Vantage Point
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As if in a box store, some of God’s people hear the music but don’t really hear it.

It’s Sunday morning.

Shoppers in department stores, shopping malls, cruise ships, and airports, along with countless callers on hold, are gently, often subconsciously, immersed in elevator music shipped in by the Muzak Holdings Corporation of Fort Mill, S.C., a company best known for distributing instrumental arrangements of popular music. Muzak, also called elevator music, incorporates relaxed, simple melodies that have been found to have a psychological effect: it tends to make people slow down and browse longer. It makes them listen and linger. They hear the music, yet don’t hear it.

Meanwhile, in churches across North America, about 15 or 20 minutes before the worship service starts, a musician begins to play devotional music. This musician might be an organist—someone who is trained to unlock the mysteries of thumb pistons and toe studs and is a magician with his feet—or it might be a pianist who chooses a minor-key selection with a Picardian third or who plays variations on a theme. In either case, these musicians (who frequently volunteer their services in church) have studied and practiced for years in order to develop their musical skills.

These musicians are using their gifts and talents in church to praise the Lord. The music they are playing is designed to guide the congregation into worship and prepare people’s hearts for the opening of God’s Word. The selections they play are chosen with care, often to complement the pastor’s forthcoming message.

Sadly, though, in some churches, instead of listening to the music, people use this time to talk, to share information with friends about their children and grandchildren, their illnesses, or other items of interest.

In the meantime, the musicians play.

As if in a box store, some of God’s people hear the music but don’t really hear it. So they miss out on the significance of a particular softly-played musical phrase or the deliberate slowing down of another. And all that talking interferes with those who do want to listen to the music but are prevented from doing so because of the chatter.

This is not good.

Instead, let’s honor the gifts and talents of the dedicated church musicians who guide us into worship. They will be heartened and encouraged when members of the congregation listen to their devotional offerings and allow themselves to be shaped by their ministry of music.

If we talk before the service, might we practice congregational whispering?

About the Author

Frank DeVries is the author of two short novels and has published many hymns and songs for children. He attends Gateway Christian Reformed Church in Abbotsford, British Columbia.

See comments (1)


Thank you for your thoughts on this moment we call 'pre-service' and how it can be a time where we are led into worship. I'm a worship planner and have thought quite often about how we can use even the 'pre-service' time to begin connecting people with God.

With the approach you have suggested, I'm wondering if you are disregarding the element of hospitality in worship. Prior to our worship services starting, we have a lot of fellowship happening. Worshipers are connecting and making each other feel welcome. I can only speak for my own context, but for someone to say, "Shhh, I'm worshiping even though it's only pre-service" or "Save the fellowship for later. Worship begins now..." might be hard to hear for average attendees, and even more so for visitors who might be checking out the church for the first time. I would even go so far as to say it might be shameful for us to not welcome someone verbally, especially a visitor, during the pre-service time all for the sake of honoring the musicians who are preparing us for worship.

While I try to be intentional with the pre-service time knowing there are people who find that time meaningful and use it to prepare themselves for worship, I also remind myself not to get frustrated when people don't engage in every aspect of Sunday morning worship. I believe God can use pre-service music to prepare people for worship, but I also believe God can use the act of human interaction and hospitality to lead people into worship.