Sometimes at our church, our people will hear me (pastor) say, "When I say special music, I don't mean special like special education." If it is special like I mean it, then it should be special.
Last week, I made mention of a discussion or argument among certain evangelicals and fundamentalists (see here, here, and here) about the use of special music in churches versus congregational singing. Perhaps sometime I'll do an entire series of posts on this, because I have very definite thoughts about the subject. For now, however, I want to encourage "special" music. If it is "special," it should be "special."
What is "special music"? If a church is going to have it, the church should understand what it is first. Special music is not something to "get your heart ready for the preaching," which is a thought not in or from the Bible. Churches very often will sing congregational songs, and then right before the sermon, a person or small group will sing a special number, intended to prepare the hearts of the people for the preaching.
Also by special, churches mean music that is very good, so it will be attractive to visitors or guests. You do your very, very special music for the purpose of luring visitors, because hearing this music will supposedly motivate them to come. Even if it isn't the sole reason, the idea here is that you are attempting to blow away a guest, so that he'll want to return to the services, just for another opportunity to hear the music. These churches surmise that great music is a motivating factor for visitors.
Sometimes using special music as an attraction is referred to as a "selling point" for a church. The thought again is that the special music can be used when church members invite people they know to church. They might not know exactly what to say, so they can say things like, "You'll really like how friendly it is, all of the programs our church has for young people, and you'll also really enjoy the special music -- our musicians are very talented, you should hear them."
It isn't unusual that special music is some kind of version of High School Musical. You've got your very musical crowd, who like to sing in small groups or a choir. Your church needs special music, so these people can have something to do. They can come to choir practice and it is a place to keep being in a choir after high school. They like to harmonize and work on numbers, because they enjoy music. It's another selling point for a church. Parallel to this are the people who like to do something musically like karaoke, love the idea of singing, think they have a great voice, even if others don't, so that they want to be in a church choir as part of their musical ambition. Churches will put choir on the website for the notice of these musical types of people, that many of you reading this will know.
I've read of a well-known Southern Baptist pastor, who once every year on a Sunday night service, had a special music night. On that night, people who wanted to sing a special number would have their one opportunity, so that they could say that they had their one opportunity. They could fulfill that yearning to sing in front of people, like an edition of Church's Got Talent.
None of the above are reasons for special music. I love special music and I think that in addition to congregational singing, churches should strive do special music, but it, as I wrote before, ought to be special. Psalm 48:1 says, "Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised." God is so great that He deserves better praise than even the congregation should do. Churches should work on special music so that God gets better, practiced, and skilled music. Congregational music isn't necessarily skilled. It has a lot of participation, but very often many unskilled participants.
Fifty-five of the psalms were delivered to the chief musician in Israel or it choir director. Some of the psalms were for smaller groups than the whole congregation of Israel, including Psalm 48 itself, which was for "the sons of Korah." There were eleven such psalms among the 150. The choir is part of the music of Israel, so God ordained special music (see 1 Chronicles 15:16-24). In 2 Chronicles 20:21, Jehoshaphat appointed special music to lead the army into battle, as a matter of faith in the Lord.
Some churches are not ready for special music because they don't have trained singers. They don't have people who can sing well. If a church is going to have special music, it should set a high standard, so it can do music very well for the Lord. This might and probably will require paying for lessons, and doing a lot of practice under skilled leadership. God wants to hear congregational praise, but He also wants to hear skilled praise (Ps 33:3). God is so worth it, that churches should do their best to praise him in the most skilled, most beautiful, and special way, and that's the reason for special music in a church.
In our church, if we don't have something special ready for God, we don't do it. We're not required to have a solo or small group every week. We will sing when something is ready to sing, or we're missing the point of special music in the Bible.