The Worship Quote of the Week for (07/15/2003):

Music as Soul Food
Today’s WORSHIP QUOTE is another from a new book by John Witvliet. The author directs the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship and serves as dean of the chapel and teaches worship, theology, and music at Calvin College. (

Music has the uncanny ability to burrow its way into our spiritual bones. When it comes to matters of spirituality and faith, we are what we sing.

There is no need to overstate the case. Music is not all-powerful. Many things shape our souls, including our parents’ attitudes, our friends’ priorities, and our television consumption. But music is certainly among these potent soul-shaping forces. As Aristotle and many since have claimed, music has formative power. It will either corrupt us, inoculate us, or—to use a Pauline phrase—build us up.

This is especially true of the music we sing in church, for this music is offered in the name of God. The guardians of our liturgical music have much to say about the music that feeds our souls. Pastoral musicians have the important and terrifying priestly task of placing words of sung prayer on the people’s lips—and not only words but also the melodies that interpret those words and give them affective shape. This happens every time they choose a song and accompany a hymn. Such musicians also have the holy task of being stewards of God’s Word. Choices of which anthem texts and theological themes will be featured in worship represent a degree of control over people’s spiritual diets. To say it in a sentence, to be a church musician—and by extension, a music editor, hymnal committee member, or church music professor—is to be a spiritual dietician.

—John D. Witvliet, WORSHIP SEEKING UNDERSTANDING: WINDOWS INTO CHRISTIAN PRACTICE. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003), p. 231-232. ISBN 0-8010-2623-7.

Have a great week.

Chip Stam
Director, Institute for Christian Worship
School of Church Music and Worship
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Louisville, Kentucky