and a member of their denominational Commission on Worship.


Reformed Worship 27 © March 1993, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.